2 posts categorized "Midnight Movies"

October 05, 2023

ERASERHEAD — SHOCKTOBER!

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ColeSmithey.comDavid Lynch's filmic immersion into the surreal world of his distinctly odd protagonist Henry Spencer (Jack Nance) comes through in a creepy black-and-white black comedy that functions perfectly as a nerve-wracking exercise in existential horror.

Put it down to Lynch’s concurrent introduction to fatherhood, followed by a divorce during the making of the film, which he spent five years preparing and shooting. No matter how many films you have seen in your tiny lifetime, nothing can prepare you for “Eraserhead.”

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Henry Spencer wears his black hair short on the sides, but straight-up on top in a cross between a jewfro and a pompadour that sets him apart from the gloomy industrial area of dark factories and empty lots where he works and lives. Is Henry Jewish? Does it matter? Keep asking questions.

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Lynch revels in all things disorienting, upsetting, and mysterious. Uncertainties hang over every scene. Nance’s beautifully stylized comic performance complements Lynch’s high contrast visual design to give the film a sensitive emotional core. Nance’s Henry is every bit as devised as Buster Keaton’s or Charlie Chaplin’s alter egos were.

Eraserhead

The bizarre chronicle follows fright wig Harry through painfully slow and strange events centered on romantic relations with his seizure-prone girlfriend Mary (Charlotte Stewart). Mary’s primary character trait is her frequent tendency to cry. And cry she does.

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While on “vacation” from his printing job Henry visits Mary in her dingy apartment to meet her family for dinner for the first time. Mary’s mother (Mrs. X) skips the pleasantries. She is suspicious of “clever” Henry from the start. Mrs. X enjoys her own “seizure” during a spastic dinner episode. Before the visit is over, Mary’s mom interrogates Henry about whether or not he has had “sexual intercourse” with Mary. Henry valiantly tries to evade her burning question, but the gig is up when Mrs. X informs him that Mary has already had the “baby” which waits to be picked up from the hospital. The onus is on Henry to settle down with Mary and get married immediately. But what of the grotesque “baby” that resembles an infant calf, at least from the neck up?

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There is so little dialogue in the film that you sometimes forget that the characters can talk. The arriviste filmmaker uses a richly layered soundscape of droning frequencies, in addition to things like the unrelenting pitch of a baby that won’t stop crying, to tweak the viewer’s mind. Stanley Kubrick had nothing on his faraway pupil. Lynch’s stark lighting design provokes a heavy mood of melancholia and potential violence. Kubrick repaid Lynch’s effort when he showed “Eraserhead” to his crew in preparation for “The Shining.”

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Made in 1976, "Eraserhead" provided an offset balm to the crush of Hollywood blockbusters like "Star Wars" by way of “Eraserhead’s” repertoire status as a Midnight Movie. As a viewer, you can’t help be entranced by the filmmaker’s resourcefulness. As history revels, “Eraserhead” makes its point in an eloquently if gut-wrenching way that overloads your sensory perception. It’s not a comfortable experience, but it is highly entertaining. 

Not Rated. 89 mins.

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July 13, 2014

PINK FLAMINGOS — THE CRITERION COLLECTION

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ColeSmithey.comJohn Waters's second movie not only set the low bar for just how gross a midnight movie could be in 1972, “Pink Flamingos” remains to this day the most cogently transgressive and anarchic film ever made.

Nowhere else in cinema will you find a singing-asshole performer — with an extended close-up on his anus’s “performance” — sex between two people with a live chicken in the middle, indecent transsexual exposure, a flasher with a salami tied to his penis, a mock-incest blow job between a “son” and his transvestite “mother,” actual eating of dog feces, and an enigmatic terrorist drag queen played by the incomparable Divine.

Take that bitches.

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Posters for the movie ran with the tagline, “An Exercise In Poor Taste” for good reason. “Pink Flamingos” foreshadowed Punk Rock’s fiery attitude of bitter irony, articulate viciousness, and acted-out aggression. When reporters interview Divine during the story about whether or not blood turns her on, she replies, “It does more than turn me on; it makes me cum!” Divine (Glen Milstead) remained a muse to John Waters right up until the actor’s death in 1988.

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Every co-conspirator member of John Waters’s milieu of Baltimore’s underground cast and crew is a legitimate rebel with their freak-flag waving high. The film’s loose narrative involves a competition between rival outlaw groups for the title of the filthiest person alive. What could be more challenging to the status quo, and more liberating for its participants and audience, than to elevate poverty, filth, and rebellion to its highest possible rank of ultimate authority over society at large?

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Divine (a.k.a. Babs Johnson) lives in a disused trailer home hidden on the outskirts of town with her egg-obsessed mother Edie “the egg lady,” her juvenile delinquent son Crackers, and his fetish-driven girlfriend Cotton (Mary Vivian Pearce). Cotton likes to masturbate while watching Crackers engaged in blood-smeared sex with random partners.

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After a local rag decrees Divine as the “filthiest person alive,” Connie and Raymond Marble, a jealous couple of black-market-baby pimps, set out to dethrone Divine. The foot-fetishist duo kidnaps young women and imprisons them in their basement where their asexual butler Channing impregnates them against his will. The Marbels sell the babies to lesbian couples for $5000 per infant. Waters’s non-stop stream of sarcastic social commentary runs thick, wide, and deep. There is nowhere for an audience to hide. Every anti-establishment theme is pushed right up in your face and hung there for you to ponder.

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“Pink Flamingos” is a genuine article of underground cinema (it was made on a $10,000 budget). Waters’s brilliant use of rock ‘n’ roll music — the sphincter performance occurs over The Trashmen’s “Surfin’ Bird” — sets the film’s goofy psychobilly tempo and tone. Aside from being a mainstay of the Midnight Movie repertoire, “Pink Flamingos” is a daring black comedy made enticingly entertaining by the outrageous character of Divine that Glen Milstead made all his own with the help of make-up artist Van Smith.

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Rated NC-17. 93 mins.

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