Film Reviews:

The Grandmother

(David Lynch, US, 1970)

The GrandmotherThis pre-Eraserhead short film by a young David Lynch combines stop-frame animation with live action. The basic story tells of a young boy who's detached and somewhat nasty mother and father take very little interest in their offspring and offer him no comfort. Seeking companionship, the boy happens across a sack labelled 'seeds' in an attic. After careful nurturing, one of the seeds grows into a huge cocoon-like structure, and one day 'hatches' an old lady - a grandmother for the boy. Someone who'll show him affection. Someone to love and care for him. A friend he can play with.

Using very few settings, most of which are interiors, The Grandmother is typical of Lynch's earlier work, forming a loose stylistic trilogy with the aforementioned Eraserhead (1976) and The Elephant Man (1981). In the house in which the family live, the walls are painted black and rooms are spartan. The few colours that do appear are garish and unsettling, almost fighting against the sea of monochrome for superiority. The young boy wears a black suit and white shirt. His hair is black and creamed close to his head. His face and hands are a sickly, pasty white, making his eyes seem pink and albino-like. The parents are most often seen in the kitchen, where they ignore each other until meal times, when they gorge themselves on putrid-looking food. The boy is reluctant to eat and is force fed by his father. This sequence is played out again, but with more humour as the classic dinner scene in Eraserhead, when Henry has to carve those awful, manufactured, moving baby chickens that spout bloody gunge.

Sound has always played an important part in Lynch's films (The Elephant Man went on to win an Oscar for its sound). Here, it is most apparent as there is no actual dialogue. When the parents do address the boy, it is an unintelligible scream or an animal-like grunt - a nightmarish version of the school teacher in Charlie Brown. Also present throughout are those unexplained background noises and constant tones that fill Lynch's worlds. The animation that features in the film represents various sexual roles or acts, but its oblique and experimental nature makes straightforward interpretation extremely difficult. The Grandmother is certainly thought-provoking and, from a retrospective viewpoint, provides plenty of indications as to how Lynch's career would develop. An unusual film, even by Lynchian standards, but one that those seeking an antidote to the Hollywood movie machine are wholeheartedly recommended to track down.

Rob Dyer

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