David Lynch fought against adversity to make his first feature film Eraserhead, that much goes without saying.
The black and white 1977 American body horror film was written, produced, and directed by Lynch. It took five years to make and tells the story of Henry Spencer, who is left to care for his grossly deformed child in a desolate industrial landscape.
The surrealist imagery and sexual undercurrents of this film saw it rise in cult status after an initially underwhelming release. However, much like the making of Eraserhead, it continued to plough on regardless. Having spent several years in principal photography because of funding difficulties, Lynch was able to finish his project with the help of donations and free assistance from sound engineers, production staff and musicians.
Living on set, Lynch was spurred on by his own belief and it was that conviction that earned the faith of his somewhat indomitable yet fearless cast that was barely paid a penny for their efforts.
In what looked doomed for failure multiple times during its five-year making, the 88-minute industrial-surrealist art film that ended up propelling Lynch to the forefront of popularity and resulted in the mainstream success he enjoys today.
The film struggled in the aftermath of its immediate release. However, film buffs had begun recognising Lynch’s efforts in small numbers. When Eraserhead finally made it Canada four years later, a man named K. George Godwin took it upon himself to learn, document and relive as much of its making as possible. In 1982 Godwin published his detailed reflection of the film after one a one-year research, it is called David Lynch and the Making of Eraserhead.
“Determined to understand the nature of the film’s power, Godwin wrote the first in-depth analysis of Eraserhead,” the book’s synopsis reads. “That essay led to a commission to write an article for Cinefantastique. For the first time, the secretive Lynch agreed to tell the full story of the film’s production.”
It’s said that the script of Eraserhead is thought to have been inspired by Lynch’s fear of fatherhood, while the film’s themes were a direct reflection of Lynch’s experiences living in a troubled neighbourhood in Philadelphia, describing it as ridden with “violence, hate and filth”.
“I saw so many things in Philadelphia I couldn’t believe,” Lynch once said. “I saw a grown woman grab her breasts and speak like a baby, complaining her nipples hurt. This kind of thing will set you back”.
While the reception of Eraserhead was mute, its legacy continues to grow. In 2004, it was selected for preservation in the National Film Registry by the United States Library of Congress, deemed “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”.
The filming was gruelling, the production arduous and the results disturbing. That said, with all great things comes significant difficulties. Eraserhead will live on as one of the most significant moments in film history.
Here’s a selection of images from its making: