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POSSIBLE SPOILERS AHEAD: One of the greatest short films in existence
29 July 2004
Warning: Spoilers
David Lynch's The Grandmother is a 34-minute-long experimental nightmare. The absurdly dark, ominous visuals suggest the film is set inside a madman's nightmare, though it actually refers to the nuclear American family gone horribly wrong. Dialogue-free except for primal grunting and barking, The Grandmother is carried solely through dramatic acting and striking visuals. The soundtrack is cramped with white noise such as discordant grating, creaking and droning that compliments the already disturbing atmosphere. Lynch mixes hand-drawn animation with live-action in an effort to create a world as disturbing as it is surreal.

The film's four characters remain nameless, appearing to be generic symbols.

The Boy, whom the narrative centers on, is neglected and abused by his parents who treat him like an unwanted nuisance. They literally bark, growl, and crawl on all fours, symbolizing their distance from being human. All of the actors are caked with white powder makeup that causes their skin to glow brightly amidst the ultra-high contrast photography. The Boy's only attire is a black tuxedo with a bow tie, which combined with his solemn, pain-stricken face suggests he is attending an eternal funeral. Perhaps the Boy is dressed for his own funeral, because his life appears to be 'dead' on a symbolic level. The Father always wears a stained, moth-eaten white undershirt with equally dreadful boxer shorts. The photography is so high contrast that you often only see the Boy's stark white face and hands 'floating' around the pitch black background. On the opposite spectrum, the Father's bright clothes appear to jump out of the darkness, making his presence dominant and obvious.

Despite the abstractness of The Grandmother, several themes appear evident. The Boy expresses the loneliness and pain that accompanies a household with abusive and neglectful parents. The Grandmother character, who the Boy secretly grows from a plant-like seed in the attic, symbolizes warmth and comfort. The Boy both figuratively and literally 'grows' a parental figure, comparing the growth of love to that of a plant. The Boy's actions suggest that love should be treated like growing a plant: you first plant the seed, then nurture it until it matures into something full and complete.

After much attention and care, the Boy's plant grows into a massive, pulsating cocoon out of which the Grandmother crawls from, fully clothed and aged. The Boy and Grandmother immediately embrace and offer each other much-needed comfort. His world seems brighter for the time being, but his living nightmare is far from over. Ultimately, nothing lasts forever, as this film appears to suggest.

The Grandmother is highly recommended for fans of the avant-garde, or anyone looking for something different. If you thought Eraserhead was Lynch's darkest and weirdest film, wait until you see this small miracle.
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The Comb (1991)
Stop-motion animation masterpiece
27 July 2004
Explaining an avant-garde film such as The Comb is like trying to explain the concept of colors to a person who has been blind since birth. The blind may conjure up their own ideas of what colors look like, but they cannot fully realize them. Such is the way of the avant-garde cinema. It simply cannot be explained through mere words due to its abstractness. In order to fully realize it, you must experience it. Viewing The Comb is like entering a nightmare netherworld unimaginable even in your darkest dreams. Much like a dream, it is difficult to explain in mere words. Like all avant-garde films, The Comb must be experienced first-hand to be fully realized. This film is set in a disturbing little world full of moth-eaten 19th century dolls, crooked passageways, rotted wood and trees and mazes of ladders leading to an other-worldly crimson sky. Surrealism is prominent throughout; it seems as if The Comb is a Salvador Dali painting animated to life. The dream scape presented in The Comb has few resemblances to the real world, as everything is given a nightmarish tilt. As in their other films, The Quays once again animate the inanimate and bring lifeless objects to creaky, jerky life.

The main character, if I may call it that, is a dirty, cracked porcelain doll who is intent on climbing a tower clustered by mazes of ladders and small passageways that all lead toward a blood-red sky. Periodically Intercut between the doll's difficult journey upwards is a woman tossing and turning in her bed, which is set in a grainy, Victorian-era room loaded with worn antiques. The brief scenes of this woman (circa 4 of the 18 minutes the film lasts) are live-action (a real human, no animation) and in B&W while the rest of the film occurs in the lushly colored netherworld made living through stop-motion animation. The woman appears to be having a nightmare which may be linked to the world the doll is struggling in. The actions of the woman echo into the doll's dream world and vice versa. At the end of the film, the relation between the doll and the sleeping woman is brought into perspective.

The Comb is very surreal and avant-garde, meaning it breaks from conventional film making practices. There is no dialogue, no narrative story, no named characters; just pure abstract avant-gardism. The nameless characters seem to be symbols, and their antics tell a story that is open to anyone's interpretation. I think The Comb expresses the relationship between Man and his Dreams. What we do in the 'real' world (displayed by the woman in bed) reverberates in our dreams (the doll's journey). I believe the woman in bed is dreaming everything that happens in the film.

There is no score, except for disjointed stabbing violins, scratches and indecipherable moaning, which adds to the already disturbing visuals. Like most avant-garde films, this will tap into your subconscious and have a strange, personal effect on you. Whenever I watch The Comb, I feel as if my life is put on hold for 18 minutes as I'm pulled into this enigmatic, surreal world. I have seen most of the Brothers Quay films and feel this is their second best, under their masterpiece The Street of Crocodiles. The Comb is highly recommended for fans of stop-motion animation, avant-gardism or just something different.
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Eraserhead (1977)
SPOILERS AHEAD. If you watch Eraserhead 100 times, you will experience 100 different films
22 July 2004
Warning: Spoilers
***SPOILERS AHEAD*** PLEASE DO NOT READ THIS REVIEW IF YOU HAVE NOT SEEN THIS FILM****** Utterly original and unique, David Lynch's first feature 5 years in the making remains one of my favorite films of all time. Eraserhead is best described as an existential and surreal nightmare captured on film. It is highly subconscious and provokes the viewers brain, begging for interpretation. Is this film pure pretentiousness, or does it have meaning? I believe Eraserhead is a 90 minute long metaphor. It is whatever you want it to be. However, there are many consistent themes that are rather clear.

***SPOILER WARNING*** Henry Spencer, the main character, is trapped in a decaying industrial wasteland, void of real human emotion. Dialogue is kept to a minimum, and when characters do speak their voices are monotone and very slow, almost zombie-like. The characters take several painfully long seconds to respond to simple questions, which adds to the uncomfortable atmosphere. The sole window in Henry's apartment overlooks a brick wall, symbolizing how he is "trapped" in a state of perpetual hopelessness. In order to "escape" this bleak reality, he peers into a radiator to watch a woman dance and sing "in heaven everything is fine." I believe the lady in the radiator symbolizes death, which her eerie, yet tranquil song supports.

***SPOILER WARNING*** The major theme of the film is raising an undesired child. Henry did not mean to impregnate his girlfriend, Mary X. The deformed, mutant baby is the product of a mistake between Henry and Mary, a mistake that they both pay dearly for. The various worm like creatures that appear throughout the film are actually identical to the Henry and Mary's baby upon closer inspection. At one point in the film, the lady in the radiator squashes several of these, which foreshadows something Henry must do to free himself of his living hell.

****SPOILER WARNING**** The closing of the film includes Henry "surrendering" to the lady in the radiator (i.e. surrendering to "death"). After dispatching his undesired child (a reference to abortion, perhaps?) Henry embraces the lady in the radiator and as they both disappear in an ocean of whiteness, which is reminiscent of the "light at the end of the tunnel" theory of death. How about the name of the film? Does "Eraserhead" suggest the human mind is capable of erasing memories, matter, thoughts etc.?

Please know that my opinions and interpretations are merely my own. I am open to other peoples opinions, because the beauty of this film lies in it's abstractness. Each time I watch Eraserhead, it becomes something different. The grainy black and white visuals matched with the white noise soundtrack (scratching, hissing, clinging) creates an utterly powerful effect. When you watch Eraserhead, you descend into an abysmal netherworld that is both alien and strangely familiar. The film delves into your darkest impulses and grips you in a strangely primal way. When the 90 minutes are up, Eraserhead seems like a half-remembered dream, one that should be visited time and again. A truly unique work of cinema.
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