After Eraserhead, Lynch was eager to get started on a new project. After failing to get anything started on a personal project called Ronnie Rocket, he called Stuart Cornfeld – who had earlier called him to tell him how much he had enjoyed Eraserhead – and asked him if he had anything. Cornfeld said he had four projects. The first one he mentioned was called The Elephant Man; without knowing anything else Lynch said that was it. They pitched it around to several studios before Mel Brooks (for whom Cornfeld worked) decided (with some influence by his wife Anne Bancroft) it was right for his new BrooksFilms production company. He liked the screenwriters, but he didn’t know who Lynch was, so they screened Eraserhead for him. After it was over Brooks reportedly said to Lynch, “You’re a madman! I love you! You’re in!” The rest, as they say, is history. The film was nominated for eight Academy Awards, though it didn’t win any: Best Original Score, Best Art Direction, Best Film Editing, Best Costume Design, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Actor John Hurt, Best Director and Best Picture. Lynch was saddened that the film didn’t receive sound or cinematography nominations. The year prior, sound designer Alan Splet received an honorary award for his sound work on The Black Stallion and a few years later he received a nomination for his work on 1983’s Never Cry Wolf. Cinematographer Freddie Francis won in 1960 for Sons and Lovers and in 1989 for Glory. The other films nominated for Best Picture that year were: Coal Miner’s Daughter, Raging Bull, Tess and winner Ordinary People. After the film’s loss at the Oscars, Brooks reportedly stated, “Ten years from now Ordinary People will be the answer to a trivia question. The Elephant Man will be a movie people are watching.” The film currently sits at #116 on IMDb’s user-generated Top 250.
To begin, I’m going to quote from the Wikipedia entry about auteurs, in order to establish what I mean when I call David Lynch an auteur.
The term auteur (French for author) is used to describe film directors (or, more rarely, producers, or writers) who are considered to have a distinctive, recognizable style, because they (a) repeatedly return to the same subject matter, (b) habitually address a particular psychological or moral theme, (c) employ a recurring visual and aesthetic style, or (d) demonstrate any combination of the above. In theory, an auteur’s films are identifiable regardless of their genre. The term was first applied in its cinematic sense in François Truffaut’s 1954 essay “A Certain Tendency of the French Cinema.”