Author Topic: The work of David Cronenberg  (Read 887 times)

The work of David Cronenberg
« on: February 10, 2019, 09:08:32 PM »
I've been meaning to make a thread about Cronenberg for absolutely ages. Seeing mentions of The Fly (which may well be my favourite film of all time) in the Jeff Goldblum Appreciation Thread has inspired me.

I must say that I'm by no means an expert on Cronenberg: there are plenty of gaps in my knowledge. I don't know his earlier films (Stereo, Crimes of The Future) and I've not bothered with any of his more recent output beyond Eastern Promises. I don't know why this is because, along with Lynch, I hold him in exceptionally high esteem.

The Fly was my first introduction to him, rented from the video shop. I must have been about 7 or 8 when I saw this one and it absolutely fascinated me: the disgusting deterioration of Brundle and his warped take on his situation (the medicine cabinet of body parts was particularly grim because I had a tin under my bed where I kept all my baby teeth). I was also fascinated by the design of the telepods in the film and thought the computer was the coolest thing ever. A young me also fancied Geena Davis.

I must have seen this film perhaps more than any other and can quote it backwards. I used to re-enact Brundle's "children's book" about How Does Brundlefly Eat? much to the annoyance of my friends (without the vomit drop, sadly). The documentary Fear of The Flesh on the DVD and Blu-Ray is essential viewing, arguably one of the best documentaries you'll find as a special feature on any release.

I stumbled across Scanners next, probably late one night on Channel 4 and watched this obsessively. It's probably his most straightforward foray into sci-fi. It's main flaw, from what I can remember, is Stephen Lack as the main hero. He lacks something alright. Acting chops, unfortunately. And Patrick McGoohan wandering around, mumbling, gin-soaked and in full beard like a cross between Welles and Brando is always worth watching.

Videodrome came next and this was some serious heavy shit to my teenage mind. I'd already become fascinated with the moral outrage caused by the James Bulger case (having watched all the films his two killers had that the media were trying to blame the crime on), so a film about the harmful effect of screen violence was right up my street. Like The Fly, this film is incredibly lean (clocking in at just under 90 minutes, The Fly goes just a bit over I think) yet says a great deal, is filled with such striking imagery (cancer guns, stomach vaginas) that it feels infinitely rich. It is top-tier Cronenberg for me, along with The Fly.

And if I had to add a film to a top 3 then it would have to be Dead Ringers, which has inspired my avatar and username. A devastating and crushing experience this one. I probably have watched this one the least because it really puts me through an emotional mangler. I think Howard Shore's soundtrack marks the absolute peak of his collaboration with Cronenberg and Jeremy's Iron is immense as the Mantle twins. I made a point of watching this at uni with my friend who had a twin brother; when the film finished he sobbed uncontrollably.

I became acquainted with his earlier work in the mid 90s - I think Shivers and Rabid were shown one night as part of a double bill, but that might be me misremembering. I didn't enjoy the latter but was impressed with the former. When I read Ballard's novel High Rise I was struck by the similarities between the two works. In fact, it was probably inevitable that Cronenberg would adapt a Ballard novel at some point. I enjoyed Crash but didn't feel the need to revisit it as much as I have with many of his other films. A cold, nasty, emotionally detached film - which I guess was the point.

Cronenberg's other major literary adaptation Naked Lunch is often lauded as an unimpeachable masterpiece, but I never got on board with it. I saw the film many years before reading the book, enjoyed the first half hour or so, then just lost interest completely. I later read the book and was utterly unimpressed. I revisited the film around this time and felt exactly the same. Very odd. Cronenberg cites Burroughs as probably his biggest influence, and yet the union between them did nothing for me.

I saw eXistenZ in the cinema and thought it was great fun. I was expecting it to do for video games what Videodrome did for video tapes so was pleasantly surprised when it was more of a light-hearted pisstake (or at least that's how I read it). Spider is excellent, probably an underrated entry in the Cronenberg canon and A History of Violence and Eastern Promises are both okay, although I've not felt the need to revisit them.

One additional Cronenberg item worth mentioning, which I've revisited many times, is the book Cronenberg on Cronenberg. This book is absolutely fucking essential reading. Cronenberg is incredibly articulate and always interesting (his commentaries attest to this fact also) and this book is indispensable.

So yes, apologies for that long post. Thank you if you read it. Please share your Cronenberg insights, stories of how you came to see his films, further recommendations, and so on.

See you in Pittsburgh!

St_Eddie

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Re: The work of David Cronenberg
« Reply #1 on: February 10, 2019, 10:37:21 PM »
I'm highly disturbed (in a good way) by the ending to Shivers.  It's as though David Cronenberg was able to capture footage of somebody's nightmarish fever dream.

The Fly...

...I was also fascinated by the design of the telepods in the film...

FUN FACT: Cronenberg based the design of the telepods on the cylinder and cylinder head of his Ducati 450 Desmo motorbike (turned upside down)...


Re: The work of David Cronenberg
« Reply #2 on: February 11, 2019, 06:19:15 AM »
I'm a big fan of Videodrome and I miss when James Woods wasn't an idiot. Also love Dead Ringers although I have to say if I had an identical twin and a friend made me watch that movie I would probably never speak to that friend again.

Re: The work of David Cronenberg
« Reply #3 on: February 11, 2019, 08:35:36 AM »
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FUN FACT: Cronenberg based the design of the telepods on the cylinder and cylinder head of his Ducati 450 Desmo motorbike (turned upside down)...

Cool factoid about the telepods. I always wanted a pair of miniature ones as bookends, even though I don't have a bookcase and all the books I've got are in a box in the attic gathering dust and damp...

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I'm highly disturbed (in a good way) by the ending to Shivers.  It's as though David Cronenberg was able to capture footage of somebody's nightmarish fever dream.

Quite agree on this, a nightmarish sense of helpless terror. It's funny because it's been mentioned in The Thing thread that Carpenter had an ending with the camp destroyed and a lone dog running away...the ending to Shivers evokes a similar sense of nihilistic doom.

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love Dead Ringers although I have to say if I had an identical twin and a friend made me watch that movie I would probably never speak to that friend again.

Don't worry, he was a total aresehole. In fact, he was in a Coldplay cover band. I showed him the film as part of a social experiment: I was curious to see if he actually felt any feelings, since he was perfectly happy to go out in public and perform those songs from the soundtrack to Generation Beige. He surprised me by showing real emotion. He gave me a wide berth after the screening.

Re: The work of David Cronenberg
« Reply #4 on: February 11, 2019, 08:39:36 AM »
For some reason despite generally being a fan of his work at least up to the mid 00's I'v managed never to see or even be much aware(until recently) of Dead Ringers, maybe because I tended to come across film individually rather than following his career. Guess I'll have to do something about that.

I'd go along with Spider being the best thing he's released post millennium, enjoyed A History of Violence but I think it had the effect of sending him in a less interesting direction than that.

Re: The work of David Cronenberg
« Reply #5 on: February 11, 2019, 08:55:57 AM »
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For some reason despite generally being a fan of his work at least up to the mid 00's I'v managed never to see or even be much aware(until recently) of Dead Ringers, maybe because I tended to come across film individually rather than following his career. Guess I'll have to do something about that.

Definitely, it's a great film! You must report back your findings. I'm sure it will be readily available on the Internet.

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I'd go along with Spider being the best thing he's released post millennium, enjoyed A History of Violence but I think it had the effect of sending him in a less interesting director than that.

Agree with this - Spider is full of lovely bleak and desolate London imagery. A History of Violence doesn't feel like quintessential Cronenberg and just more of a generic thriller.

Re: The work of David Cronenberg
« Reply #6 on: February 11, 2019, 09:09:10 AM »
Agree with this - Spider is full of lovely bleak and desolate London imagery. A History of Violence doesn't feel like quintessential Cronenberg and just more of a generic thriller.

Spider I think also kind of felt like a style he could have settled into as a "mature" director but ended up being more of a career blip.

another Mr. Lizard

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Re: The work of David Cronenberg
« Reply #7 on: February 11, 2019, 09:16:02 AM »
I've been a Cronenberg fan since the 70s and have more recently had the chance to introduce a few screenings of his work at the local arts cinema (Scanners/Brood double bill, A Dangerous Method, etc)

Common opinion (indeed, suggested in this very thread) is that his work has shifted direction in recent times. I'm not so sure. A Dangerous Method actually seems to tie a lot of his themes together, and there are stray elements of his past horror/sf work in there if you wish to look for them. A good friend and fellow Cronenberg addict pointed out to me that Keira Knightley begins the movie as an uncontrollable raging monster and ends it as a respected forward-thinking scientist  - reverse that journey and you've got Jeff Goldblum in The Fly. And I've always regarded The Brood and A History Of Violence as close cousins  - they even have the same ending! (little innocent blonde girl unwittingly carrying a familial genetic deformity into the gene pool)

Cronenberg even manages to combine his love of speed machines with his regular concerns - if Videodrome has its characters melding their physicality with that of technology, then The Italian Machine and Fast Company paved the way.

A big vote for Dead Ringers here. His greatest achievement, and possibly the best movie of the 80s.

Dirty Boy

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Re: The work of David Cronenberg
« Reply #8 on: February 11, 2019, 10:10:47 AM »
I like and agree with what's been said about Dead Ringers. I'd say it's one of my favourite films albeit one i can only take about once a year, " devastating and crushing" is right. It was interesting to read (in Cronenberg On Cronenberg) that the most visceral and disturbing scene was removed from the final cut after walk-outs from a test audience.

Beautiful soundtrack too.

Just realised i've never actually seen Shivers, although i'm guessing i should? The synopsis makes it sound quite brilliantly disgusting.

Re: The work of David Cronenberg
« Reply #9 on: February 11, 2019, 11:21:13 AM »
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And I've always regarded The Brood and A History Of Violence as close cousins  - they even have the same ending! (little innocent blonde girl unwittingly carrying a familial genetic deformity into the gene pool)

That's a really insightful spot. I always shied away from The Brood, by Cronenberg's admission it was borne out of an acrimonious divorce so it might well be his most personal film. I also really need to bring myself up to speed with his more recent output. I don't really have an excuse to ignore it.

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Just realised i've never actually seen Shivers, although i'm guessing i should? The synopsis makes it sound quite brilliantly disgusting.

Very good film, well worth watching and actually a very good introduction to Cronenberg. In this era of remakes and reboots I'm surprised Shivers has remained untouched. Although a shiny new version of it wouldn't work for me at all: its low-budget grubbiness is a major part of its strength.

St_Eddie

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Re: The work of David Cronenberg
« Reply #10 on: February 11, 2019, 12:20:30 PM »
In this era of remakes and reboots I'm surprised Shivers has remained untouched. Although a shiny new version of it wouldn't work for me at all: its low-budget grubbiness is a major part of its strength.

Well, they're currently making a Rabid remake, so perhaps Shivers will be next.  Whatever the case, I have no interest in such things.

ToneLa

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Re: The work of David Cronenberg
« Reply #11 on: February 11, 2019, 12:23:27 PM »
The Dead Zone holds up! Was watching that end of last year, trying not to associate it with current life.

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Re: The work of David Cronenberg
« Reply #12 on: February 11, 2019, 12:25:30 PM »
I'd like him to do a proper comedy ("proper" being the key word there - I don't consider Maps To the Stars as a comedy film, regardless of what IMDB and Wiki want to tell me), cos he's got the chops (most of his films, The Fly particularly, have perfectly timed comedic moments) and he's not above sending himself up.  I reckon it'd be quite good and, maybe, an antidote to all these ho-hum character dramas he's been doing for a while.


The Dead Zone holds up! Was watching that end of last year, trying not to associate it with current life.

Yes, it does.  Probably my favourite Cronenberg.

Re: The work of David Cronenberg
« Reply #13 on: February 11, 2019, 02:13:33 PM »
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The Dead Zone holds up! Was watching that end of last year, trying not to associate it with current life.

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Yes, it does.  Probably my favourite Cronenberg.



I do like The Dead Zone too, inexplicably I forgot to mention it in my opening ramble.

Re: The work of David Cronenberg
« Reply #14 on: February 12, 2019, 11:39:47 AM »
While I'm wearing my Civic TV T-shirt I'd like to echo the appreciation for most of Cronenberg's stuff here, but also add that I really like Naked Lunch and enjoyed it much more after watching the Criterion Collection version with his commentary track on. It was years and years ago now so I don't remember any specifics but he went a long way to explaining a lot of the confusing elements of the movie and expanding on its various themes and what certain scenes or characters represented. It's one of the few times I've finished a movie commentary and immediately felt like starting it again to properly absorb all the information.

St_Eddie

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Re: The work of David Cronenberg
« Reply #15 on: February 12, 2019, 03:50:10 PM »
I really need to rewatch Naked Lunch.  I haven't seen it since I was a kid and to this day, all that I can vaguely recall is a typewriter-insect hybrid thrusting its buttocks in sexual ecstasy.  Definitely need to rewatch it!

Re: The work of David Cronenberg
« Reply #16 on: February 12, 2019, 04:23:58 PM »
I really need to rewatch Naked Lunch.  I haven't seen it since I was a kid and to this day, all that I can vaguely recall is a typewriter-insect hybrid thrusting its buttocks in sexual ecstasy.  Definitely need to rewatch it!

Yeah I think there's a lot of stuff in it about the ups and downs of the creative process, hence the sexual typewriter.  Even without knowing what themes to look for though, it's worth rewatching just for all those bonkers visuals alone.

Shit Good Nose

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Re: The work of David Cronenberg
« Reply #17 on: February 12, 2019, 07:43:11 PM »
While I'm wearing my Civic TV T-shirt I'd like to echo the appreciation for most of Cronenberg's stuff here, but also add that I really like Naked Lunch and enjoyed it much more after watching the Criterion Collection version with his commentary track on. It was years and years ago now so I don't remember any specifics but he went a long way to explaining a lot of the confusing elements of the movie and expanding on its various themes and what certain scenes or characters represented. It's one of the few times I've finished a movie commentary and immediately felt like starting it again to properly absorb all the information.

The making-of on the Criterion disc is also worth a watch if you haven't already seen it.

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Re: The work of David Cronenberg
« Reply #18 on: February 12, 2019, 08:44:48 PM »
The Dead Zone holds up! Was watching that end of last year, trying not to associate it with current life.
Glad someone mentioned it. An amazing film that takes King's best book (probably) and makes it much better.

Re: The work of David Cronenberg
« Reply #19 on: February 12, 2019, 10:34:27 PM »
I think Cronenberg has said a few times that [The Fly] can be read as representing anyone dealing with a disease so the AIDS thing is right, but I've always felt the drug metaphor works a little better because there's the initial period where he has all of that extra energy and vitality, running around rambling on about how amazing it feels, and he's convinced Veronica and everyone else should join him and experience the same high.
For no apparent reason, while walking back from the shops, I just had the idea that the film could possibly also work as a toxic masculinity/abusive relationship type of metaphor. Seth is a repressed nerd, who comes out of his shell when he starts seeing Veronica, then becomes all domineering and macho. Veronica tries to leave and he comes to the conclusion that the way to fix everything is to force her to start a family with him. His outer mutation begins when she starts to see him for who he really is.

I hope that stand up to scrutiny, I don't normally think of clever film readings by myself.

Naked Lunch
I can think of at least two things wrong with that title.

St_Eddie

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Re: The work of David Cronenberg
« Reply #20 on: February 13, 2019, 04:15:01 AM »
For no apparent reason, while walking back from the shops, I just had the idea that the film could possibly also work as a toxic masculinity/abusive relationship type of metaphor. Seth is a repressed nerd, who comes out of his shell when he starts seeing Veronica, then becomes all domineering and macho. Veronica tries to leave and he comes to the conclusion that the way to fix everything is to force her to start a family with him. His outer mutation begins when she starts to see him for who he really is.

That certainly wasn't the intended metaphor but still, it's as valid as any other interpretation.  The vast majority of my favourite films invite themselves to being interpreted in multiple ways.  That's the pinnacle of fine art, as far as I'm concerned.

Re: The work of David Cronenberg
« Reply #21 on: February 13, 2019, 11:10:28 AM »
Death/horrific mutation of the author.