Monday, 10 January 2011

Eraserhead

Eraserhead is a 1976 fantasy horror film directed and written by David Lynch and starring Jack Nance as Henry Spencer and Charlotte Stewart as Mary X. Eraserhead is set in a bleak abandoned industrial landscape and follows a nervous Henry who is on vacation in his one room apartment that overlooks an outer brick wall. One day on entering his apartment he receives a message from the beautiful girl across the hall (Judith Roberts) that his girlfriend has invited him to her parent’s house for dinner. In the very sparsely furnished and dingy home of his ex-girlfriend Henry meets her parents; Anton Bitel from Film4 gives his interpretation of the dinner, “Mary X (Stewart), his ex, has invited him to dinner at her parents' house. There, a grotesque meal of painfully awkward conversation, perverse psychosexual tension and animated 'manmade' chicken is interrupted by news from Mrs X (Bates) that Henry is father to Mary's premature baby” (Bitel, 2008). Bitel sums up perfectly the events of that night, a dinner set in a claustrophobic environment stifled by the noise of suckling puppies on their nursing mother, (which also disappears with the dogs in latter scenes), and Mrs. X’s (Jeanne Bates) piercing gaze when Henry is introduced, then followed by her awkward sexual advances as she questions him about his intimacy with her daughter. Mr. X’s (Allen Joseph) behaviour is just as bemusing as he greets Henry with questions of small manmade chickens and his strangely deformed legs caused by his knee problems. After Mr X is ushered into the kitchen by his wife - Mr X tends to his manmade chicken and Mrs X prepares a dish with her Grandmother. The Grandmother seems to have lost all use of her arms so Mrs X takes the dish and places it into the lap of the Grandmother, controlling her arms from behind to mix the dish. When this is done she places a cigarette into the Grandmother’s mouth and lights it, as if to show some sort of gratification for a job well done. The weirdness does not stop there, while at the table Henry is asked to carve the bird which starts to move as if it still has life, spewing what looks like blood all over the plate.
The scene of Henry’s visit to his ex-girlfriend’s home although extremely strange is the only real coherent part of the film as it explains why Mary called him, and the reason for introducing him to her family so he could find out about his child, and for Henry to do the right thing and marry Mary and build a family. But with this short plot out the way the story disintegrates into a collage of even weirder happenings. A comment by Chuck O’Leary highlights the film from this point onwards, Nothing more than a pretentious, incoherent and boring exercise in self-indulgent weirdness” (O’Leary, 2006). O’Leary pin-points a new genre that should be attached to this film, boring. From there on the film goes nowhere as it continues with Mary X living with Henry in his one room apartment with their new born mutant baby. Questions are asked as to why their child looks this way. Was one of the parents an alien or some sort of monster beneath human flesh; but Lynch does not answer these questions. The only relevance to the child’s worm like exterior takes us back to the opening scene of the film where we see Henry’s head and an asteroid bobbing around in space, then a burnt man at the controls of a machine pulling a lever which flushes a worm from Henry’s mouth into a puddle. With no explanation of this opening scene and no follow-up to the burnt man’s actions the scene is soon forgotten and written-off as another eccentric visual by the director. 
Henry’s relationship with Mary becomes strained, and the baby’s relentless crying does not help, Mary soon gets tired and leaves the baby with Henry to go back to her parents. This film that was dying is now dead, with only a few short dislocated scenes played out. The back drop of Henry’s dull and dreary apartment begins to eat away the retina of the eye, becoming tiresome with no real purpose but to instill a sense of hopelessness. Henry despairs as his child falls sick and he cannot leave the apartment, staying up throughout the night, although with no window to indicate whether this was occurring during the day or night, the audience could only presume it was night time as he had to get out of bed to tend to his child. The only saving grace for Henry is a visit from the beautiful girl across the hall who throws herself at him in one night of passion. The boredom of Henry’s dismal apartment is relieved during a scene where Henry stares at his radiator and daydreams of a disfigured dancing girl on a stage with worms falling from above and her squashing them under her feet. With no explanation of whom this girl is and what the scene relates to, it is lost to obscurity.
Eraserhead with its slow start, dislocated plot and disturbing scenes is too much of a miss-match to arrive at a definite conclusion as to the true meaning of the film. The audience could only surmise that Eraserhead is some sort of biography of David Lynch’s earlier life. Could it be that he lived in an abandoned industrial estate infested by worms and was left holding a baby when his girlfriend ran off, and this has left scars on his psyche to this day. But whatever the reason Variety’s film review sums up the overall experience of Eraserhead, “the pic has good tech values (particularly the inventive sound mixing), but little substance or subtlety. The mind boggles to learn that Lynch labored on this pic for five years” (Variety, 2007).        



Illustrations
1. Eraserhead poster, (2009) David Lynch,  Eraserhead, Posted 25/4/2009, Time 15:00, 20/12/2010

2. Henry, Mr X at dinner (2007) Movie Time Capsule, Eraserhead, Posted 7/7/2007, Time 15:10 20/12/2010 http://movietimecapsule.blogspot.com/2007/07/eraserhead.html
3. Henry and his mutant baby (2010) Synopsis Sophie, Eraserhead, Posted 3/10/2010, Time 15:15 20/12/2010 http://averagefilms.wordpress.com/2010/10/03/eraserhead/

Bibliography
Bitel, Anton, (2008) Film4, Reviews & More, Eraserhead, Posted 12/9/2008, Time 12:02, 20/12/2010 http://www.film4.com/reviews/1977/eraserhead
O’Leary, Chuck, (2006) FulvueDrive-in.com, Comment, Rottentomatoes, Eraserhead, Posted 2/9/2006, Time 12:15, 20/12/2010  http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/eraserhead/
Variety Staff, (2007) Variety, Film Reviews, Eraserhead, Posted 21/12/1976 11pm, Time 12:15, 20/12/2010  http://www.variety.com/review/VE1117790719/

Sunday, 9 January 2011

Blue Velvet


Blue Velvet is a crime mystery written and directed by David Lynch and starring Kyle Maclachlan as Jeffrey, Isabella Rossellini as Dorothy, Dennis Hopper as Frank and Laura Dern as Sandy. Jeffrey returns to his home town of Lumberton when his father has a stroke. After visiting his father in hospital he finds a severed ear in a field and takes it to the police station giving it to Detective Williams (George Dickerson) who is a friend of his father. A forensic test is carried out on the ear and the detective launches an investigation, cordoning off the field. David Lynch’s film is primarily about Jeffrey’s private investigation into the events surrounding the ear, with the assistance of Sandy, the detective’s daughter, who initially provides him with confidential information that her father did not.
The film documents the rollercoaster ride of terror in which Jeffrey finds himself. The rollercoaster starts with information provided by Sandy on the whereabouts of a suspect, Dorothy (Isabella Rossellini), who the police have been watching and who might be involved with the severed ear. Jeffrey and Sandy decide to stake-out Dorothy’s apartment. With Jeffery as a pest exterminator and Sandy as a Jehovah’s Witness, the two plan to enter the house and ajar a window in order to re-enter the flat at a later time. The plan does not go exactly to plan, with Jeffery gaining access and stealing a spare set of keys, but unable to ajar a window, because Sandy does not make it to the flat to distract Dorothy. Nevertheless Jeffrey and Sandy secure a set of keys and the two budding detectives begin their descent into the underworld of Lumberton. The town of Lumberton has two faces. The first face is portrayed at the start of the film as a small white picket fence community, of wholesome upright families who uphold the all-American ideals of virtue and hard work. The other face is the one in which Jeffrey is about to be emerged, a world of sexual deviants, violence and crime. Roger Ebert highlights the duality of Lumberton, “The movie has two levels of reality. On one level, we're in Lumberton, a simple-minded small town where people talk in television cliches and seem to be clones of 1950s sitcom characters. On another level, we're told a story of sexual bondage, of how Isabella Rossellini's husband and son have been kidnapped by Dennis Hopper, who makes her his sexual slave. The twist is that the kidnapping taps into the woman's deepest feelings: She finds that she is a masochist who responds with great sexual passion to this situation” (Ebert, 1986). Ebert’s description of the seedier side of Lumberton has two main antagonists Frank and Dorothy, where Dorothy is the victim perpetuating Frank’s sadistic behaviour by her masochistic submission. Dorothy’s Stockholm syndrome is explored further with her relationship with Jeffrey when he is discovered hiding in her closet and is subjected by her to enact the same sadistic behaviour metered out on her by Frank. Dorothy and Frank are two sides of the same coin Dorothy becomes the dominant partner forcing Jeffrey to act like Frank. Jeffrey, Dorothy and Frank continue in these roles until Frank meets Jeffrey, thereby bringing a new dimension to the film. Frank takes an uncanny liking to Jeffrey. When he meets him coming out of Dorothy’s apartment, he immediately recognises what is going on despite Dorothy’s explanations. However, instead of killing them or severely beating them he takes Jeffrey on a joy ride and into the bosom of his crime organisation to meet one of his criminal colleagues. (Frank saw something similar in Jeffrey something that Dorothy could have turned him into). Frank’s attraction to Jeffrey is compounded when Jeffrey attacks Frank in Dorothy’s defence. This fuels Franks rage and ignites his homosexual desire in which he dons lipstick, kisses Jeffrey on the mouth and vents his sexual frustration through physically beating up Jeffrey.
Jeffrey has now reached the darkest depth of Lumberton having fallen victim to Frank and his cronies and he needs to pull himself out of this abyss and back into the light of the first simple face of Lumberton and this he does through Sandy. Jeffrey uses Sandy to elevate himself back to the light through her father Detective Williams, who he presents evidence about Frank’s illicit business and colleague, a dirty detective working in the same precinct as Detective Williams. Jeffrey’s evidence allows Detective Williams to set up a sting for Frank, his cronies and the dirty policeman, allowing Jeffrey to witness the uncanniest scene in the film. Detective Williams and the force instigate the sting while Jeffrey rushes to Dorothy’s apartment to see the corrupt detective standing over Dorothy’s husband dead and bound to a chair. What Jeffrey does not realise at first sight is that the detective might also be dead, Jeffrey looks again and believes both men to be dead, with the husband missing an ear. This scene leaves the audience guessing - we see one man dead in a chair and the policeman standing, who instinctively overturns a lamp when his radio goes off; however, is he dead. The audience is just as bemused as Jeffrey, who killed who, and why is the bad policeman still standing over the husband? Jeffrey pauses for a while and realises the complexity of what he has just seen, and says, “I am not doing anything, I am going to let them find them on their own”. Them, being the police.
Blue Velvet is more than just a detective film it follows the duality of the uncanny in places and people that lay beneath the surface. The old saying of never judge a book by its cover is the moral of this story, but using characters like Dorothy and Jeffrey to navigate through the separate terrains and exploring the consciences and actions of each. The opening scene of the fire truck with its crew cruising down a suburban picket fenced street, waving at the camera provided the clich├ęd example of small town Lumberton. During that scene Jeffrey’s father collapses and the camera focuses on the lush top layer of grass then delves beneath showing bugs burrowing down and fighting for space, which is symbolic of the true nature of Lumberton. Nevertheless, Jeffrey along with Dorothy has risen from the darkness of the small town with the help of Sandy. David Lynch conveys this with Dorothy’s reunion with her son, and Jeffrey’s new found love with Sandy, as the birds sing and eat the bugs that were once grappling for control and concluding shots of a picket fence and a fire truck, thereby relaying that all is back to normal. Cole Smithey summarises Blue Velvet in this highlight, “Lynch blended surrealist elements into a story of adult sexual awakening juxtaposed against violence, mystery, and mental illness. Using character names drawn from '50s Americana iconography, and a moody musical score to match” (Smithey, 2009)
Illustrations
1. Blue Velvet poster (2010) movie-shop.us, Download Movies On, Blue Velvet, Time 14.35 18/12/2010. http://movie-shop.us/movie.php?id=41199 

2. Jeffrey finds ear (2010) Cinematic Duske, Blue Velvet, Posted 1/10/2010, Time 14.55 18/12/2010. http://cinematicduske.blogspot.com/2010/10/blue-velvet.html
3. Dorothy, Frank and Ben (Dean Stockwell) (2010) Polls Boutique, Blue Velvet, Time 15.15 18/12/2010. http://www.pollsb.com/polls/merril_lynch

Bibliography
Ebert, Roger (1986) Chicago Sun-Times, Blue Velvet Review, Posted 19/9/1986,  15:09 20/12/2010 http://rogerebert.suntimes.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/19860919/REVIEWS/609190301
Smithey, Cole (2006) Cole Smithey, Review Blue Velvet, Posted 11/5/2006, 15:17 20/12/2010 http://www.colesmithey.com/capsules/2009/01/blue-velvet.html

The Haunting


The Haunting is a 1963 horror directed by Robert Wise and starring Richard Johnson as Dr John Markway, Julie Haris as Eleanor, Clair Bloom as Theodora and Luke Sanderson as Russ Tamblyn. Doctor Markway, an anthropologist, enlists a group of unsuspecting paranormal detectives to assist in his research at Hill House in looking for evidence of another world, the spiritual world. Eleanor who lives with her sister’s family, is recruited by the doctor as a guest at Hill House, Eleanor sees the invitation as a chance to escape her life, to run away from her past and to gain her independence while creating a new life for herself. She tries unsuccessfully to borrow her sister’s car, which is partly hers, to visit the house. Eleanor steals away in the car to Hill House, conversing with her sub-conscious, and painting a picture of the kind of life and house she wishes to have. Eleanor arrives at Hill House where she is questioned by the grounds man, but Eleanor becomes impatient and irate with his questioning ordering him to open the gates.
The grounds man warns Eleanor that she will wish he had never open the gate. Eleanor drives up to the house stopping half-way in terror at the sight of the house. Fear begins to engulf her as she senses the horror that lies within the house. Her conscious mind tells her to keep away and not to waste this opportunity by residing in such a place; but her sub-conscious awakens acting as the balancing force within her, reminding her that she cannot continue to run away and must face her fears. Eleanor expresses these schizophrenic traits from the beginning of the film always conversing with her sub-conscious relying on these conversations to make the simplest of decisions and pacify her loneliness. Eleanor now within the walls of Hill House meets Dr Markway and his other two guests, plus Mrs Dudley who speaks as if her voice was a recording, reeling off her chores to Eleanor emphasising her punctuality as the key, as when night falls there would be no one present to offer assistance.  Mrs Dudley continues repeating the statement that she would be gone from the house before dark, pointing out that even if Eleanor shouted no one would hear her. Mrs Dudley’s stipulations were not strange or uncommon - it was however the way in which she laid these down, with unnatural urgency and an uncanny smile giving the impression the house held a ghastly secret when darkness fell.
Eleanor becomes friendly with one of the other guests, a psychic named Theodora, who reads Eleanor's thoughts, letting her know little details about herself and her past. The relationship between these two is quite uncanny Eleanor by herself converses on private matters with her sub-conscious, however, when Eleanor is with Theodora, the latter uses her psychic abilities to take on the role of Eleanor’s sub-conscious, reminding Eleanor of the reason she is there at Hill House and informing her of the facts, particularly if Eleanor found them unpleasant. The role of Theodora as Eleanor’s corporeal sub-conscious introduces some mysticism to the film which to this point appeared to be a psychological horror. The third guest was Russ a card shark who was the next in line to inherit Hill House and was present in order to secure his inheritance. Dr Markway’s knowledge of the estate was what led him to Hill House, a building born out of evil whose original builder and owner, Hugh Crain (Howard Lang), was said to be a cold hard man. The house does not disappoint, coming to life for its new guests with loud bangs, doors that shut by themselves, unexplained footsteps in the corridors, heavy rapping on the doors, and the voices of whimpering children, all adding to the house’s infamous reputation. Film4’s review gives us one opinion of the effectiveness of Hill House’s haunting scenes, “The success of this spooky movie is in what it leaves to our imagination. Sure, things do go bump in the night but we never see them” (Film4, 2010). With no monsters or ghosts, and relying on suggestion alone, this horror works very well as the spooky happenings at Hill House start to correlate to Eleanor’s past. The uncanny similarities of the banging on the walls when Eleanor and Theodora lay in bed at night, intertwined with the final call for help by Abigail Crain’s (Amy Dalby) repetitive banging before she died, and Eleanor’s mother’s call for help that Eleanor wearily ignored. Eleanor took on the guise of Abigail’s companion who resided with Abigail until her death at aged 80. The Companion inherited Hill House where she resided until she committed suicide. Eleanor’s guise is compounded also by the statues the guests find of Hugh, Abigail, Mrs Crain and what would seem to be the companion who has an uncanny resemblance to Eleanor. What was also strange was the statue of the companion was never documented, as though it was not originally there - Abigail could not have needed a companion until her later years so it was inexplicable how the companion could be in a sculpture of the family with Hugh and Mrs Crain when Abigail was six. Dr Markway realises Eleanor’s receptiveness to the house and becomes very concerned for her safety, placing her in the constant care and presence of Theodora. The house also takes on the guise of Abigail and Eleanor’s mother, calling Eleanor (the companion) from the spirit world towards them, there being only one way someone from the physical world could go to the spirit world, and that is death.
 The Haunting is predominantly a psychological horror with Dr Markway as the guide through the possessed Hill House as Eleanor seeks to resolve her demons. Theodora gives life to Eleanor’s sub-conscious, acting as her personal medium when they are together. The House recognises Eleanor as a being receptive to its needs and begins to blur her reality of the corporeal and spirit world’s luring her to join the latter through death.

Illustrations
1. Haunting posters (2010) This Distracted Globe, A House Born Bad Review, The Haunting, Posted 4/7/2010Time 16.35 16/12/2010  http://thisdistractedglobe.com/2010/07/04/the-haunting-1963/
2. Hill House (2010) This Distracted Globe, A House Born Bad Review, The Haunting, Posted 4/7/2010. Time 16.30 16/12/2010 http://thisdistractedglobe.com/2010/07/04/the-haunting-1963/
3. Eleanor, Theodora and Mrs Dudley (2010) This Distracted Globe, A House Born Bad Review, The Haunting, Posted 4/7/2010, Time 16.38 16/12/2010  http://thisdistractedglobe.com/2010/07/04/the-haunting-1963/

Bibliography
Film4 (2010) Reviews & More, The Haunting, Posted 19/10/2008, Time 16:02, 16/12/2010   http://www.film4.com/reviews/1963/the-haunting



Uncanny Environments

The Empty Cell

A new beginning

Bad take-away

Car in a park

Ganesh in church

Gass station on the savanah

Sunny side up Hiroshima

Leggo blocks in a box

A bridge for bridge sake

Moon eye


Picnic in Winter's forest

Rubber duck in the Amazon

What does the eye see?

The ghetto next door