Today, 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.