May 17, 2024

Henry's Very Clever At Printing

Mahoning Drive-In Theater - Lehighton, PA
This is a movie that I didn't originally intend to go to see at the drive-in, but it's been a pretty rough week and I needed to spend a few hours at my happy place.

Show banner designed by Andrew Kern

There were two other reasons that I made the last minute decision to come out to see Eraserhead.  The first is that it's a movie that I've heard of for a long time, but have never seen.  In fact, I didn't even know what it was about.  That's my preferred way to see any film; I like to know as little about it as possible beforehand and to just let the story on the screen define my experience, rather than to have that experience influenced by trailers or reviews.

The second reason is the fact that this was the first movie in the newest Mahoning Drive-In Theater series.  The Thursday Thread-Up series has replaced Tunnel Vision Tuesday for the 2024 season.  It's meant to be a night dedicated to cult classics.  Members of the drive-in can get tickets for any Thursday Thread-Up movie for five dollars, and everyone who attends gets a groovy little punch card that you can get punched for every Thursday night film that you see to earn some free goodies.

Before the film began, Rob and Krista screened a 35mm print of a Woody Woodpecker cartoon from 1957 called Box Car Bandit.  I hadn't seen this one before last night.  It's about a guy who has learned that a train that's passing through (which Woody happens to be riding in) is carrying gold bullion.  It plays out like a Wile E. Coyote cartoon, with the bandit suffering repeatedly in his attempts to rob the train.  It's pretty funny!  You can catch it in YouTube if you're interested.

Virgil overheard Rob and I talking before showtime about how I had never seen this movie before, and his reaction reminded me of a kid on Christmas morning who had just found their new puppy under the tree.  He said that it reminded him of Head (which we saw at Mahoning Monkee Mania a couple of years ago) and Pink Floyd - The Wall because it's a weird and trippy experience.  He wasn't lying!

Eraserhead is the kind of movie that I probably would have said that I hated if I saw it 20 years ago, but I've come to realize as I've gotten older that this reaction is a defense mechanism.  The truth is that I didn't understand it, and it makes me feel stupid when I don't understand something.  I don't pretend to be the smartest man in the world, but everybody has an ego and I am no exception.  That ego is like a little Yosemite Sam who lives in my brain and who has a habit of going on the attack against anything that threatens my self image.  It sounds something like this:
You didn't understand that movie?  It can't possibly be because you're not a film student, or because you never studied art academically, or because it's not something you've been exposed to before.  You're not stupid... the MOVIE is stupid.  Furthermore, anybody who claims that they understood it are faking it to try to look smart.
I allowed that kind of thinking to guide my opinions far more often in my life than I'd like to admit.  It still chirps in my ear from time to time, and when I heard the folks sitting around me on the lot applaud during the end credits, ol' Sam was just aching to blow his stack.  However, I'd like to think I've gotten a little bit better at recognizing this when it's starting to happen so that I can back away from the cliff that I've jumped off of so many times before.

The truth is that films like this aren't a threat to me, and there's absolutely no reason to get defensive and attack them or the people who enjoy them.  If I didn't understand the movie, then I didn't understand it.  Who cares?  There are a lot of things in this world that I don't understand, and that's true of literally everyone.

Even though I really didn't get what was happening, Eraserhead kept me on the edge of my seat.  The story in this film takes place in what feels like a bizarre parallel universe which reminded me of Halloween Town from The Nightmare Before Christmas.  I am absolutely the wrong person to ask what it was about, but I did a little reading this morning (particularly an essay by Peter Sobczynski) and I think I have a little better of an understanding about it now.  I'd like to do a little more digging and give it a second watch.  Bottom line: whether I end up figuring it all out or whether it continues to be a mystery to me, I'm glad to have had the opportunity to see it for the first time on 35mm at the drive-in.  It was definitely an experience that I won't forget.