Birthday Post: David Cronenberg

David CronenbergToday, David Cronenberg is 72 years old. He is one of the great modern filmmakers. And I say that despite the fact that his obsessions are not mine. I do not share his interest in biology and generally the gooey nature of life. But given that — when he is at his best — he is a horror director, the fact that his take on reality disturbs me doubtless helps.

I pretty much turned off to Cronenberg after A History of Violence and Eastern Promises. They are still excellent films, but they seemed to indicate to me that he was going in a more traditional direction. But I will have to check out the new stuff. The one thing about Cronenberg is that he is always worth checking out. I don’t know of a film he made that wasn’t a worthy attempt.

The film that I most associate with Cronenberg is eXistenZ — his effort at virtual reality. Many people have claimed that the film would have been a hit if only The Matrix hadn’t come out that same year. I think that’s a stretch. eXistenZ is — as usual — a mind bending film with a subplot about amphibian farming and absolutely no action. The Matrix was a modernized kung fu film. But if you haven’t seen eXistenZ, you should. But you won’t. I’ve been hocking this film for 15 years and basically no one is willing to see it.

The film that Cronenberg will probably be remembered for is Videodrome. It’s been a while since I’ve seen it, so I just ordered it again. What I think people miss about it is that it is a horror film. Roger Ebert wrote, “The characters are bitter and hateful, the images are nauseating, and the ending is bleak enough that when the screen fades to black it’s a relief.” I don’t see how any of that is a problem. I would add that that its concepts are deep, its images stunning, and its story utterly fascinating. (Ebert had a tendency to make snap judgments and then hold onto them forever; he wasn’t the kind to write, “I revisited Blue Velvet and I realized that I’d been wrong!”)

Do I need to warn you about this clip?

But Cronenberg is much more than these movies. I haven’t seen his early films. But just to name a few other great films: Crash, Dead Ringers, and Naked Lunch. (Who would ever have thought a movie could have been made from that novel!) Ultimately, Cronenberg offers something I find irresistible in a filmmaker: an idiosyncratic vision wedded to mastery of cinematic technique. Off hand, the only person I can think of who offers that is Samuel Fuller — and even in his case it might be better to classify him as a great social justice filmmaker like John Sayles. Cronenberg is an original in an industry that usually destroys such impulses.

Happy birthday David Cronenberg!


Cronenberg is totally wrong about professional film reviewers. I don’t disagree with him about self-appointed “critics.” But he seems to be under the impression that professional reviewers have any special qualifications other than getting PR packages from the studio. Almost without exception, film reviewers are just reporters who fell into the job. So what do they do? They maybe read a couple of books? They are not critics in the traditional sense of the word — except in their pretense.

5 thoughts on “Birthday Post: David Cronenberg

  1. The thing with Cronenberg is his movies are so idiosyncratic that they hit different people in very different ways. You touch on that yourself by mentioning you didn’t care for “Violence” and “Promises”; those were well-recieved by many. It makes his rather silly comment about Internet critics even sillier, because what makes his movies interesting is that they don’t all please the same viewers. (I have no idea how he gets funding for his films; maybe he just stares at movie executives real hard and threatens to make their brains explode.)

    BTW, I loved “eXistenZ.” I should see it again. I saw it in the theater and thought, “man, that Jude Law guy is super-creepy.” Which he is, and has made a nice career out of. He’s been in a lot of underrated movies like “A.I.” and “Side Effects.”

    In my experience, if you spend a lot of time pimping for others to see a particular film and they just won’t, it’s probably a pretty cool movie.

    How people react to movies is weirdly personal. My SO cannot stand anything where characters are trapped. No submarine movies, no spaceships. When we first started dating I mentioned how awesome “Jaws” is, and she said she’d avoided it. “No, no,” I responded, “sure, the first half where beach swimmers get ate up is scary, but then these three guys go out and hunt the shark down, it’s terrific!” So we watched half the movie, and she was fine with beach swimmers getting ate up; spooky stuff, sure, but nobody forced them to go swimming. The second half, with water-hating Chief Brody stuck on the rickety boat, she couldn’t tolerate. An actual human person didn’t enjoy the second half of “Jaws,” which continues to boggle my mind. But now I know; no trapped characters. No “Non-Stop” for the SO, even though “Non-Stop” is super fun. I’m getting the hang of this.

    • Nice Scanners reference! It isn’t that I don’t like Violence and Eastern; it is just that I think he decided to “go commercial” in those films. They are still quite good. But Videodrome they ain’t!

      I think a lot of people have never forgiven me for making them watch Bubba Ho-Tep. But I can’t be blamed. They all gave up half way through and it is the second half that is brilliant. As a result, I have a reputation for liking odd films. But now that I think of it, there are some similarities between Don Coscarelli and Cronenberg.

      If you ever want to torture your SO, I would recommend Dead Calm. I still haven’t gotten over that film. But that really puts limits on movies. No Alien films?! No wonder you haven’t married!

      • The SO loved “Bubba Ho-Tep.” Who wouldn’t? Lots of people, probably, and that’s what makes idiosyncratic art terrific. If it’s unique, it won’t please everyone. It’s funny how fans of idiosyncratic art get antagonistic about others liking it (I’ve done this, myself) when it’s exactly the “not everyone likes it” vibe that makes such art feel so special.

        I rewatched “Alien” recently, by myself, and it doesn’t hold up well. Once the unbelievably creepy alien design by Geiger is fairly familiar, as it is to all of us by now, you’re left with a movie in which the characters keep getting themselves killed for no good reason. It often involves them chasing after a petulant cat. In the last shot, Sigourney Weaver goes into suspended animation with the cat, talking to it gratefully, like “well, all the people I know have been horribly killed, but thank goodness, cat, you’re still here, that’s what really matters.” (Did the omnipotent malevolent corporation behind the mission select crew members with an affinity to value cat > human?) By the end of the film I wanted the alien to win, just because it might have the good sense to kill that goddamn cat.

        Yeah, it’s tough to marry anybody who can’t like the last half of “Jaws” or the screeching torpedo stereo sound effects in “Red October.” Just as I have unforgivable flaws of my own. However, the SO, whose taste in pop music tends towards the saccharine, does enjoy the Pogues and Talking Heads — that’s a keeper. If I can get her to like “Deadwood,” I’ll put a ring on it.

        Post a Pogues song on Tuesday, you must!

        • I like your description of Alien, although I disagree. I think it holds up really well. It’s a horror film! People are supposed to act stupidly. But I’m a fan of franchise.

          Deadwood isn’t claustrophobic, at least. But some of it can be hard to take. Good luck with that!

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