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Episode 105 - Eraserhead vs. Blue Velvet (w/ Michael Nordine)

Eraserhead vs. Blue Velvet  

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  1. 1. Which film should be inducted into The Canon?



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Michael Nordine of IndieWire joins Amy this week to honor the Twin Peaks revival with a special David Lynch head-to-head! They pit the enigmatic director’s 1977 horror film “Eraserhead” against the 1986 neo-noir “Blue Velvet,” touching on the foreshadowing of body horror trends, male postpartum depression, Jack Nance’s captivating face, why Kyle MacLachlan screams leading man, and Isabella Rossellini’s portrayal of the ultimate femme fatale.

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I hadn't seen either in a while, but I was pretty sure i'd go Blue Velvet. Seeing both again, I'm unwavering. As weird as Lynch's style may be, his films tend to be way more normal than people make his style out to be. Dune, The Elephant Man, The Straight Story, etc. are all fairly straightforward.

 

Also, Blue Velvet has so much to unpack. The one thing that I came back to was something Devin said in the sex, lies, and videotape episode, which is how many films are about filmmaking. Blue Velvet is so much about this. I love what this has to say about masculinity, in all its rabid toxicity, and the way control works, at least in a heteronormative sense. This is a tense, sensual, bizarre film, which I love. This is so lavishly shot, and beautifully designed. Talking about who we identify with most, I definitely see myself in Kyle MacLaughlan. He's this well-to-do guy who doesn't realize just how much he's like Frank Booth, and that there's that monstrosity in him, as much as he tries to believe he's separate from him. How often do we see that in a film? Where our heroes confront their own potential villainy like that? It's chilling, but real.

 

I don't know that I love either of these, but I admire the hell out of all of them, Blue Velvet most.

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I know I'm likely going to be fighting a losing battle here, but I'm voting for Eraserhead. No knock on Blue Velvet, I just like Eraserhead more ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

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Man, I might have liked this episode the most of the second coming of the canon. I thought, this was more in style of the in-depth film discussions I liked back with devin, creating a profound, idiosyncratic perspective on an already known propperty.

 

As for the voting: I say Blue Velvet, but ever so slightly. I think I see where Michael Nordine is comming from with his take on Eraserhead, but let's be honest: Eraserhead is an experimental student's film, albeit it an ambitious one. That's nothing bad per se, but I can see a lot of limitations in all ends and edges of that productions. It's fun to watch it, but I'd say even back then, its appreciation by the midnight screening audience was more ironic than sensere. If it was a single episode on Eraserhead I think I would probably vote it in, because I do like a lot of the ideas touched on in the film, and also because of its influence. But in my books it doesn't hold a candle being compared to Blue Velvet. This is just simply the better put together movie.

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I agree with what Amy said at the beginning of the episode, I'm not exactly sure I actually like David Lynch's films. I can appreciate their intent, but whether his films are actually good or just a joke on pretentious audiences has never been exactly clear to me.

 

However, since 'neither' is a cop out, I'm going with Eraserhead. Blue Velvet has its moments (the opening Rockwell montage, every time Hopper opens his mouth) but beyond those, it's mostly just a middle-of-the-road suburban noir about the dark side of small town USA. Eraserhead makes little to no sense, but it is filled with endless surrealistic imagery and no-wave noise that would make Sonic Youth proud. Every location is strange, even the ones (like the distressingly empty apartment lobby) which don't feature piles of dirt or nursing dogs. Eraserhead, despite all its cinematic and artistic influences, looks and sounds unique, and therefore deserves a spot in the Canon.

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I was sure I was gonna go with Blue Velvet, but after listening I actually changed my vote to Eraserhead. I definitely fell into the trap of Blue Velvet being more accessible, so I felt there was more to unpack. But Eraserhead offers a lot that overlaps with little else, especially in context of what's already in the canon.

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luckily i've had the chance to see both of these in a theater over the last year

 

Eraserhead fucked me up. i watched the film a few years ago and thought it was good-not-great, but seeing it on the big screen, with LOUD sound was a truly immersive experience.

 

but Blue Velvet is probably the best neo-noir of the 80's (Neil Jordan's Mona Lisa is very mad at me for saying that), and the Maclachlan-Lynch connection is undeniable. where Eraserhead wins in sound design and atmosphere, Blue Velvet is impeccably written, and void of any formal choice i'd doubt for a second. I'd still take Fire Walk With Me over both of these (combined with the Pilot to really cheat) but Blue Velvet is my pick

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I definitely fell into the trap of Blue Velvet being more accessible, so I felt there was more to unpack.

 

Not trying to come down on you personally, but I do want to use this quote to build on a point . . .

 

I dislike that accessibility was seemingly taken for granted as a "trap." Why is that a trap? If you're an artist, on some level you do want to make your art for an audience, right? There's nothing wrong with being accessible.

 

To me, a filmmaker who sometimes goes into surrealistic/abstract territory is usually helped in my mind if I have a certain confidence that they know what they are doing. That they actually do know the "rules" of how to do standard storytelling but are breaking them for a reason. I am more willing to ride with Kubrick's weirder stuff in 2001 or Eyes Wide Shut because I know he's able to do Paths of Glory or The Killing if he wants to. I feel similarly about Lynch. I've seen The Elephant Man and The Straight Story, so I know he can do that if he wants. When he goes weirder, it's for a reason.

 

Blue Velvet is right there on the line and has elements of both his "straight" filmmaking and his abstraction, so I vote for that. Both hosts seemed to agree that it was the better introductory film for Lynch, and I think that makes it better qualified for Canon status. Not sure I would be as much of a fan of Eraserhead if I hadn't been primed by his other stuff first (though even that film does have some kind of underlying narrative grounding it).

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Love Blue Velvet, and honestly I like watching it more, but I think Eraserhead is probably the more important film.

 

And when I say I like watching Blue Velvet more I mean I really dread watching Eraserhead. Like catatonic depression hate it.

 

 

On a different note: I really don't want to be a dick, but I didn't expect to be quite that bored listening to the David Lynch episode of The Canon. Seems like the show might need some kind of steady dynamic to build on rather than a guest every week. I'm not necessarily saying Devin, but I do think the show needs two personalities.

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On a different note: I really don't want to be a dick, but I didn't expect to be quite that bored listening to the David Lynch episode of The Canon. Seems like the show might need some kind of steady dynamic to build on rather than a guest every week. I'm not necessarily saying Devin, but I do think the show needs two personalities.

 

I agree with this. Having Amy and Devin together created a pretty consistent dynamic that was complemented by guests when they had them. Right now, I feel that the new Canon has been faltering a bit in finding it's voice because it's too dependent on a the ever-changing guests. I think a consistent co-host would bring that back to the show. I still enjoy the show quite a lot -- there isn't another movie podcast I've found that I enjoy as much. I do miss the regular back and forth of Canon 1.0 though.

 

Going to abstain from voting. I've seen both, but not within the last 20 years. Back then, I think I would have sided with Blue Velvet, but I'd really rather re-visit rather than base on old perspective and I don't think I'll have the opportunity to see these films again within the next few days.

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I'm shook by the lack of Eraserhead support, the far superior film to Blue Velvet, Lynch's somewhat overrated ease-you-into-his-style film.

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I'm going to have to go with Blue Velvet. It's still my favorite David Lynch film.

 

I really don't understand why some people pronounce Kyle MacLachlan's name "mik-LAW-flin."

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I thought this was a great episode to listen to, and I think both Amy and Michael boiled down the distinction between them rather well: Eraserhead is the formation of Lynch's artistic vision, and Blue Velvet is the formation of Lynch's thematic vision. I'll restate that slightly to say that Eraserhead is the formation of Lynch's artistic vision of his feature length film. Lynch's style had been on display before in his handful of short films that he made before Eraserhead (nearly all of which are on Filmstruck, if you're interested in checking them out.)

 

Lynch's thematic vision is the idea of the seedy underbelly of average America, which is present in Wild at Heart, Twin Peaks (show and film), and even in Mulholland Dr. in the character of Diane, but it is encapsulated best in Blue Velvet.

 

While Eraserhead may have inspired many filmmakers, I still think it's a natural progression from his work on The Alphabet, The Grandmother, and The Amputee. All are incredible avant-garde art films, with the common thread being an other-worldly reality. The terror of Frank Booth in Blue Velvet (and of Bob from Twin Peaks or the bum or the grandparents in Mulholland Dr.) is that these characters are living in this world; they teeter on the cusp of reality and surreality. And to me, this is the essence of the body of David Lynch's work. I love Lynch for dancing on that knife's edge. Although I think Mulholland Dr. does it better and is my personal favorite Lynch film, Blue Velvet is where he finds a home in this style. So I voted for Blue Velvet.

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I really don't understand why some people pronounce Kyle MacLachlan's name "mik-LAW-flin."

 

If Devin were still around, I could see him making major hay out of this verbal tic.

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This was an underwhelming episode, sadly since I was really looking forward to it. I would've liked more talk about film form and technique but alas.

 

At any rate, I'm going with Blue Velvet. I actually find it more representative of all of Lynch's work than Eraserhead. However, the best option would've been the Twin Peaks pilot.

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Blue Velvet had a plot. Blue Velvet made sense. Things happened in Blue Velvet. I'm voting for Blue Velvet.

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I appreciate the artistry of all David Lynch films, even the ones I don't entirely enjoy. Blue Velvet is one of the films that I've never loved as much as I'm told that I should. Frankly, I think the Twin Peaks pilot captures the tone better, and Mulholland Drive perfected it by mixing in surreal nightmares first generated in Eraserhead. Even if Mulholland Drive (quietly my favorite) were under consideration for the Canon, I think I would still vote for ERASERHEAD, because it is Lynch in his purest form. It was made without any real expectations that it would ever be seen, and therefor I find that most of Lynch's subsequent films can be traced back to it in one way or another. So I'm going to vote ERASERHEAD into The Canon, though I lament to see that I am in the minority.

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I was all set to vote for Blue Velvet, but after hearing the episode I don't know how I'm going to vote yet. i will however offer a few tidbits by way of Lynch geeking out:

When you look at it, Blue Velvet is almost as steeped in the Wizard of Oz as Wild at Heart is. Rossellini's character's name is pretty obvious (Dorothy), but consider a few other links. View Frank Booth as the Wicked Witch with Brad Douriff and Jack Nance as his flying monkeys. Ben, smoking and illuminated from underneath with a work light, represents The Wizard. Dorothy's kept relic of her kidnapped child is a pointy cone-shaped hat that resembles the one worn by The Tin Man. The ear, removed from her husband, could be related to the Tin Woodsman's origin story [kept accidentally cutting parts of his body off and replacing them with tin until the entire man is made of tin]. There are many others, but I'll let you examine them for yourself. I just can't decide how Kyle MacLachlan would figure into the metaphor. Would he be Toto?

A lot of what Amy said about post pardum depression in fathers really struck a chord with me. I'd never really researched the subject myself, but I went through some very heavy depression after my first child was born. It felt very validating hearing someone say that.

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Also on Blue Velvet being full of classic noir tropes, the scene that was described by the hosts as one of the most difficult in the movie where Dorothy finds Jeffrey peeping in her closet is also a fairly standard fetish story. One needn't look too hard to find many examples of fetish literature told from the POV of a voyeur who is discovered in their hiding place by the subject of their peeping, are humiliated and made to strip, and in the process the person being peeped at finds themselves intensely aroused by the whole affair and the two of them engage in passionate lovemaking.

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I'm starting to realize (especially while watching the new incarnation of Twin Peaks) that there are actually two very distinct David Lynches: David Lynch the nightmare surrealist, and David Lynch the folksy raconteur. Every Lynch project has some combination of the two, thus making it easy to mistake the mixture for a single, unified vision--but these two David Lynches are actually circling each other in an uneasy truce, constantly vying to be the definitive Lynchian voice.

 

By my way of thinking, the apogee of "Nightmare Lynch" would be Eraserhead, while the apogee of "Folksy Lynch" would be The Straight Story. But if we want a truly representative David Lynch film for the Canon, we need something a little closer to the middle. Love it or hate it, Blue Velvet strikes a relatively palatable balance between the two.

 

I think you could also argue that if it weren't for Blue Velvet, Lynch might have wound up as a dimly-remembered cult figure. Dune was a massive failure, and Lynch could have easily gone the way of Michael Cimino after Heaven's Gate, watching his influence as a filmmaker dwindle as he faded into obscurity. Instead, Lynch dug even deeper into his own psyche and gave us Blue Velvet, which paved the way for Twin Peaks, which in turn unleashed Lynch on the wider cultural landscape.

 

I actually enjoy watching Eraserhead more than Blue Velvet (by a wide margin). But in the grand scheme of things, Eraserhead is a very cool sketch that shows a lot of promise, while Blue Velvet is a fully realized painting.

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Glad to see this forum is active again!

 

I hope everyone has had the opportunity to see the recent-ish print of Eraserhead that's been showing in recent years. Lynch did a new mix of the sound, and it is MONSTROUS. The NW Film Center had a run a few years back and though I'd seen it a few times, I was completely taken by surprise at the sound and how integral it is to the experience of Eraserhead. It really made me respect the film even more -- and I take issue with comments like this:

 

let's be honest: Eraserhead is an experimental student's film, albeit it an ambitious one.

"Student film" is probably not meant as a compliment, but it's also not true; "experimental" implies there's anything unintentional about the film. If anything, David Lynch is not an experimental filmmaker. Every element of his films is a specific choice and has intent behind it. He may draw from dream imagery but there's nothing random about his methods. Calling Eraserhead an "ambitious student film" implies that its reach somehow exceeds its grasp, and I don't think that's true at all. It's a wholly realized, complete work from an filmmaker who is probably our single greatest argument for auteur theory. (also no offense intended.)

 

I think you could also argue that if it weren't for Blue Velvet, Lynch might have wound up as a dimly-remembered cult figure. Dune was a massive failure, and Lynch could have easily gone the way of Michael Cimino after Heaven's Gate, watching his influence as a filmmaker dwindle as he faded into obscurity.

Nah, Lynch seems to have a strong work ethic and remains productive in whatever medium he's currently active in -- music, painting, comic strips, Flash animation, and film. Look at Inland Empire: partly self-financed, and then self-distributed. Cimino tanked because he was an inefficient narcissist (Heaven's Gate is still a beautiful movie anyways!) who was pursuing his vision at any cost. Even if Lynch had never made another film after Dune, he would have been notable for other work. And Eraserhead would probably be even more revered.

 

Anyways, I really enjoyed the guest's arguments for Eraserhead and it swung me that way yesterday, but upon reflection I'm going to side with Blue Velvet. I think Eraserhead may be the more important film in terms of cultural impact as well as a more powerful cinematic experience, but Blue Velvet is the quintessential Lynch work. The technique, the images, the cast, the writing -- it's almost perfect. It might be perfect.

 

p.s., new Twin Peaks is SO good.

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If Devin were still around, I could see him making major hay out of this verbal tic.

He'd probably play a pronunciation clip for Satyajit Ray.

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p.s., new Twin Peaks is SO good.

 

Isn't it astounding? At the risk of derailing this thread (something we were specifically warned not to do!), I really believe we are witnessing the quintessential David Lynch masterpiece unfold.

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