director David Lynch
Back in 1980, when The Elephant Man was released, I was 11 years old. And I don’t know exactly how much I knew about it, I certainly didn’t know who David Lynch was yet, but I wanted to see it. And I remember a friend’s mother wouldn’t let us go see it, instead making us go see The Private Eyes (1980) starring Tim Conway and Don Knotts. Oddly enough, both films were rated PG. I obviously bore a grudge over this as I’m recounting it nearly 40 years later.
I did eventually see The Elephant Man, probably on HBO at some point. I’m still trying to figure out if it was my first David Lynch movie or whether Dune (1984) was. Not that it matters to anyone but me.
The Elephant Man is an interesting counterpoint to Eraserhead. Shot in a similar gritty black-and-white, featuring shadows and industrial imagery with occasional moments of stark surrealism, it’s a much more typical biographical narrative film, and in many ways as conventional as Lynch ever got, until his much later The Straight Story in 1999. It’s also Lynch’s most conventionally acknowledged and appreciated by the Academy, garnering 8 nominations in its day.
David Lynch is a national treasure, whether the nation treasures him or not. And The Elephant Man is an excellent oddity of his oeuvre.