Eraserhead: Short Films Box Set
205 min, B & W color
A new-to-retail 2-for-1 (the films were previously available, in slightly different form), containing the formative work of the only Eagle Scout to have ever fucked Isabella Rossellini.
The first three shorts — animated installation Six Men Getting Sick, The Alphabet and AFI grant-produced The Grandmother — trace Lynch’s genesis in 45 minutes or less, the sophomoric verve of his debut spew morphing into an orificial ooze of psychosexual ill. Subsequent shorts — gross-out prank The Amputee, cheese-doodling comedy The Cowboy and the Frenchman, and his segment from the 1996 Lumiere and Company — have less to prove. And then, of course, there’s Eraserhead, which would be the defining work of American outsider cinema, if it weren’t too anomalous to define anything other than itself.
The introductions from Lynch, black and white with just him and a retro mic, provide background on the production of all the films, including an extended, rambling recollection of Eraserhead’s five-year gestation, including contributions via speakerphone from the Log Lady herself, Catherine Coulson. Taken together, they form a convenient history of Lynch’s beginnings; the biggest appeal is Lynch himself, giving fans another chance to marvel at all this weirdness generating from someone so corny.
Impress your friends! Disturb your parents! (And then, privately, discover that these supposedly known bizarro quantities can still move you in surprising, unsettling ways.)
All In The Family: The Complete Fifth Season
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
620 min, color
In the fall of 1974, Richard Nixon had just resigned, inflation was soaring and the #1 TV show that had scandalized censors and electrified viewers was back for another season — arguably its best one.
Storylines include Archie having a near-death experience, “Meathhead” and Gloria arguing over whether it’s wise to bring a kid into the world, and Archie disappearing for two episodes (precipitated by actor Carroll O’Connor’s wage demands). It also includes the inevitable best-of clip show and the all-time classic where Archie bets Mike that he can give up cigars easier than he can stop eating. Watching this childhood favorite again, I marveled at its ability to balance the topically relevant with the mundane details of daily existence that slipped through the usually shiny veneer of the sitcom. Some of the jokes are groaners but an entire world of character development occurs in Carol O’Connor’s facial expressions. There’s also a strain of nostalgia that Archie’s struggles with the modern world suggest that’s less obvious amid all the politically topical shouting matches. It’s still startling to hear Archie say ‘Heeb” or “Spic” — or George Jefferson say “nigger” for that matter. A glance at the bland TV landscape alive in its wake disheartens. The explicitness of the spectacle and emptiness of its ideas are poor substitutes for what may have been the most public large-scale debate the country ever had about race, class and gender relations.
A bit creaky around the edges but still superb — and shocking
The Tomorrow Show with Tom Snyder: Punk & New Wave
230 min, color
Before David Letterman there was Tom Snyder. Following suave Johnny Carson, Snyder was the epitome of awkwardness. From 1973 until ’82 this middle-aged man with the used-car salesman laugh came across like the family’s weird bachelor uncle, and booked the biggest acts in punk.
Six complete shows are a who’s who of 70s underground music. Elvis Costello, Iggy Pop, The Ramones, John Lydon and Patti Smith make appearances. The absolute mismatch of demeanours between Snyder and his guests is brought into even starker relief, when he’s intent on engaging them in extended banter. Like a well-meaning but clueless high school math teacher, Snyder furrows his pipe-cleaner eyebrows with earnestness and tries desperately to make sense of the younger generation’s penchant for safety pins, self-inflicted pain and loud asynchronous power chords. Highlights include interviews with a charmingly unaffected Elvis Costello (sample Snyder question regarding his father “do ya love him?”) a roundtable discussion with an 18-year-old Paul Weller and adorably young Joan Jett. Weirder, still the other guests are often laughably uncool activists raising the alarm over various societal calamities. Inevitably, as Snyder’s belly laughs subside, he leans into his sneering guests and asks some variation of the following: “You seem like such a nice young lady, why do you do it?”
What? Wendy O’Williams of The Plasmatics blowing up a car onstage isn’t enough?
Bewildering, but this guest list is pure gold