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These themes continued and matured with his feature debut, Erasurehead. The story of a new father and factory worker who lives among the hydraulic drone of an industrialized town, Lynch sheds light on the fear inherent in first-time fatherhood. The father is himself, as are many characters from Lynch films, like a newborn baby in adult form -- an outsider who is at once curious and unnerved by the world around him. The baby in the film is a mutation and all it knows how to do is cry; in other words, it is a perfectly realized extension of its father's inner state.

Erasurehead became a midnight cult phenom and Lynch was on his way. Mel Brooks, impressed with the dreaminess and daring of the film, hired Lynch to direct his production of "The Elephant Man". Like his premiere feature, "The Elephant Man" was shot in stark black and white and explored what it means to be an outsider. Only this time, a reversal of sorts took place. The lead character was a sideshow freak and a mutant, but he was also articulate, thoughtful and enlightened. Lynch lended the picture an authenticity of feeling, but seemed to be suppressing the sense of artistic freedoms that fuel his best films. Still, he delivered a classy picture that earned him his first Oscar nomination for Best Director.

Lynch's next film was the creative disaster "Dune", the epic sci-fi spectacle based on the novel by Frank Herbert. The film is a mess and, while it contains moments of visual splendor, it is too vast a project for Lynch to handle. Lynch seems to lose his free-thinking spirit with this one; he has to maintain too many narrative blocks to truly experiment on its individual strands.

His next film is widely considered his best. "Blue Velvet" utilized every strength in Lynch's arsenal. An original work, the film concerns a young man who finds a severed ear in a field and all of the strange characters he encounters in his efforts to uncover its owner. The film plays like Norman Rockwell meets Francis Bacon. The small midwestern town in the film is a little too perfect from the beginning. As our protagonist pursues his naive investigation, he is confronted with the dark and seedy side of this wholesome facade. It is an examination of the duality of American life. It is also Lynch's version of a coming of age story, only here the innocent discovers sex through voyeuristic fetishism and navigates his way into adulthood through twisted violence as much as young love. Lynch rediscovered his unique voice and was again nominated for a Best Director Oscar by the Academy.

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