David Lynch had a big hand in this release, meaning that supplement wise thereís a decent amount to be found here but at the same time itís limited in terms of type of content: donít expect any scholarly material or any readings into the film. Lynch has even limited some of the disc functionality: similar to other DVD releases of his films, most notably Universalís DVD of Mulholland Drive, there are no chapter stops. This also means that Criterionís ďTimelineĒ feature, available on all of their Blu-ray releases up to this point, has also been disabled and you are unable to save bookmarks.
Lynch has at least seen fit to include a number of his short films, though, offering introductions for each one, running 1-minute to 5-minutes each, to give a brief explanation, most welcome since a few of these would be indecipherable otherwise. His first ďfilmĒ, Six Men Getting Sick was actually an entry for a sculpture contest. He made a sculpture and then projected a looped animation over it. Itís presented in what is probably the best simulation possible all things considered, presenting the animation or a recreation of the sculpture. Though its effect is admittedly probably better in real life, itís still a rather clever execution, and an easy early entry into the mind of Lynch. Itís technically a minuteís worth of film but it has been looped around here a few times running 4-minutes. The actual exhibit would have been looped around continuously. Disappointingly Criterion doesnít give you the option to continuously loop it, like they did with Lemon on their Hollis Frampton release.
His next film, the 4-minute The Alphabet would cement Lynchís desire to get into filmmaking. He based it on a nightmare his then-wifeís niece had had involving the alphabet. And itís easily the most horrifying rendition of the alphabet Iíve seen. A mix of classic animation, live action, and ďlive action stop motionĒ (as Iíll call it) it really is a nightmare and contains some effective and unnerving imagery, impressive for someone who was just getting into film at the time. A few early Lynch staples can be found in here as well.
The Grandmother is probably the real prize in all of the short films. The longest of the bunch, running about 34-minutes, it was the film Lynch made from a grant he won from the AFI (a story he recalls with his eyes welling up, obviously grateful that it worked out for him since it ďchanged his lifeĒ). Despite the odd narrative (using animation, stop motion, and live action) this film actually has a more obvious narrative in comparison to the other shorts. The story simply revolves around a neglected little boy (ignored or abused by his animalistic parents) who grows (yes, grows) a grandmother in his bedroom, who proves to be the loving force he needs. It has its rough edges for sure but you can feel a great level of confidence behind it. The visuals can be quite astounding, particularly the opening where the parents and boy literally grow, and thereís some great visual touches: I particularly like how the black sets have chalk lines outlining the walls and details, including those on the doors, offering a skewed childlike view. Itís not an easy film at all (particularly the boyís punishment for wetting his bed) but itís quite effective and oddly even touching. You can make out a lot of material in here that would eventually make its way to Eraserhead, including the sound design.
The Amputee is an interesting short. Apparently AFI was looking into buying a lot of black and white video cassettes (Lynch fearing the American Film Institute was changing its name to the ďAmerican Video InstituteĒ) and needed to test out two different products to see which was best. Lynch offered to help and made the same (more or less) short film twice, using the different tapes. Both versions, presenting a double amputee played by Carol Coulson writing a letter while a doctor played by Lynch offers some medical assistance that appears to leave things in worse shape, are presented here. The first runs 5-minutes and the other runs 4. As to which tape looked better I would probably lean towards the first, though neither looked particularly great.
We finally then get a rather intriguing short, the 58-second Premonitions Following an Evil Deed. Made in 1995 to mark the 100-year anniversary of film, an original hand crank Lumiere camera was passed around to a group of directors who then had to make a 58-second film with it and a special type of 35mm film. You can tell how excited Lynch was by the prospect and he creates something very effective and fairly unnerving: a modern crime film with the look of a early 1900ís short.
As a bonus all of the films have been restored at 2k and are presented in 1080p. Since The Amputee was shot on video it simply looks like a video presentation but the others do look like a projected film and have been cleaned up where appropriate (the two earlier shorts have some more noticeable damage, as does the last film shot with the Lumiere camera, but I feel most of this is intended.) Overall a great addition.
The remaining supplements focus primarily on the production or promotional material for the filml, and are (oddly) divided out by year. Under 1977 we first get what I assume is the filmís original theatrical trailer. Under 1979 is a 17-minute interview with Lynch and director of photography Frederick Elmes performed by Tom Christie. Filmed on video for the television production class at UCLA, Elmes and Lynch talk about the production (Lynch sharing the first of many stories about a dead cat used for the film that didnít make the cut) while Christie then reads quotes from reviews of the film, which Lynch either acknowledges or dances around. Lynch of course refuses to offer his own interpretation of the film, stating he thinks it wouldnít be ďfairĒ to audiences to force one on them, though admits he didnít have an audience in mind when making the film (he actually highly doubted anyone would see the film.) He promises to be more mindful of them with his next film.
For 1982 we get yet another trailer for the film, made especially for the Nuart Theater in L.A. Itís an odd trailer, featuring Lynch sitting on a couch with a number of stuffed Woody the Woodpecker dolls thanking everyone for the success of the film. As to why heís sitting with these Woody dolls Lynch does explain this in the making-of found later in the supplements.
1988 features a 7-minute segment from an episode of the French program Cinťma de notre temps. It presents Lynch and actor John Nance driving to one of the locations used for the film (what appears to be an overpass) but we spend most of our time with them on the journey there where the two talk about possibly grabbing something to eat (with a long conversation about tuna melts) and other things. It admittedly doesnít add a lot of information about the film but itís a fairly humourous addition.
In 1997 footage of Lynch, Nance, Charlotte Stewart, and Catherine Coulson revisiting the AFI ďstablesĒ was shot for a documentary called Pretty as a Picture: The Art of David Lynch. The now rundown and condemned property served as the primary location for the filming of Eraserhead. The film was shot over a period of 5 or 6 years (the timeframe differs from feature to feature) and the reason for this had to do with both scheduling and money: nobody involved had much money, and even Lynch started living in one of the rooms upstairs for a couple of years. They only filmed at night and it could take all night just to shoot a minute or two of footage that would actually make it into the film. The production was also always on the verge of running out of money, even having to shut down for months at a time. The four share their stories about the time, which were obviously difficult but itís easy to tell that despite this they all have fond memories of the time and may actually miss them.
For the DVD Lynch released in 2001 he made an 85-minute ďmaking-of" that features him simply talking about the production, later calling up Coulson on the phone to join in. That documentary has also been ported over to this edition. He first talks about his grant from the AFI for The Grandmother and then lays out the series of events that allowed him to make Eraserhead. He then talks about everything happened over the years of the production (including more detail about that dead cat mentioned in other features, and the reason for those Woody Woodpeckers appearing in the 1982 trailer for the film.) He shares how they were able to get stuff so cheaply (they got deals from friends and were even able to get lucky on deals, like when a local studio shut down and sold all of their stuff for dirt cheap) and shares how they all lived off of nothing during this time. He even talks about development of the filmís ďstoryĒ and how certain elements within it came to be, like the Lady in the Radiator.
Itís admittedly not the most gripping making-of that Iíve seen. Itís unfortunately made up mostly of Lynch sitting there talking about the production and despite the fact the man is quite funny it can get a little tedious. Luckily some of this monotony and sameness is broken up once Coulson comes in, and thereís also some great behind-the-scenes video that pops up here and there, as well as production stills.
For this 2014 edition of the film Criterion has filmed a new set of interviews with Coulson, Stewart, Elmes, and Judith Anna Roberts. Thereís a little bit of repetition to be found here, from details about the production to atmosphere on set, but it still manages to cover a lot of new ground (like the fact that everyone actually got paid while working on the film, which I donít recall being mentioned anywhere else.) The actors also get to talk about his directing style and persona more, while Elmes explains capturing the look of the film and Lynchís overall vision (he also worked on John Cassavetesí The Killing of a Chinese Bookie at the time and offers a comparison between the two directing styles, which unsurprisingly are vastly different.) At 26-minutes it nicely rounds out the details about the production and caps off the supplements nicely.
This edition also offers a feature to calibrate the brightness and contrast of your television. Itís a quick and easy three-step process.
Criterion finally includes a 64-page booklet featuring excerpts from interviews writer Chris Rodley conducted with Lynch for his book Lynch on Lynch. Thereís some repetition from the other features but there is more detail about certain aspects, including the first director of photography Herbert Cardwell, and his contributions, and some more detail about scenes deleted from the film, mentioned briefly in other features, like a scene involving two women tied to a bed. Thereís also a number of production and behind-the-scenes photos.
The lack of any scholarly material is a little disappointing, though not surprising since Lynch doesnít care for that type of material on his DVD and Blu-ray releases. Itís also a little frustrating to hear about all of this deleted material (most of which apparently still exists in one form or another) and not get to see it, but for what we get here itís a very thorough examination of this unique filmís production. 8/10