Any list of bizarre and memorable characters in David Lynch films would be quite extensive, and the ‘Where Aren’t They Now’ section could be dedicated to his films alone – any of the mysterious double identities from Mulholland Drive or quirky favourites from Twin Peaks would suffice, but this one reverts to his first (feature-length) film, the visceral, low-budget cult phenomenon that was Eraserhead. A surrealist exploration of urban decay, dream logic and Lynch’s own personal anxieties surrounding fatherhood dominate the debut of one of the most iconoclastic and polarising artists of the last few decades. If you haven’t seen it, proceed to do so immediately. Go on, I’ll wait here while you do.
Done? Ok, so in the rare event that you’re back here with your mind intact and your last meal still in your stomach, then let’s continue. There are some memorable players in the film with interesting actors behind them – the central character Henry, played by Jack Nance who would appear in all Lynch films until his suspicious death in 1997, or the grotesque, deformed figure of the “man in the planet”, played by Jack Fisk who would go on to be a successful art director, working on all Terrence Malick films and marrying Sissy Spacek.
But they’d be too obvious. One of the unforgettable images is that of The Lady in the Radiator – an angelic figure with grotesque cheeks looking like a 1920s film star with elephantiasis who sings the disturbing song “In Heaven”, which has been covered at least once by any and every alternative band worth their salt. She appears as a vision of idyllic escape from Henry’s droll existence in his dingy apartment with his mutant spawn.
For those budding actors interested in knowing how one goes about getting parts in landmark indie films, the story of how the actor, Laurel Near, was cast is interesting. She was part of an all-girl hippie pop group with her two sisters, The Near Sisters, and one of her sisters was good friends with Catherine E. Coulson – longtime friend of Lynch, who was helping out behind the scenes of this production and who would appear as the titular character in his short film The Amputee and become immortalised as the cryptic ‘Log Lady’ in Twin Peaks. Near would become an icon to the LSD-crazed midnight movie crowd throughout the 1980s, and hipsters world-wide ever since.
Unlucky to be snubbed for an Oscar nomination as Best Supporting Actress that year, this would be Laurel Near’s only ever film role, though she would continue to work in the performing arts, joining what is described as a “wild exuberant 70s feminist company called The Wallflower Order Dance Collective” (her words, not mine) which was a group “stylistically rooted in martial arts, athleticism, and social justice”.
When you can legitimately argue that starring in Eraserhead is not the most eyebrow-raising creative endeavour of your life, you’re doing okay for yourself. She stayed with them for six years and toured across America. She recently founded SPACE (School of Performing Arts & Cultural Education), an after-school program fostering local children in Ukiah, California and is the mother of three children of her own.