Elmer Gantry

US (1960): Drama
145 min, No rating, Color, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

Burt Lancaster and Jean Simmons as Bible Belt evangelists in the 20s, in a loud, striking, big-scale melodrama based on the Sinclair Lewis novel about con artists, adapted and directed by Richard Brooks. The movie cheats on the issues and it's overloaded with gigantic sets, enormous crowds, fires, riots, and human stampedes. But it's coarsely compelling and-though exhausting-never boring. When Lancaster plays a kinetic, broadly exaggerated character like the lecher Gantry, you can't take your eyes off him, and Simmons is one of the most quietly commanding actresses Hollywood has ever trashed. With Shirley Jones as Lulu Bains, Edward Andrews as George Babbitt, and Arthur Kennedy, Dean Jagger, Patti Page, John McIntire, Rex Ingram, Hugh Marlowe, and Philip Ober. Academy Awards: Best Actor (Lancaster), Supporting Actress (Jones), and Screenplay (Brooks). United Artists.

Elvira Madigan

Sweden (1967): Romance
89 min, Rated PG, Color, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

Thommy Berggren gives a skillful, sensitive performance as the handsome young cavalry officer who falls fatally in love with a circus girl (Pia Degermark, who is so exquisitely fresh that she doesn't need to act) in Bo Widerberg's lushly beautiful movie about romantic insanity, set in the late 19th century. The lovers, who live only for each other, cut themselves off from society, and prefer to die rather than risk growing apart. Based on an actual double suicide; Widerberg wrote the script, directed, and also edited. Cinematography by Jorgen Persson; the music is Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 21, played by Geza Anda. In Swedish.

The Emerald Forest

US (1985): Adventure
113 min, Rated R, Color, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

John Boorman's theme is that civilized man, having lost tribal man's magic unity with nature, spreads his brutal, nature-destroying sickness. To put this across, Boorman sets his story in Brazil, where the 7-year-old son of an American engineer (played by Powers Boothe) is abducted by an Amazon rain forest tribe called the Invisible People. For 10 years, the father searches for the boy in whatever time he can take off from his job of building a giant dam. When, at last, he locates his 17-year-old son (played by the director's son, Charley Boorman), he realizes that the boy's consciousness surpasses his own and that the boy's life is superior to anything civilization has to offer. And soon the father realizes that the dam is destroying the boy's tribe. The film touches on all sorts of major themes, especially the fate of the rain forests, but mostly it attempts to reestablish the myth of the noble savage by imbuing it with hallucinogenic romanticism-trance visions, out-of-body travel, and all. It's a puerile movie. The faults that have plagued Boorman's films-his lack of interest in character, his rather lordly failure to dramatize the issues that excite him the most, his wacko ear for dialogue-really pile up this time, and he doesn't seem able to get any kind of seductive flow going. With Rui Polonah (as the shaman-chief), Meg Foster, Dira Pass, and Eduardo Conde. From a script by Rosco Pallenberg; cinematography by Philippe Rousselot. Boorman published a good account of making the movie, The Emerald Forest Diary. Released by Embassy Pictures.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Hooked.

The Emigrants

Sweden (1971): Drama
148 min, Rated PG, Color, Available on videocassette
Also known as UTVANDRARNA.

Jan Troell's broad-backed nature epic on the mid-19th-century Swedish emigration to this country. A bursting, resonant work, it covers the grim farm life, under a hierarchy of masters, that drove a group to emigrate, the brutal sea voyage, and then the landing of the survivors and their trip by train, by Mississippi paddleboat, and on foot until they staked out a claim in Minnesota. Troell's achievement is prodigious. (He is his own cinematographer and editor, and he collaborated on the writing.) The story is concluded in a second film, THE NEW LAND. Both with Liv Ullmann and Max von Sydow. Adapted from the novels of Vilhelm Moberg. THE EMIGRANTS ran 190 minutes in Sweden; Troell had to cut it to 150 minutes for the American distributors, Warners. In Swedish.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Reeling.

Emitai

Senegal (1971): Drama
No rating, Color

A film by the Senegalese writer-filmmaker Ousmane Sembčne about black villagers who are pushed closer and closer to resistance by the inhuman demands of a colonial power (the French, during the Second World War). Yet they delay. Even after their women and children are rounded up and put in the sun, the men postpone taking action; they make sacrifices to their gods, hoping to learn what to do-but the gods are silent. (Emitai is the Master of Thunder.) The film deals with the interrelationships in the village between the men and the women, and between the men and their gods-and in both cases they turn out to be complex, ironic, puzzling. Ousmane Sembčne's approach is thoughtful and almost reticent; the viewer contemplates a series of tragic dilemmas. Yet for all its intelligence, the movie isn't memorable-partly because the last section is unsatisfying. In Wolof, an African language.

The Emperor Jones

US (1933): Drama
72 min, No rating, Black & White, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

Eugene O'Neill's play about a black man's disintegration was conceived in a semi-Expressionist style, and it was filmed in that style by Dudley Murphy, from a screenplay by Dubose Heyward. Murphy, a director with ideas but almost no technique, used painted sets, exaggerated decor, and an artificial jungle; the effects are sometimes powerful, sometimes ridiculous. O'Neill's violent emotions are accurately rendered by Paul Robeson and Dudley Digges, though they seem to be acting on a stage. United Artists.

Empire of the Sun

US (1987): War
152 min, Rated PG, Color, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

At the outset, this Steven Spielberg epic is so big and majestic you want to laugh in pleasure, and it stays that way for about 45 minutes-Spielberg takes over Shanghai, and makes it his city. But then, first in brief patches and then in longer ones, his directing goes terribly wrong. The story, taken from J.G. Ballard's autobiographical novel, is set at the outbreak of the Second World War, and it's about Jim (Christian Bale), an 11-year-old British schoolboy, who is separated from his parents when the Japanese Army invades the city, on December 8, 1941, and how he changes in order to survive three years of starving in a prison camp. It isn't told straightforwardly, though. Spielberg throws himself into bravura passages, lingers over them trying to give them a poetic obsessiveness, and loses his grasp of the narrative. For the sake of emotion-to have something to say, to give the picture some meaning-he pumps it full of false emotion. (That's what his poetry is.) The picture is a combination of craftsmanship and almost unbelievable tastelessness. Every time Spielberg tries to make a humanitarian statement, he falls flat on his face-not just because his statements are so naďve but because they go against the grain of Ballard's material. John Williams' editorializing music swells and swooshes, trying to make you feel that something religious is going on. Christian Bale is a fine performer, directed superlatively; also with John Malkovich, Miranda Richardson, Nigel Havers, and Joe Pantoliano. The adaptation is credited to Tom Stoppard (it was also worked on by Menno Meyjes); the cinematography is by Allen Daviau. Spielberg had permission to shoot in Shanghai for only three weeks; the settings were matched up and constructed in Spain and London. Warners.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Hooked.

The Empire Strikes Back

US (1980): Science Fiction
124 min, Rated PG, Color, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

By far the most imaginative part of the STAR WARS trilogy. This middle, bridging film is chained to an unresolved plot and doesn't have the leaping comic-book hedonism of the 1977 STAR WARS, but you can feel the love of movie magic that went into its cascading imagery. George Lucas kept the first movie hopping by cutting it into short, choppy scenes; Irvin Kershner, who directed this one, is a master of visual flow, and, joining his own kinks and obsessions to Lucas's, he gave EMPIRE a splendiferousness that may even have transcended what Lucas had in mind. When Han Solo (Harrison Ford) is frozen into sculpture-his face protruding from a bas-relief, the mouth open as if calling out in pain-the scene has a terrifying grandeur. The characters in this fairy-tale cliff-hanger show more depth of feeling than they had in the first film, and the music-John Williams' variations on the STAR WARS theme-seems to saturate and enrich the intensely clear images. Scenes linger in the mind: the light playing on Darth Vader's gleaming surfaces as this metal man, who's like a giant armored insect, fills the screen; Han Solo saving Luke's life on the ice planet Hoth by slashing open a snow camel and warming him inside; Luke's hand being lopped off, and his seemingly endless fall through space; Chewbacca, the Wookie, yowling in grief or in comic fear, his sounds so hyper-human you couldn't help laughing at them; the big-eared green elf Yoda, with shining ancient eyes, who pontifically instructs Luke in how to grow up wise-Yoda looks like a wonton and talks like a fortune cookie. With Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Billy Dee Williams, and Alec Guinness. The story is by Lucas; the script is by Leigh Brackett and Lawrence Kasdan. The cinematography is by Peter Suschitzky; the editing is by Paul Hirsch. Lucasfilm, released by 20th Century-Fox.

The Enchanted Cottage

US (1945): Romance
92 min, No rating, Black & White, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

A fantasy about a horribly scarred war veteran (Robert Young), hiding from the world, and a plainer-than-plain spinster (Dorothy McGuire), who are transformed by love and look miraculously beautiful to each other in their New England cottage. The DeWitt Bodeen and Herman J. Mankiewicz updating of the Pinero play was given the full solemnly sensitive treatment by the director, John Cromwell, which only seems to add to the painful ickiness of the material. The pathos and sloshy uplift can make one squirm with embarrassment mixed with anger. With Herbert Marshall as a blind composer who tries to explain the inexplicable, and Mildred Natwick, Spring Byington, and Hillary Brooke. (A 1924 silent version starred Richard Barthelmess.) RKO.

End of the Road

US (1970): Drama
110 min, Rated X, Color, Available on videocassette

The John Barth 1958 novel is about a triangle in an academic setting, and the film's best scenes are the quiet ones that are closest to the spirit of the book. But most of the time the director, Aram Avakian, and his co-screenwriters, Dennis McGuire and Terry Southern, feverishly pound us with shock effects and heavyweight messages. The cinematography by Gordon Willis is often beautiful, the optical effects are sometimes elegant, and the sets and details are often remarkably fine, but the absurdist point of view has too self-congratulatory a tone. Guns and American flags are the running shticks of the movie, and the performers (Stacy Keach as the catatonic hero, Dorothy Tristan, Harris Yulin, James Earl Jones, James Coco, Grayson Hall, and Ray Brock) are intercut with mushroom clouds, atrocities, and the moon shot. Allied Artists.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Deeper into Movies.

Endless Love

US (1981): Drama
115 min, Rated R, Color, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

A predictable fiasco-still it's considerably worse than you might have expected. Directed by Franco Zeffirelli, from Judith Rascoe's adaptation of Scott Spencer's novel about a teenage boy's single-minded love for his young girlfriend, the movie is an icky, shapeless mess. The novel was a purplish glorification of the hero's masochism, and it was purplish in a violent way. The love that was endless was a physical addiction. The two kids fornicated furiously and just about constantly; they went at each other like battle-scarred veterans of the sex wars. And the boy's passionate love resulted in his being sent to an insane asylum. Even in the 50s when movies were full of misunderstood young heroes, no boy ever suffered so much for love. Zeffirelli has turned this passion into tender, gentle romance, with the scenes of intercourse so "tastefully" rendered that nothing in the movie makes much sense, not even the graceful sexual position of the two young actors-Martin Hewitt as David and Brooke Shields as Jade. If people's early encounters were this refined, sex wouldn't have got a bad name. Maybe teenagers will be touched by the sensitivity and devotion of the pair; adults may go a little giggly-crazy, especially since the parents are a quartet of leches and bores-reminiscent of the parents in SPLENDOR IN THE GRASS, where a passionate girl (Natalie Wood) was packed off to a loony bin. Shirley Knight, who acts by smacking her lips, is Jade's mother; Don Murray, who even at first sight seems viciously deranged, is her father; and, as David's parents, Beatrice Straight and Richard Kiley are a left-wing Maggie and Jiggs. This may be the silliest-looking movie ever lighted by a first-class cinematographer (David Watkin); it's all bathed in a Zeffirellian golden glow. When David and Jade are at the Planetarium and he says, "I'm going to name a star after you," a voice in the theatre piped up, "Brooke Shields is already a star." Also with Penelope Milford. A Keith Barish-Dyson Lovell Production, for PolyGram; released by Universal.

Enemies, A Love Story

US (1989): Drama/Comedy
119 min, Rated R, Color, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

Emotionally overwhelming. Adapted from Isaac Bashevis Singer's New York City novel, set in 1949-a post-Holocaust sex farce in which three passionately jealous women are in love with a guilt-ridden, self-effacing man. The director, Paul Mazursky, has gathered a superbly balanced cast and kept the action so smooth that the viewer is carried along on a tide of mystical slyness. Ron Silver is the Polish-Jewish intellectual who survived the Final Solution by hiding in a hayloft. Margaret Sophie Stein is the Gentile peasant (now his wife) who risked her life to take care of him. Lena Olin is his diabolically willful mistress, a survivor of the camps. Anjelica Huston is the wife (with an erotic aura) he thought was killed by the Nazis. This richly satisfying movie is restrained, yet it has its own deeply crazy turmoil. Mazursky pulls the rug out from under us, and we drop through the farce. With Alan King, Judith Malina, Phil Leeds, and Mazursky. The cinematography is by Fred Murphy; the script is by Roger L. Simon and the director. The sound track features a klezmer band. 20th Century-Fox.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Movie Love.

The Enemy Below

US (1957): War
98 min, No rating, Color, Available on videocassette

A duel of nerves, instincts, intelligence, and seamanship is fought by Curt Jurgens as the captain of a German submarine and Robert Mitchum as the captain of an American destroyer. Dick Powell's direction of this Second World War action-adventure picture is clean and professional; everything is well-done, but nothing surprises you and nothing thrills you, either. With Theodore Bikel and Kurt Kreuger. The script by Wendell Mayes is based on a book by Commander D.A. Rayner. 20th Century-Fox. CinemaScope.

The Enforcer

US (1951): Crime
87 min, No rating, Black & White, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

This crime melodrama, inspired by newspaper accounts of the organization of killers-for-hire known as Murder, Inc., has a good, tense opening sequence, set at night, with Humphrey Bogart as a D.A. trying to protect the gangster (Ted de Corsia) who is scheduled to be his witness in the morning. But as the D.A. goes back over the case, in flashback, the suspense gradually seeps away. The narrative keeps moving along, but it doesn't build and the flashbacks aren't ingeniously pieced together-they're not fun. Bogart, who seems to be the police investigator as well as the prosecutor, walks through his colorless part; he's far less entertaining than the hoods-a collection of brutish misfits who pick on each other. De Corsia, with his sinister accent and his humorlessness and impersonal anger, takes over as the star. Others in the cast include Zero Mostel as Big Babe, Lawrence Tolan (later Michael) as Duke, Don Beddoe as O'Hara, who's sodden on muscatel, and Jack Lambert, Robert Steele, John Kellogg, King Donovan, Roy Roberts, Tito Vuolo, and Mario Siletti; despite the crude writing (the script is by Martin Rackin) each of these men makes a distinct impression. Only Everett Sloane as the mastermind, Mendoza, is a disappointment-he's smoothly actorish and outclasses his amoral-killer role. The women (Adelaide Klein, Pat Joiner, and Susan Cabot) are treated negligently, as mere accessories to the story. The film is well-shot (by Robert Burks) and astutely designed, though it seems to have been made on the cheap; there's almost no one on the screen who isn't directly related to the case. A puzzling omission: we never learn how Murder, Inc., actually worked; how did potential customers find out how to get in touch with the murder ring? Directed by Bretaigne Windust; produced by Milton Sperling, for an independent company. Released by Warners.

The Enforcer

US (1976): Crime
96 min, Rated R, Color, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

Clint Eastwood once again as Dirty Harry, the San Francisco police inspector who is a law unto himself; by now Eastwood appears to be taking Harry's saintliness so seriously that he hisses his lines angrily, his mouth pulled thin by righteousness. Directed by James Fargo, this third in the series doesn't have the savvy to be as sadistic as its predecessors (DIRTY HARRY, MAGNUM FORCE); it's just limp. The script by Stirling Silliphant and Dean Riesner is no more than scaffolding; its strategy is simply to set up a collection of villains-the Revolutionary Strike Force-so disgustingly cruel and inhuman that Eastwood can spend the rest of the movie killing them with a perfect conscience. These revolutionaries who are imperilling the city (which is run by the usual contingent of liberal twits) are thrill-seeking mercenaries, led by vicious homosexuals. The staging is so lackadaisical, though, that jowly revolutionaries shoot with one eye on the time clock. The film's only distinction is Tyne Daly's warm performance as the policewoman assigned to work with Harry: deliberately unglamorous, she manages to show some believably human expressions of confusion and discomfort. With Bradford Dillman, Harry Guardino, John Mitchum, DeVeren Bookwalter, and John Crawford. The story is by G.M. Hickman and S.W. Schurr. Produced by Eastwood's company, for Warners.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book When the Lights Go Down.

England Made Me

UK (1973): Drama
100 min, Rated PG, Color

Very slight, but it has a hushed, becalmed quality that is pleasing-and peculiar, too, for a film set in Germany during the early 30s. The halcyon atmosphere is creepily ambiguous, to say the least. Adapted from a Graham Greene novel published in 1935, it's about an amiable, giddy young Englishman (Michael York)-a schoolboy at heart-at loose among the Nazis. Hildegard Neil plays his sister, the mistress of a humorless swindler-financier (Peter Finch), and Michael Hordern turns up as a mildewed old newspaperman. Understated and rarefied, the movie often seems more Noel Coward than Graham Greene, but that's partly because Greene in 1935 wasn't yet quite Greene. The plot and characters are very close to his originals, and the dialogue is almost verbatim; the lines are spoken with the snap that good actors bring to good lines, like fish rising to live bait. It's far from great, but it's not bad, and York gives one of his best performances. With Joss Ackland and Tessa Wyatt. An English production, directed by Peter Duffell, who wrote the script with Desmond Cory. Cinematography by Ray Parslow; shot in Yugoslavia.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book Reeling.

Enter the Dragon

US (1973): Action
97 min, Rated R, Color, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

Bruce Lee and John Saxon in a kung-fu movie that's a good-natured example of the pleasures of schlock art. There's so much going on that the whole history of movies seems to be recapitulated in scrambled form. It could be billed as the movie with a thousand climaxes. But it's not all schlock: the slender, swift Bruce Lee was the Fred Astaire of martial arts, and many of the fights that could be merely brutal come across as lightning-fast choreography. With Jim Kelly as Williams, Ahna Capri as Tania, Bob Wall as Oharra, Shih Ken as Han, Angela Mao Ying as Su-Lin, Yang Sze as Bolo, Betty Chung as the secret agent, Mei Ling, Geoffrey Weeks as Braithwaite, and Peter Archer as the New Zealander, Parsons. Directed by Robert Clouse; written by Michael Allin; music by Lalo Schifrin; produced by Fred Weintraub and Paul Heller, for Warners.

The Entertainer

UK (1960): Drama
97 min, No rating, Black & White, Available on videocassette

The John Osborne play, set during the Suez crisis of 1956, was staged by Tony Richardson in 1957, starring Laurence Olivier as Archie Rice; it was his greatest contemporary role, and he appears in this film version, again directed by Richardson. The play is a lewd, tragic vaudeville about the life of a bankrupt pursued by creditors, a crapulent song-and-dance man whose emotions break through onstage in stale blue jokes as he ogles the half-naked chorus girls and razzes the orchestra leader. "Don't clap too hard-it's a very old building," he jeers at the patrons, who are sitting on their hands. And if there's mincing hatred in his tone, and the desperate self-disgust of a performer who can't get a response there's also a trace of affection for the run-down theatre, which suggests dilapidated, crumbling England. The action shifts between the music-hall stage and the rooms that Archie and his wife, Phoebe (Brenda de Banzie), share with his father, Billy Rice (Roger Livesey), who was a headliner in his day but now, in his seventies, is retired to a life of mildewed gentility. Old Billy-"Granddad" to Archie's three grown-up children-wears ancient, carefully preserved smart clothes and conducts himself with the rakish dignity of an Edwardian gentleman. Billy was a great performer, part of a living tradition; Archie, still hanging on at 50, has never had the purity that his father had-he refers to himself as "old Archie, dead behind the eyes." He's obscenely angry as he lashes out at us, the audience, in frustration at his own mediocrity. Osborne is a master of invective. He can't bring Archie's principled, observant daughter, Jean (Joan Plowright), to life, but when it comes to a character like Archie-a man who does so much to make you hate him that you can't-he gives him a Shakespearean fury. The film errs in many ways, and at times the editing seems glaringly poor, but Olivier's performance gives it venomous excitement. Adapted by Osborne and Nigel Kneale; cinematography by Oswald Morris. With Albert Finney, Alan Bates, Shirley Anne Field, Daniel Massey, and Thora Hird. (An American TV version, starring Jack Lemmon, was made in 1976.)
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book When the Lights Go Down.

Entre Nous

France (1983): Drama
110 min, Rated PG, Color, Available on videocassette
Also known as COUP DE FOUDRE.

The French actress-turned-filmmaker Diane Kurys tells the story of two young married women in the 1950s who don't recognize how unfulfilled they have been in their marriages until they meet each other. The two women (Isabelle Huppert and Miou-Miou) are lighted and posed so that they are two heroic profiles, with taut neck tendons and beautiful chins. Kurys lets us see their self-preoccupation and their unresponsiveness to their children, but this is all pushed to the side; it isn't given any weight. The women are romanticized and politicized as soul mates; they're turned into feminist precursors, while the husbands (Guy Marchand and Jean-Pierre Bacri), who always seem to need a shave, are treated as lumps, as part of the common herd. Kurys tells us that the characters played by Huppert and Marchand are her parents, and Marchand, who plays his role superbly, is the only one a viewer is likely to have any feeling for. But Kurys has made a very peculiar kind of memory film: its psychology goes in one direction, its sexual politics take it in another. And the construction is lackadaisical and flabby. Apparently we're supposed to think that whether or not the women are lovers is irrelevant to the changes in consciousness they bring out in each other. Yet the picture keeps teetering on the verge of a seduction scene, and that teasing possibility gives many of the scenes their only tension. This is a movie about two women not having a lesbian affair. The only thing that's distinctive about it is its veneer of post-feminism. Written by the director and Alain Le Henry. In French.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book State of the Art.

The Epic That Never Was (I, Claudius)

US (1965): Documentary
74 min, No rating, Color

Bill Duncalf's documentary, made for the BBC, about the circumstances that caused the 1937 Alexander Korda production of I, CLAUDIUS, based on Robert Graves' I, Claudius and Claudius the God, to be abandoned midway. The temperamental problems between the star, Charles Laughton, and the director, Josef von Sternberg, were clearly enormous, and the production was hit by a series of disasters; however, from the look of the footage which is included, the world did not lose a masterpiece. The interviews with survivors of the debacle (such as Merle Oberon, who was supposed to play Messalina) are very entertaining. This is probably the only film ever made about an abandoned film.

Equus

US (1977): Drama
138 min, Rated R, Color, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

Careful, unimaginative version of Peter Shaffer's play, directed by Sidney Lumet. The sensitive-important-picture pacing is like a black armband. As the tormented psychiatrist, Richard Burton has eight long soliloquies in which he does his elocutionary thing, sitting at his desk and talking right to us. Burton can't be accused of slacking off; he's intense as all getout. He turns his lines into tongue twisters to rush us to the big ironies, squinching his eyes in pain. The case that has upset the doctor is that of a teenager (Peter Firth), a part-time stablehand who has blinded six horses. Investigating the crime, the doctor discovers that the boy comes from a repressive background in which religion is a pressure point between the boy's anti-religious father (Colin Blakely) and his devout mother (Joan Plowright), and that the boy has transformed her Christ worship into equine worship. Burton assembles all this (dubious) Oedipal data at a slow crawl, and there's all this acting. Each character has to reveal his sore spots, his tensions, and his basic decency. And when the picture finally moves on, it's back to Burton at his lectern, linking the boy's case to ancient Greece and to Dionysian mysteries. The film sets Peter Shaffer's worst ideas on a pedestal. With Harry Andrews, Eileen Atkins, Jenny Agutter, and Kate Reid. Cinematography by Oswald Morris; music by Richard Rodney Bennett; produced by Lester Persky and Elliott Kastner. United Artists.
For a more extended discussion, see Pauline Kael's book When the Lights Go Down.

Eraserhead

US (1978): Horror
90 min, No rating, Black & White, Available on videocassette and laserdisc

David Lynch, who had made short films during his student days at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, worked for five years in Los Angeles to complete this first feature, which was shot (mostly at night) in 35-mm black and white. He was the writer, the director, and the set designer, and was also responsible for the wonderfully grubby special effects. He seems to have reinvented the experimental-film movement; watching this daringly irrational movie, with its interest in dream logic, you almost feel that you're seeing a European avant-garde gothic of the 20s or early 30s. There are images that recall Fritz Lang's M and Cocteau's BLOOD OF A POET (1930) and Buńuel's UN CHIEN ANDALOU (1928), and yet there is a completely new sensibility at work. Lynch pulls you inside wormy states of anxiety. Time seems completely still while the hero, Henry (John Nance), whose hair stands on end, as if permanently shocked, in an Afro pompadour that's squared off-it suggests an eraser on the head of a pencil-moves through streets reminiscent of the ones Peter Lorre sidled through in M. Henry appears to come out of the viewer's subconscious; he experiences a man's worst fears of courtship and marriage and fatherhood (to a whimpering monster). The slow, strange rhythm is very unsettling and takes some getting used to, but it's an altogether amazing, sensuous film; it even has an element of science fiction and some creepy musical numbers, and the sound track is as original and peculiar as the imagery. There is perhaps nothing else in contemporary films that is as eerily erotic as the moment when Henry commits adultery with the girl from across the hall and the two lovers deliquesce into their bed-disappearing in the fluid, with only the woman's hair left floating on top. The sound man was Alan R. Splet (who later won an Academy Award for his work on THE BLACK STALLION, 1979); the cast includes Judith Roberts, Charlotte Stewart, Laurel Near, and Jack Fisk as the deus ex machina. (The monsters in the 1979 PROPHECY were clearly based on Henry's babe.)

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