Erasurehead Live (****)
Running time: 89 minutes
Director: David Lynch
Cast: Jack Nance, Charlotte Stewart
Music by: Cercueil (Penelope Michel & Nico Devos)
(Belfast Film Festival screening, The Mac, 22/04/2015)
WHEN David Lynch’s debut was released to an unsuspecting public back in 1977, many critics and film fans weren’t sure what to make of it. With one such review from Variety calling it “an exercise in bad taste,” this surreal body horror was described by many as being unwatchable, only to earn a cult following amongst intrigued cinephiles thanks to late night screenings and listing on various leftfield festival programmes.
The film tells the story of Henry, a nervous and awkward man who is left to take care of his grossly deformed child in a desolate, industrialised world after his girlfriend walks out on him. Through a series of hallucinations and dream sequences, the viewer gets a glimpse of Henry’s anxieties and worries, all wrapped up with a nightmarish industrial soundtrack crafted by David Lynch himself and collaborator Alan Splet.
As part of this year’s Belfast Film Festival, Eraserhead returned to the big screen in a special event that challenged our perceptions of the role music plays in cinema and took Lynch’s now critically acclaimed masterpiece in a strange new direction, yet somehow still fitting with the director’s original vision.
Set against Frederick Elmes and Herbert Cardwell’s black-and-white visuals, French duo Cercueil (Penelope Michel and Nico Devos) have composed an alternative, contemporary, but no less hypnotic new synth-pop soundtrack that is organic, singular and mesmerising right from the beginning. The result is an experience that is less about trying to make heads or tails out of Lynch’s narrative, but rather more about being absorbed into a live performance art piece.
Unlike other Live Soundtrack events, such as last year’s Dawn of the Dead screening accompanied by Simonetti’s Goblin, the film is played without much of the dialogue. A worrying thought for some, but given the radically obscure nature of the film, it’s a combination that works surprisingly well. The brooding music captures our absolute focus, rather than trying to pull our attention away from the events unfolding on-screen.
What few snippets of speech we’re treated to are combined and mixed into Cercueil’s utterly spellbinding soundtrack, giving Lynch’s film reels the artistic feel they truly deserve. Peter Ives’ original song ‘In Heaven’ is given a radical remix in a style that both more romantic and even scarier than in the original version.
A truly one-of-a-kind experience that would be difficult to replicate with any other film – and that includes much of Lynch’s own filmography.