I’ve been on something of a DAVID LYNCH kick this year. I recently re-watched his version of DUNE (which was both as incredible and as terrible as I remember), and I’m about a third of the way through TWIN PEAKS (again). But I think the Lynch film that had the biggest impact on me was his first movie, ERASERHEAD. When I recommended CARNIVAL OF SOULS a couple of weeks ago, I talked about BBC’s MOVIEDROME. ERASERHEAD was another movie I discovered through the series, and some thirty years later, I’ve never seen another film like it.
The most accurate review of ERASERHEAD I’ve found said (and I’m paraphrasing here, because I can’t remember the exact wording or the source), that watching the movie is “like having your face pushed into a dirty pillow for ninety minutes”.
Henry Spencer is a hapless factory worker on his vacation when he finds out he’s the father of a hideously deformed baby. Now living with his unhappy, malcontent girlfriend, the child cries day and night, driving Henry and his girlfriend to near insanity.
I was saddened to hear today about the death of Sir John Hurt. I don’t usually write about individual actors on this site, but his impact was such that I couldn’t let his passing go unnoticed. He was one of those rare actors who, to me, seemed both recognisable and unrecognisable at the exact same time. His face (and voice) was immediately familiar and yet he completely inhabited the roles he played to such an extent that any familiarity quickly disappeared. When I see Tom Cruise or Tom Hanks or Johnny Depp on screen (something I try my best to avoid doing), I know I’m watching Tom Cruise or Tom Hanks or Johnny Depp, albeit in a different setting and with a different haircut. With John Hurt, however, I was only ever watching the character he was portraying. Does that make sense?
There are three particular roles he played I wanted to mention. When I was nine and was rapidly discovering my love for all things horror, ALIEN was released. I’m assuming anyone reading this will know that his character, Kane, has one of the most famous death scenes in movie history. Of course, as a bloodthirsty kid, all I was initially interested in was the chest-burst and the gore. It was only when I later learned more about how the scene was filmed – how he knew what was going to happen but the rest of the cast didn’t – and when I watched the film again (and again and again) did I realise how smart and clever Sir John’s performance was.
A couple of years later he starred as the titular ELEPHANT MAN in David Lynch’s adaptation of the life of the hideously deformed John Merrick. I rewatched the film recently and was again spellbound by his performance. Despite being unrecognisable and with limited movement under Christopher Tucker’s ground-breaking makeup, he succeeded in playing Merrick in such a way that the character’s pain and suffering was abundantly clear.
But my favourite John Hurt performance is as Winston Smith in Michael Radford’s film adaptation of George Orwell’s 1984. I’ve already written about the film here so I won’t go into much more detail, other than to say that the physical and mental transformation of Smith is remarkable. It’s a superb adaptation of a book which in these days of ‘alternate facts’ and the like, continues to feel increasingly relevant.
Several years ago I got talking to Keith Lynch, one half of directing duo The Brothers Lynch, about HATER. Back in 2014, Keith introduced me to Ed Barratt. As you may know, Ed’s producing the HATER movie, and he also produced TRIAL a cracking sci-fi short written and directed by the aforementioned Brothers Lynch. It’s brilliant. Watch it here: