The Man They Call Cronenberg
by Alex Carnevale
There is usually a filmmaker for every time in your life. For my sophomore year in college, where every oddity seemed like a natural part of existence (including Molly), that filmmaker was the auteur David Cronenberg.
Those who really experienced Cronenberg for the first time with A History of Violence and Eastern Promises, or even 1996’s Crash, are missing out on the full glory of how weird this guy’s movies are.
Cronenberg’s early films feature some of the worst scripts of all time mixed with the finest direction. Since knowing where to put the camera is a relative rarity in the horror genre, even Cronenberg at half speed is virtuoso stuff.
If his goal was to terrify you, his approach didn’t always win out. David was far more proficient at unsettling you – a feeling that could last for days, even weeks afterward.
Through an uncontrollable series of events sophomore year, I found myself in a suite with the most ardent David Cronenberg fan to ever exist, one Doug Fretty. He forced me to watch Videodrome at 9 o’clock in the morning after learning that I had not seen it.
cronenberg youtube interview
Yes, Doug was different, but he was different in that he had one, and only one maxim: “I have no regard for the personality or attractiveness of the women I get with.”
I remember once in Harkness Doug making out with this girl and all her friends coming over to her and saying, “That kid’s skeezy, watch out” and she being like, “I liiiiiiiiiike him!”
I once woke up in the middle of the night and found Doug sleeping naked with his legs crossed on the toilet. I just went back to bed – I would have woken up Danish (he may have been up anyway) but there was no reason to burn that image into anyone else’s retina.
Unlike Cronenberg, you see, Doug practiced his own art. He even made me star in a short film with the Rachel to his Ross, the star of stage, screen, and the Brown University economics department Han Wen. I am not much of an actor, though, and audiences never would have believed my Woody Allen-esque relationship with a 5’3″ Chinese woman.
Interview with Cronenberg and William S. Burroughs
Like Doug, Cronenberg is a gentle soul masquerading as a violence-obsessed sociopath.
Sweet Wired interview:
I’m a completely nonviolent person. I’ve never even punched anyone in the face. I haven’t even slapped anybody. Believe me, I’m not a violent person, but there is violence committed in the world every second, and it has to be absorbed and somehow dealt with. There’s no way we can get away from knowing about it, especially now. What I’m saying is that it is always hideous. I’m not saying that it is never justified, because if you’re attacked by someone who wants to kill you for abstract reasons — some religious or political ideal, let’s say — on a normal, animal level, you have the right to defend yourself.
In certain circumstances, I would probably do it too, so I can’t say that it is never justified. But it’s never desirable; that’s my attitude. It’s never desirable. You know, I’m an atheist. I don’t believe in an afterlife and I don’t believe in karmic recycling. So murder for me is an act of absolute destruction. You are destroying a unique creature that never existed before and will never exist again, someone whose life experience is unique, and I take that very seriously. It’s quite tragic and, of course, the human condition as well, because we all die. But to have a life cut short is a tragic thing.
Dead Ringers, with Jeremy Irons playing twin gynecologists based on a true story….I just don’t know about this film. I can’t believe it was made, and by Cronenberg. There hasn’t been a matching of material and director that appropriate since Danny Murray made that movie about racing pigeons that screw like fruit flies.
From Chris Rodley’s Criterion essay on Dead Ringers:
Ambitious motion-control camerawork, allowing the seamless “twinning” of Irons, is both staggering and kept firmly in its place. Mere technology is never allowed to distract an audience from the film’s ultimate subject. This has little to do with twins or gynecology. Dead Ringers is a definitively melancholic meditation on our very existence—on the sadness of what Cronenberg has termed “unrequited life.” If the movie seems tantalizingly, even dangerously, personal, it is because it delivers its maker’s sensibility and aesthetic so directly and artfully. Its troubling existence is as cathartic as it is exhilarating.
Janet Maslin review.
somehow he also helmed M. Butterfly
Like Woody Allen, David’s always had a great knack for casting, as when he used Jeff Goldblum to make The Fly even more terrifying. Cronenberg is currently working on the opera adaptation of The Fly. If you have not seen it, go out of your way to do so.
crash becomes a tv show…the other crash
The director’s 1996 effort, Crash, was the ultimate hit or miss movie. If no one has made that joke about car crash victims and their crazy sexual predilections, then I deserve the Nobel Prize.
James Spader as the geek Viggo is stupendous, and Holly Hunter and Rosanna Arquette both scare the fuck out of me in completely different ways. The sex scenes kinda speak for themselves, and the James Dean portions are incredible as well. This film, savaged by most critics, was a work of genius.
he usually uses Howard Shore‘s music in his films
Cronenberg’s 2002 film, Spider, is an underappreciated classic. Here David talks about it:
Q: I understand that Spider came to you with Ralph Fiennes already attached. Was that unusual for you, to do a project with an actor already in place?
A: Yeah. I don’t think I’ve ever had that happen before. Certainly I’ve gotten scripts with actors attached or with the suggestion that the actors are interested. But I’ve never ended up doing those movies, so I don’t know how that would have worked out. Certainly Sharon Stone was attached to Basic Instinct 2, but I didn’t get to make that movie.
Q: I remember that. I was shocked to see your name attached to that sequel.
A: Yeah, well, I would have hoped you’d be shocked, but then you’d have seen the movie and been really shocked because it would be so good. But, we’ll never know.
Salon interview with Cronenberg:
I’m hot for 10 minutes, you know? I take it with a grain of salt, but I appreciate it nonetheless. Suddenly people are considering me for scripts that I guarantee you they would not have considered me for before “History.” If you showed them “Spider” as my last movie, they would blanch. They’d get very nervous. Because it’s an art film with a capital A, and it’s low budget. My most expensive film is still “History of Violence,” which cost $32 million. This one was around $27 million. When people hear about movies costing $180 million, they may think that’s peanuts. But in fact, everyone involved takes $26 million very seriously, and so do I. It’s a lot of money.
I didn’t really like A History of Violence, but this year’s Cronenberg film allowed him to totally redeem himself.
It’s a shame Eastern Promises, directed by Cronenberg and written by Steven Knight, didn’t get a best picture nomination. Not far short of Cronenberg’s finest work, it’s certainly his best mob movie.
The casting here is choice. Viggo’s the perfect shortstop for Cronenberg – he excels at quickly changing a cool demeanor into the most intense of emotions. Here Viggo is so badass as an up and coming mobster in London it makes you forget that you didn’t understand a word that Aragorn said.
In a way, Naomi Watts as the female lead was the right decision as well. She’s a terrible actress when she’s not saying fuckabees, but she does have the ability (not very pretty or charismatic) to let the other things in the diegesis take over, conveying true wonderment or pain. This is no doubt why David Lynch cast her in Mulholland Drive. She is quite the useful embodier.
the books and movies cronenberg used to prepare to direct eastern promises
Eastern Promises‘ twist, while fairly predictable, gives the movie great rewatch value. As mob movies go, it’s fairly light and non-threatening. Cronenberg is much harder on his ideas than his characters. Eastern Promises deserves a true sequel.
Doug got married, moved to La Brea. Cronenberg is making a Bruce Wagner satire about Hollywood, Maps of the Stars. In the end, everyone settles down.
Alex Carnevale is the editor of This Recording.
the brood is really scary
GRAM PARSONS CONTINUES HIS REIGN OF TERROR IN THIS SPACE
“Brass Buttons” – Gram Parsons (mp3)
“Hearts on Fire” – Gram Parsons (mp3)
“Return of the Grievous Angel” – Gram Parsons (mp3)
flashback to the debut Poets Off Poetry essay
Also, if you are feeling kind, vote for Maine congressional candidate Michael Brennan as a grassroots all-star.
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