Viking Night: Eraserhead
By Bruce Hall
March 29, 2011
Most consumers have no problem loving a huge budget blockbuster. Movies that are meant to appeal to the widest possible audience usually do just that. But some films have a narrower vision, or simply contain more complex meaning than meets the eye. They aren't always art, and they aren't always even very successful. But for a devoted and eccentric few, they're the best entertainment money can buy. Once, beginning with Erik the Viking, a group of dedicated irregulars gathered weekly in a dingy dorm room to watch these films and discuss how what pleases the few might also appeal to the many. Time has separated the others in those discussions so that I alone remain to ponder the wider significance of cult cinema. But while the room is cleaner and I no longer have to skip class to do it, I still think of my far off friends whenever I hold Viking Night.
In the very first column, I think I made a little joke about David Lynch. At the time, you may have been led to believe that I don’t like the guy. Truth be told, it’s nothing personal. It’s not Lynch that I can’t stand; it’s the way his movies make me feel that I hate. Let me put it into perspective. When I was in college studying music, my studies brought me to a composer named Arnold Schoenberg. He’s best known for atonal music, which is difficult to listen to because it has no tonal center. Writing that kind of music is a very intellectual exercise that feels more like designing a submarine than writing a song. And on a piano, the material sounds like a couple of kittens wrestling across the keyboard. In my head I think I understand how it all works and I appreciate the effort that went into creating it. But I’m sorry; to my ears it just sounds like cats on a piano.
So it is with David Lynch, but the problem is probably me, not him. Lynch might be the most subversive and original filmmaker alive, but most of his projects are acts of deep personal catharsis that I am not keen to experience in a room full of other people. He’s a guy with a lot of raw things inside, he’s not afraid to get them out on screen and he’s damn good at what he does. Yet like the musician I’ve compared him to, he has had a hard time getting the mainstream world to accept his way of doing things. But Lynch isn’t that kind of a director, and I doubt he’d be happy with that kind of success.
That’s the irony of getting working your problems out through art. It’s the best way in the world to organize your thoughts, but if you want to do it for a living other people have to like it too and that’s not an easy balance. It’s a double edged sword, but it comes with the territory. Every artist faces this sooner or later, and David Lynch did with his first feature, Eraserhead.