devils_eraserheadIn just a short time, Beyond Fest has built a reputation for playing up the weird, bizarre and uncommon; a sold out screening of David Lynch’s first feature Eraserhead, coupled with a rare 35mm screening of Ken Russell’s The Devils cemented the festival’s love of all things insane and unholy.

Starting out a night of “Zef Absurdia”, South African rapper Ninja, one half of the duo Die Antwoord, made an appearance to introduce Eraserhead. Coming out in complete darkness, Ninja was dressed as Jack Nance’s character Henry in the film, right down to the pocket protector. Bringing up the group’s past, he spoke of living in a tiny apartment with musical partner Yolandi Visser and being inspired by Lynch’s debut, which, naturally lead to a lifelong obsession with the director’s work. Having to live off of basic necessities and with a baby on the way, he told a story of how he once borrowed money from Visser’s father to buy a book filled with in-depth interviews of Lynch (probably referring to Richard A. Barney’s Interviews with Filmmakers series). It was a totally sincere moment, with Ninja choking up about the parallels between Lynch’s story and his early career as a struggling artist. What a totally perfect way to start things off.

The beauty of Lynch as an artist, is that he doesn’t undermine his audience by speaking of the meanings behind his surrealist imagery. Over time, Eraserhead has become a hotly debated film in terms of its meaning, but one that can arguably be rooted in sexual anxiety, its repercussions and even the terrifying reflection of offspring. His classic is still a sight to behold to this day, replete with a brilliantly mad performance by Jack Nance (credited here as John Nance) and stellar direction from Lynch, making this film an integral chapter of Lynch developing his distinct voice.


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The second major event of the night, and perhaps the most important of the entire festival, was the 35mm screening of Ken Russell’s lost masterpiece The Devils. For those not familiar with this film, it’s had a long history of censorship due to controversial portrayals of religious figures and imagery. To introduce the film, Candyman and Immortal Beloved director Bernard Rose was present to share his first hand accounts of Russell and of the film’s original release – he was “deeply disturbed” by it.

Only screened twice previously in the US, the print that Beyond Fest had was direct from Warner Brothers and it looked fantastic. The film played extremely well and was followed by a post-film discussion with Rose returning, allowing the true heaviness of the night to sink in. This film sold out at the Egyptian Theatre on a Thursday night in Hollywood. Despite a late start time of 10:30, the Egyptian was easily the most packed I’ve ever seen it. Even more amazing was when Rose asked how many people had never seen it before. Over half of the crowd raised their hands. Continuing his discussion, the director pointed out that many critics of the film have perhaps let their emotions get in the way of its true message and cinematic qualities. “It is meant to upset and get under your skin”, he told the audience, joking that those who try to stop it from being seen are “probably suspect.”

I’ve been alive for 23 years and only now did I have an opportunity to see Ken Russell’s masterwork of a film (including some footage edited out of it), it’ll probably be that long before I get to see it again.

Check out our full review of The Devils, and visit Free The Devils to help get the film seen.