CHINATOWN. Jack Nicholson as private eye Jake Gittes arrives at a swank mansion.
As he approaches the door, he hears something.
Evidently it’s coming from the limo. It is a squeaking sound.
Jack/Jake approaches the front door and rings the bell. A Chinese butler answers it, takes his card, and shuts the door in his face. While Jack awaits the manservant’s return, his attention is again caught by that damned squeaking. He looks back at the limo.
And now a chauffeur appears from behind the car, wiping it with a piece of chamois leather. Squeak squeak squeak.
This always gets a great laugh. It intrigues me. I laughed too. But why? There is a mysterious sound. Then we find out the ordinary explanation. And for some reason that’s funny. It also seems apt in this film: there is mystery, even in an apparently mundane setting. And we learn the solution. A microcosm for the whole film?
ERASERHEAD. Jack Nance as Henry Spencer visits his girlfriend at the parents’ house. For some time the conversation has to compete with an inexplicable squeaking noise.
Squeak. Squeak. Squeak.
Henry eventually looks in the direction of the sound.
On the floor, a bitch is nursing a litter of pups.
This is also weirdly funny. Lynch being who he is gets more discomfort out of the protracted and surreal noise, and the explanation when it comes still has a slightly icky biological feel: the anxiety of procreation, a major theme of the film. But we should not take any comfort from the fact that Lynch, like Polanski, eventually explains away this mystery. He can’t be relied upon to do so. The gag works better as an example of Henry’s curious and fatal passivity. This totally bizarre noise is whining away, and it takes him like a minute to muster the elementary curiosity to look for the source.