Why do I persist in seeing the right movie at the wrong time? A few years ago I found myself more or less watching a Godzilla movie on the TV in our hotel room during a little anniversary getaway. Jean didn’t believe me that I was just running through the channels to pass the time while she was getting dressed, and she still refers to it as “Marital Bliss vs. Godzilla.”
So here we are in Wildwood on her birthday, the boardwalk all but shut down, the skies stormy, the Waikiki Motel cheesy but fun—with, oddly enough, a VCR in the room and down at the desk an actual collection of tapes to choose from. I couldn’t resist, and shuffled through the bunch—and they actually had a copy of Eraserhead, a movie I hadn’t seen in eight or nine years—copies are getting harder and harder to find. But there it was, nestled between a Bruce Lee title and The Amazing Dobermans.
I couldn’t resist—but I promised myself not to put it in the machine, it was Jean’s day, we were going to hazard a walk on the windy beach then eat in a little seafood place nearby—but she fell asleep for a nap and I sat at the edge of the bed and slipped it in and turned down the volume to the barest minimum. But it didn’t matter; the baby woke her up, Henry and Mary’s foaming-pus E.T. thing shrieking like the damned when they know they’re really in hell and have to find a way to get used to it, but can’t—until, exhausted, they fall into the hissing radiator and find themselves in Heaven.
Jean made me turn it off; I’m tempted to steal it, but I don’t want to own it.
Such furtive behavior, such shame-faced sneaking. No wonder Jack Nance draws me in, his nightmare-Chaplin performance as he meanders through the industrial waste-landscape, skittering up and down dirt mounds, around--and in--puddles, and so on. His face, topped with that groundbreaking hairdo, seems plucked straight from a Mack Sennet comedy; I can see him as a hapless truant officer or innocent bystander--oh, if only. But he is not innocent. His fears and desires draw him like water from a dark well, and compel him to look and become what he looks at.
--Like Jeffrey in Blue Velvet last year, another innocent--although not living in an isolated space, deep inside his head, but strolling along the leafy lane, chatting with the really cute blond--Laura Dern’s face something you want to cradle in your hands because you know you’ll gain something important if you do. Still, Jeffrey and Henry end up in the same nightmare, with Dennis Hopper and his gang putting their disease in, leaving them frail but alive, like convalescent-home inmates always feeling a little chilly.
Jean was right: Nothing like this should get near a birthday. But she’s asleep for real now, and I’m thinking that, as midnight approaches and it’s April 4, I might be able to hit PLAY and keep the volume off--doesn’t matter: I know what they’re saying, even though, as in the “vast barn” in Edward Gorey’s The Epiplectic Bicycle, it’s too dark to hear.