Mind Blowing Movies: Fantasia (1940) and Eraserhead (1977), by Jay Kinney

Mm200This week, Boing Boing is presenting a series of essays about movies that have had a profound effect on our invited essayists. See all the essays in the Mind Blowing Movies series here. -- Mark

Mind Blowing Movies: Fantasia (1940) and Eraserhead (1977), by Jay Kinney

[Video Link] I've never been much of a movie buff, to put it mildly. Movies have always affected me so strongly -- I've likened it at times to an acid trip, though that is an exaggeration -- that I've done well in a given year if I've made it to a theater even twice. My intake via TV and Netflix is slightly better, but hardly robust. In light of this, most movies I've seen still stand out in my memory as singular events.

There was a brief period, during my art school years in New York at the dawn of the '70s, when I discovered the pleasures of silent German films (particularly those of Lang, Murnau, and Pabst), which were being regularly screened at a repertory house in the West Village. Certainly some of my happiest movie moments were seeing films for the first time like The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, Metropolis, M, Dr. Mabuse, Nosferatu, Pandora's Box, and Diary of a Lost Girl.

But if I had to whittle things down to the most mild-blowing movie, it would have to be a toss-up between two films, neither of them silent or German.

The first would be Disney's Fantasia, which was responsible for my first remembered nightmare. The sequence with Mickey Mouse as the Sorcerer's Apprentice who practices magic while his Master is away and gets in way over his head really impressed me. I was probably just 5 or so at the time (and probably watching this on TV). Hoo boy! That night I dreamt that I was Mickey, surrounded by animated mops and rising water, and I woke up yelling. Sensitive lad that I was, that may have made me movie-shy ever since.

The second mind-blower may come as no surprise: David Lynch's Eraserhead. I think I first encountered this at the Roxie Theatre in S.F. soon after it was released. I distinctly recall thinking to myself about half way through the film: "My God! I'm going insane!" I did make it through intact, and in fact soon after dragged my girlfriend to see it, perhaps inoculating myself against letting Mr. Lynch drive me over the edge.

Looking back, Eraserhead had a lot in common with those German silent films. I guess I'm just a sucker for black and white movies with few words and many shadows.


  1. If you play the score to Fantasia over the visual component of Eraserhead, your brain will rebel and attempt to crawl down your throat.
    You can also make your heart leap into your forehead by doing the opposite.

  2. Speaking of “Fantasia”

    Futura Fantasia
    Class 201: The Dark Ages

    Today we examine the early 21st century nation state once referred to as “America” but now classified as the Dark Age.
    The political and financial manipulation practiced on the masses then was through a deftly controlled network of so-called think tanks, foundations, research centers and pre-positioned academics.

    An excellent example would be a pseudo-educational complex, MIT, later bombed and razed during the Revolution of 2023 (see Mbotu and Heineman, Zeno ScholarGrid, circa 2045), where academics referred to as “economists” would spread propaganda and misinformation while pretending to represent the interests of the people.

    One academic poseur, whose position was financed by the military-intel firm, Mitre, would mislead and confuse on labor economics.
    Another academic poseur, whose position was financed through a series of phantom foundations by the oligarch, the family known as the Rockefellers, would mix truth and fiction, confusing and bewildering the masses while claiming that his backers, the Rockefellers, had given away their fortune through philanthropy.

    These were dark times, indeed!

    The same political henchmen and women would continue to re-surface in presidential administration through presidential administration, from the Carter administration through Reagan, Bush, Clinton, Bush (the son of the previously mentioned Bush – evidently some type of quasi-dynastic rule?), Obama and Mueller; difficult to believe so many were so easily duped, but literacy was at an all-time low during the Dark Age.

    The ruling oligarchs of that period had succeeded in hiding their ownership and wealth, and the populace strangely enough appeared to remain incurious as to who exerted control over their daily lives.

    Many routinely believed the political lackeys and servants of the oligarchs were actually in control – difficult as that may be to accept today – that was the reality in that era. (See Rule by the Hegemon, Chao and Zuma, circa 2051).

    “Class, please review Chapter 17: Mind Control Through Cloud Computing and Social Networking for next week.”

    [Soft tones signal end of session]

    Note: Futura Fantasia was the name Ray Bradbury gave his high school newspaper which he published frequently during his later school years.

    Ray Bradbury
    Rest In Peace, Oh Mighty and Eloquent Wordsmith.

  3. I love how David Lynch says he doesn’t even remember what he was trying to do with this movie. Is he still messing with us after all these years, trying to maintain a veil of mystery around his odd creation? Dunno, but I like to think so. 

    Oh, and get the soundtrack. It’s a beautifully grotesque ambient record. 

    1. I’ve enjoyed Lynch’s comments about the long drawn-out process (since he was funding it piecemeal through other odd jobs). He has said that he is really appreciative of his actors, especially Jack Nance, for keeping the roles alive in them for so long. He said that in one scene, Henry walks through a door and when he comes through the other side it’s four years later in the shooting schedule.

  4. Fantasia is largely silent and largely German.  It consists almost entirely of stories told with pantomime acting and no dialog as silent movies did and a large chunk of the music score is by the German Beethoven and the German Bach.

  5. I found Fantasia disappointing, but that’s probably because the acid didn’t kick in until the last five minutes.

  6. They used to show it at the local art-house theater years ago and I will confess to being so freaked out I never watched it again (i may have been stoned, i spent much of the 80’s and some of the 90’s stoned!)
    I managed to procure one of the posters, which currently resides at the back of my closet as I cant hang it on any walls as its creeps my wife out and scares the kids! Imagine what would happen if they actually sat down and watched it.

  7. Eraserhead, thank you! I’ve been coming up with no movies while watching this BB series, but now that you mention it, yes. Back in the time and the place, Eraserhead… disturbed us all? Bumped us out of our heuristic/rut/thought drawer? (I’m still not sure what heuristic means.) Showed us that things could be familiar and different and funny, and disturbing in a way we assumed we’d understand later?

  8. On a recommendation from a friend, I went with a few others to see Eraserhead when it first came out. After 15 minutes 1/3 of the audience had walked out. It was totally silent in the theater. When the legs on the little chicken started kicking, the whole theater was laughing their asses off. What ride it was from there on out. We went to a bar afterwards and one of my friends said he overheard somebody saying that Eraserhead was the best movies they had seen in their life. We all laughed , thought about it for a minute, and I said ” You know I think that might be the best movie I ever saw in my life.”

  9. I saw Eraserhead with some friends, and I agree, it was the weirdest, creepiest, most transformative experience of my life.

  10. I remember dropping some orange barrel acid and seeing Fantasia with some friends for the first time, at a revival back in the 70’s, and after the Beethoven Pastoral segment we all had tears running down our faces.

  11. Most mind-blowing movie ever? We went to see a “Betty Boop” cartoon festival in the village in 1972 or so- ate some acid as usual- and were totally unprepared when a movie we never heard of- “Pink Flamingos”- came on at midnight. THAT sucker REALLY blew my mind. I couldn’t process what I had seen for DAYS (if ever…). 

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