Eraserhead

by
May 3, 2010 00:34

Tulisan ini dibuat sebagai resensi sekaligus reportase pemutaran film Eraserhead di C2O, 1 Mei 2010, film pertama dari seri pemutaran Focus Director: David Lynch selama Mei 2010 sebagai bagian dari program sinematek kami. Kami sangat menyarankan untuk menonton Eraserhead sebelum membaca resensi ini. Resensi juga tersedia dalam Bahasa Inggris.

Eraserhead, film panjang pertama David Lynch, dimulai pembuatannya di tahun 1971 dengan Independent Filmmaker’s grant sebesar USD 10,000 dari AFI. Jumlah ini tidak cukup; Lynch terpaksa menunda produksinya dengan mencari tambahan uang hasil kerja lainnya dan berbagai pinjaman. Dikatakannya, ide film ini datang dari Philadelphia, sementara (apa yang disebut) naskahnya hanya sepanjang 22 halaman.

Dengan setting kota industrial gersang dan kelam, Eraserhead menampilkan adegan film hitam putih yang sangat atmosferik, seolah dalam mimpi. Film dibuka dengan adegan kepala Henry Spencer, dalam posisi horisontal, superimposed di atas bulatan tanah (bumi?). Seekor “cacing” merangkak keluar dari mulut Henry. Adegan berpindah, seseorang dengan borok di seluruh wajah dan tubuhnya, memandang keluar jendela dan menurunkan tungkas-tungkas kendali. Cacing-sperma melaju cepat.

Dari awal film, terasa soundtrack yang mencekam, mengganjal. Fotografi hitam putih dengan lighting kontras tinggi sedikit mengingatkan kita pada film-film bisu dan teater. Dibandingkan film-film Lynch yang lain, fotografi Eraserhead terasa lebih ekspresif, penuh tekstur dan dan menyisakan impresi tak terlupakan (indelible). Dalam wawancara, Lynch bercerita bahwa Eraserhead disyuting dengan pace lambat dengan kru sedikit; ketiadaan deadline memberi mereka kesempatan untuk berkonsentrasi penuh pada penampilan akhir film. Mereka bekerja setelah makan malam, dan menghabiskan berjam-jam untuk lighting. Herbert Cardwell mengatur penggantungan lampu setelah melihat rehearsal Jack Nance (aktor Henry Spencer) dan David Lynch. Suasana kota terbuang kental terasa dalam film ini. Orang-orang yang kita jumpai tampak lesu, kelam, atau mengancam. Philadelphia, memang adalah satu kota industri tua. Lighting alamiah—outdoor—terasa suram. Sisa-sisa dan bebunyian industri hadir dalam bentuk pipa-pipa, bangunan-bangunan pabrik lama, bebunyian industrial (dengungan, bunyi mesin, mesin kereta api dsb) mencekam.

Di satu sisi, film ini terasa lucu. Hal-hal membosankan sehari-hari dibesar-besarkan menjadi situasi menggelikan: makan malam canggung bersama calon mertua, keluarga aneh sang pacar, memotong ayam yang lebih kecil daripada kepalan tangan, merawat bayi, tetangga yang menggoda, dsb. Kehidupan sehari-hari yang dibesar-besarkan, a la Americana, juga terasa dalam Blue Velvet. Di sisi lainnya, “komedi” ini menjadi mengerikan justru melalui mundanitas berlebihan tersebut, apalagi dengan paduan imaji-imaji dan tekstur-tekstur biologis organik: bayi prematur monster, cacing-cacing berbentuk sperma (atau foetus? Atau sperma? Ari-ari umbilical cord…?), deformasi, borok dan pembusukan senyawa organis.

Terasa kentalnya konotasi dan obsesi seksual dan tubuh, untuk menyebut beberapa: dalam adegan pengambilan koper, penyerahan dan pemotongan ayam, imaji-imaji cacing-sperma-foetus misterius, wajah gadis penyanyi, dsb. Lynch mengakui menyukai hal-hal (dan anatomi) organik; dia sampai mencari-cari mayat kucing (dan merendamnya dalam formalin) dari dokter hewan untuk mempelajari anatomi dan organ dalamnya demi mempersiapkan props dan setting Eraserhead. Henry Spencer, dengan wajah ekspresif memelasnya, seperti tampak tak berdaya, takut dan terancam (oleh misteri tubuh/seks?). Dia membungkam bayinya saat tetangganya datang menggodanya dan mereka berhubungan sebelum tenggelam dalam (bukan lautan, hanya) kolam susu. Di adegan berikutnya, kepalanya putus, berganti menjadi kepala sang bayi, sementara kepalanya menggelinding jatuh, dipungut seorang anak, dan dijadikan bahan dasar penghapus pensil—semuanya dilakukan dengan acuh dan wajar.

Adegan ini sepertinya membangkitkan banyak pertanyaan. Tapi toh, karena penonton sejak awal sudah disiapkan dengan adegan pembuka yang memang “aneh”, adegan kepala penghapus—Eraserhead—ini pada akhirnya terasa wajar. Mimpi dan realitas bercampur aduk. Ada dunia paralel teatrikal di balik radiator. Seorang gadis berwajah bengkak (a la The Elephant Man? Scrotum? Tupai?) menyanyi “In heaven everything is fine…” dan menginjak cacing-cacing yang berjatuhan di atas panggung. Pada akhirnya, film selesai dengan: 1) Henry membunuh anaknya, 2) lighting korslet hidup mati (tanda-tanda sedang dalam ajal hidup mungkin?), 3) si beborok luka berusaha menghentikan kendali sekuat tenaga tapi tak berhasil, dan 4) Henry akhirnya berjumpa dan berpelukan dengan gadis berwajah tupai di bawah cahaya putih terang. A Film by David Lynch, disusul kredit-kredit lainnya, tampil di layar diiringi lagu sangat riang a la teater, seolah mengejek, menolak memberi jawaban. Penonton bereaksi tertawa-tawa, “Dasar, lagu akhirnya ngeledek banget tuh!” Ada yang mengomel, “Sutradara gila… penontonnya juga!” Namun pada dasarnya, penonton merasa, film ini cukup menjelaskan. Plotnya sendiri cukup sederhana: cowok ketemu cewek, cewek hamil, cowok harus menikahi cewek, cewek tidak tahan mengasuh bayi monster, cewek meninggalkan cowok dan bayinya, cowok berselingkuh dengan tetangga seksinya, tetangga nemplok dengan cowok tua lainnya, cowok membunuh bayinya dan dirinya sendiri. Sederhana, mungkin, tapi Lynch berhasil menampilkannya dengan ironi hal-hal grotesk yang berkombinasi dan timbul dalam hal-hal keseharian.

Film-film Lynch secara stilistik kerap dibandingkan dengan Un Chien Andalou (Buñuel), atau Le Sang d’un Poète (Cocteau). Mungkin bisa kita sebutkan juga L’etoile de la Mer (Man Ray), animasi-animasi Svankmajer. Latar belakang lukisannya tampaknya memberi kemampuan komposisi gambar, ditambah atensinya pada suara. Namun jika ditanya apa yang terutama menginspirasi Lynch dalam pembuatan film ini, dia dengan sederhana menjawab: Philadelphia.

Philadelphia is my greatest influence. Because a lot of things started in Philadelphia. There was a certain mood to some of these interiors, and they carry way more than what you see. A thing is indicated from these interiors. Something about the light, and the moulding, and their proportions. And the mood outside. And it sort of seems like to me, that there were factories, industrial buildings, and neighbourhoods, dark and forlorn, tucked in somewhere, sort of like, you can’t get there from here. They’re sort of lost in another place. And that’s what comes from Philadelphia. And this is the world of Eraserhead, where you can be in a room, and feel the exterior, and know what it’s like, just from a mood, and that’s the way it was in Philadelphia as well.

—David  Lynch, dalam “Eraserhead: A Look Back”

Pada akhirnya, seperti sudah kami katakan di awal tulisan dan disuarakan penonton, “Lynch tidak bisa dijelaskan, harus dirasakan.” Terima kasih pada semua yang telah datang, terutama pada Erlin yang telah sangat membantu saya menyiapkan pemutaran ini. Sabtu depan kami pada jam yang sama kami akan memutar The Elephant Man, dibawakan oleh Erlin. Silahkan datang.

ERASERHEAD 90 mins, B&W.
Written, directed, and produced by David Lynch, in cooperation with the American Film Institute (AFI).
Photography: Frederick Elmes and Herbert Cardwell.
Music: Peter Ivers, David Lynch.
Nonoriginal music: Fats Weller. Libra/Corinth Films.


This review was written for the screening of Eraserhead on May 1, 2010, as part of May’s screening, Focus Director: David Lynch. Screening is held every Saturday 17.30 at C2O library, Jl. Dr. Cipto 20 Surabaya 60264, free and open for public as part of our cinematheque programme. We highly recommend you to watch the film before reading this review, . also available in Indonesian.

Eraserhead, Lynch’s debut feature film, was made in 1971 after Lynch received USD10,000 Independent Filmmaker’s grant from the American Film Institute (AFI); he had received the first grant USD5,000 in 1968 for his short film The Grandmother. The grant wasn’t enough; Lynch had to look for additional money through various loans and side jobs. The small crew brought in their day job’s edibles: fries, burgers, etc. to keep the candle burning, and the film was finally released in 1977. Taking 5 years in the making, Lynch said the ideas all came from Philadelphia, but there wasn’t a real script—only “22-page thing” for a 90-minute film.  “It took the longest of any film, and I lived and loved that world.”

Set in a grimy industrial wasteland, the film opens with the protagonist, Henry Spencer, horizontally superimposed on top of an earthy ball. A sperm-, umbilical-cord-like worm crawls out of his mouth. The scene changes; a grotesque man, skin all swollen and putrid, stares out of the a dirty window from inside a decaying room. He slowly switches some levers in front of him, and the sperm-umbilical-whatever worm zooms out of Henry’s mouth and falls into a crater-pond of the earth.

Shot in an atmospheric black & white film, with highly expressionistic lightings and compositions, Eraserhead brings to mind the exaggerated features of early films and theatres. Dexterous juxtapositions of sweeping wide angle and extreme close ups—particularly on biological, organic textures—stamps indelible impressions upon viewers. We see a bleak, lifeless wasteland with no signs of life: grey concretes and factories, foreboding pipes, enhanced with meticulously-crafted soundtrack of machinistic hum, railtrack sounds, etc. No trees, greeneries or healthy animate beings: lifeless (but smoking) grandmother, sexually-threatening mother, neurotic wife, father with ruined joints and limbs, “new” man-made chickens, monstrous baby—even the suckling pups sound ominously more like squealing rats.

“Should I just cut it up like a normal chicken?”

As Godwin said, at its most accessible level, we can certainly see the film as an exaggerated parody of a domestic comedy, with little molehill annoyances blown up to monstrous proportions: an uncomfortable dinner with the in-laws, the strange, dysfunctional family, obligatory carving of the first chicken, taking care of the crying baby, the neighbourhood seductress (and the good ol’ line, “I locked myself out… can I spend the night here?”). As we’ll see in the coming Saturdays, this exaggerated mundanity, Americana-style, is commonly found in Lynch’s other films.

And yet, the combination of the bleak, urban wasteland and biological—oftentimes sexual—imagery permeates throughout: the sperm/foetus/umbilical-cord-like worm, carving the bleeding chicken, orifices and swallowing black holes, rotting flesh, even the simple gesture of taking out a luggage from under the bed. Lynch admits to having always been attracted to organic things; he even called up a vet to acquire himself a dead cat to study the anatomy in preparation for Eraserhead.

In the midst of it all, we find Henry Spencer, baffled and hapless (beautifully expressed in his face and gestures by Jack Nance); rendered powerless by the forces surrounding him, all the time trying to remain inconspicuously “normal”—something that he’s not even sure of what. He muffles his baby in front of his neighbour’s sexual advances, and find themselves inside a milky pool, and in the next scene, his head pops and falls onto the ground, replaced by the baby’s phallic head. A street urchin picks up the decapitated head, brings it to a seedy establishment that turns out to be a pencil-eraser factory, where they turn the head into a raw material for tiny erasers on old-school pencils.

This sequence seems to be the most baffling. (Goodwin offered one plausible rational explanation based on the many sexual cues, but I feel it to be somewhat too unambigous). Still, considering the carefully-constructed dreamy images from the very beginning, it becomes an almost natural, expected progression of the film. Would it be too much to say that these dreams and realities become the viewer’s process of dreaming on screen? In his contemplative silence, Henry sees a theatrical stage behind his radiator, inhabited by a swollen- (scrotum-?) faced blonde girl singing, “In heaven… everything is fine…,” a creepy smile eternally plastered on her face while stomping on the ever-present worms falling on stage.

The film ends with: 1) Henry killing his baby, 2) a dramatic electrical shortage interspersed with the dead baby, 3) the rotting-fleshed man struggling to turn the lever, and 4) Henry finally embraced by the swollen-faced women, bathed in blinding lights. A Film by David Lynch, and more credits roll with a very chirpy, carnivalesque soundtrack. A refusal for any rational explanation? The small audience at C2O laughed and shook their heads. Yet at its most basic level, the story has an appealing narrative simplicity: Guy meets girl, girl gets pregnant, guy must be responsible, guy marries the girl, girl can’t stand the family life and the monstrous baby, girl leaves guy alone awith the baby, guy has an affair with the neighbourhood seductress, neighbour finds another old fart, guy gets depressed, guy kills his baby, and himself. Pretty basic, almost mundane, really, but Lynch has managed to present it with a particular kind of irony whereby the macabre, the grotesque, combines and contains itself within these (exaggerated) banalities.

Stylistically, his films would perhaps recall the works of Buñuel, Cocteau, and perhaps Svankmajer, while his painterly background might have contributed to the remarkably intricate details, lightings and compositions, enhanced by the acute sense of sound. However, when asked where Eraserhead comes from, Lynch humbly replied: Philadelphia.

Philadelphia is my greatest influence. Because a lot of things started in Philadelphia. There was a certain mood to some of these interiors, and they carry way more than what you see. A thing is indicated from these interiors. Something about the light, and the moulding, and their proportions. And the mood outside. And it sort of seems like to me, that there were factories, industrial buildings, and neighbourhoods, dark and forlorn, tucked in somewhere, sort of like, you can’t get there from here. They’re sort of lost in another place. And that’s what comes from Philadelphia. And this is the world of Eraserhead, where you can be in a room, and feel the exterior, and know what it’s like, just from a mood, and that’s the way it was in Philadelphia as well.

—David  Lynch, in “Eraserhead: A Look Back”

Like someone said, in general it’s really hard to explain Lynch, it’s just better to experience it. Many thanks to Erlin for helping me prepare the screening programme. This Saturday, May 8, 2010, we’ll be screening The Elephant Man, do come around if you’re nearby. All screenings are free—donations accepted to keep us going—and open for public. Oh, please note the parental rating (13+), thanks!

ERASERHEAD 90 mins, B&W.

Written, directed, and produced by David Lynch, in cooperation with the American Film Institute (AFI).

Photography: Frederick Elmes and Herbert Cardwell.

Music: Peter Ivers, David Lynch.

Nonoriginal music: Fats Weller. Libra/Corinth Films.

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: Founding director, c2o library & collabtive. Currently also working in Singapore as a Research Associate at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies (ISEAS). Opinions are hers, and do not represent/reflect her employer(s), institution(s), or anyone else with whom she may be remotely affiliated.
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