A Young David Lynch Talks About Eraserhead in One of His First Recorded Interviews (1979)

“One of the first video record­ings of a David Lynch inter­view dates from 1979,” writes The New York­er’s Den­nis Lim. “The twen­ty-minute black-and-white seg­ment was pro­duced for a tele­vi­sion course at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Cal­i­for­nia, Los Ange­les, and con­duct­ed in the oil fields of the Los Ange­les Basin, one of the loca­tions that con­sti­tut­ed the bar­ren waste­land of his first fea­ture, Eraser­head (1977).” And it is Eraser­head these UCLA stu­dents, in what Lim calls “the moment of Lynch’s first brush with cult fame,” want to know about, putting a vari­ety of ques­tions to the young film­mak­er, and putting his abil­i­ty to answer them con­crete­ly to the test.

You may well learn more about Eraser­head in the the­ater-lob­by audi­ence respons­es col­lect­ed for the video, where­in the view­ers — view­ers, remem­ber, from a now hard-to-imag­ine time when the name David Lynch car­ried no mean­ing at all — exit­ing a screen­ing express reac­tions rang­ing from great plea­sure (some of them boast of hav­ing seen it as many as eight times already) to pre­dictable bewil­der­ment (“I’ve got­ta think about it for a while”) and even more pre­dictable dis­taste: “The weird­est thing I’ve ever seen.” “It’s ter­ri­ble. I did­n’t like it.” “Some inane, bizarre per­son with a dis­turbed mind wrote that film.” But does the man stand­ing there sub­mit­ting to a stu­dent inter­view in the mid­dle of an oil field seem so bizarre, so dis­turbed?

Some of Lynch’s answers, as when he describes Eraser­head as “not like thrown-togeth­er abstract” but “meant-to-be-that-way abstract,” may strike you as inane at first, but cer­tain­ly noth­ing he says cross­es the line from inani­ty to insan­i­ty. In the almost 40 years since the film’s first show­ing, Eraser­head has grown more artis­ti­cal­ly divi­sive even as its fan base spans a wider and wider range of gen­er­a­tions and nation­al­i­ties. Both its pro­mot­ers and its detrac­tors may some­times won­der if even Lynch him­self under­stands it, but to my mind, this ear­ly inter­view hints that he does. He made what he calls “an open-feel­ing film,” a fount of an infini­tude of inter­pre­ta­tions, and for that rea­son an endur­ing work of art. And he meant it to be that way.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

The Paint­ings of Filmmaker/Visual Artist David Lynch

David Lynch’s Unlike­ly Com­mer­cial for a Home Preg­nan­cy Test (1997)

David Lynch Teach­es You to Cook His Quinoa Recipe in a Weird, Sur­re­al­ist Video

What David Lynch Can Do With a 100-Year-Old Cam­era and 52 Sec­onds of Film

Col­in Mar­shall writes else­where on cities, lan­guage, Asia, and men’s style. He’s at work on a book about Los Ange­les, A Los Ange­les Primer, the video series The City in Cin­e­maand the crowd­fund­ed jour­nal­ism project Where Is the City of the Future? Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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