You’ve Got Your Good Things

Eraserhead was on Netflix and I decided to just turn it on one evening; I knew nothing of the film beyond faint whisperings of its oddness. Most likely, this lack of information is what made it such an effective experience.

Up until that point, most films I had encountered were traditional narratives. They had beginnings and ends, and most of the things between had a logical flow. And that’s how I thought films were supposed to be made – a visual method of telling a story.

Eraserhead worked its way beneath my skin. The opening was inexplicable, and its faint suggestion of plot as we start to follow Henry Spencer quickly unravels. It was more a waking nightmare than a traditional story.

I remember having to pause the film after a certain point – I had been watching with no lights on, my lack of expectations leaving me vulnerable. Where Spirited Away had left me breathless with its beauty, Eraserhead wrapped its hands around my throat. Few films have left me looking for an exit, and unlike the Elephants or Pink Flamingos of the world, I’m not sure how to explain why. There was no explanation for what was happening on screen, but I knew it didn’t feel good.

By leaving me so paralyzed with no easy explanation, one thing became clear – the art of cinema was never about plot. Individual films could be, but it was never a necessity. There was some other force there, something all films carried – I soon started to call it atmosphere. Films consist of hundreds of little pieces coming together for an emotional experience – stories just make those emotions easier to comprehend. I never had to consider this idea until coming in contact with a film that stripped everything digestible away.

The unfortunate part of our education system is it teaches us to appreciate art in a certain way – we are mainly taught through literature, and largely tested through simple memorization. Especially with how popular literary adaptations are, I think we’re subtly taught to read movies in the same way we read books – but by doing so, we ignore the technical and stylistic prose. Just like a good novel has expertly-chosen language, movies have angles and cuts. But so much gets overlooked for the elements that are easier, that I think everyone needs some sort of Eraserhead to wake them up to the truth.

So you can go ahead and be happy with the easy way out – to believe that all these artistic choices are nothing more than a stepping stone to tell stories. You’ve got a good thing there, to believe that the most important merit of art is whether it’s easily digestible, the same familiar stew you have been fed since grade school without question.

But lurking out there somewhere is an Eldritch work, something that will open your eyes to ideas that had gone unseen but can never be unseen again. Find it, embrace it, for every work you’ve loved before will have new meaning. You’ll learn that every frame, every cut is pulsing with life – or maybe they aren’t, and maybe those old favorites won’t be favorites much longer.

After all, it doesn’t take a hundred people to come together to simply tell a story.

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