Two or Three Things About David Cronenberg
March 20, 2006 10:12 AM   Subscribe

Three new ways of thinking about David Cronenberg (director of Videodrome, Dead Ringers, etc.). A documentary filmmaker, an avant-garde filmmaker, or maybe just a guy who looks at couples and probably wonders what they look like having sex. Kind of par for the course.
posted by Joe Hutch (45 comments total)
Thanks for this FPP - Cronenberg is a master and I think too often his films are over looked. Scanners, The Fly, The Brood, and even last year's A History of Violence really standout as terrific films. If you haven't checked out any of his older stuff in a while it's worth a view. I watched Scanners just a few weeks ago with someone who had never seen it before and was pleasantly surprised by the film's ability to attention-grab.
posted by wfrgms at 10:25 AM on March 20, 2006

MetaFilter: Kind of par for the course.
posted by TunnelArmr at 10:39 AM on March 20, 2006

Cronenberg is awesome.

While I think there are plenty of interesting films produced in Canada, Cronenberg is one of a very select few Canadian directors who produce movies of a style and calibre worthy of international and historical recognition.

I definately feel like A History of Violence was overlooked last year, even though a lot of people apparently saw it. At least Hurt got an oscar nod for his role. I still can't figure out why that whole scene is so intense and disturbing - I guess that's Cronenberg for yah.
posted by Alex404 at 10:40 AM on March 20, 2006

I recently bought The Brood, Scanners and The Dead Zone (I hadn't seen the latter two in years and I'd never seen The Brood) - and they completely re-inspired me and re-invigorated my love for film - the man makes really fun movies and he doesn't make them stupid. I watched these films during the day and then the next night I saw a bunch of Kenneth Anger films at Film Anthology in NYC - it was a perfect and awesome combination - a good week indeed (and then some Stan Brakhage films the next night - including one called Faustfilm, an Opera, which reminded me very much of Cronenberg as it had a lot of body abstractions and some cerebral and tormented bedroom scenes - does anyone know if this film is available to buy anywhere?)
posted by SmileyChewtrain at 10:42 AM on March 20, 2006

A History of Violence is probably my least favorite Cronenberg film and the one I find the least interesting (of the ones I've seen - I haven't seen a few, including that weird racing one...). That being said, though - it was definitely one of the better / more enjoyable films I saw last year. I can say similar for The Brothers Grimm...
posted by SmileyChewtrain at 10:46 AM on March 20, 2006

Woah, didn't mean for that comment to sound so negative in regards to History of Violence (LEAST! LEAST!)... I did really like it... I just didn't like it as much as any other Cronenberg films.
posted by SmileyChewtrain at 10:47 AM on March 20, 2006

Cronenberg is one of a very select few Canadian directors who produce movies of a style and calibre worthy of international and historical recognition.

The funny thing is, I've noticed most Canadian "domestic" directors can be described as making films for either the French market or the international arthouse market. There isn't really an audience for Canadian "commercial" films. There have been attempts at making commercial Canadian films recently like Going the Distance and Foolproof but ironically they make even less money than those "weird" Cronenberg and Egoyan films.
posted by bobo123 at 11:01 AM on March 20, 2006

'Spider' and 'Crash' would be my two favorites. Hated EXistenZ and never really liked the twin gynecologists one.
posted by The Jesse Helms at 11:12 AM on March 20, 2006

I didn't even know stopsmiling was still around, let alone available online. Thanks for this, Joe Hutch.
posted by shoepal at 11:13 AM on March 20, 2006

FYI several of his earlier films; Rabid, Shivers (They came from within), The Brood, and Videodrome were made at a time when in Canada investors could take tremendous tax write-offs for investing in Canadian films.

Shortly after the success of Scanners and Videodrome Cronrnberg met with Hollywood producers to investigate directing Total recall (when Sly Stallone was supposed to star). He was never able to see it as a "Cronenberg" film, so it was not to be. About that time he was approched by Mel Brooks (yes that Mel Brooks) who had options on The Fly.
posted by Gungho at 11:22 AM on March 20, 2006

I'm still waiting for someone who isn't a fawning cinephile or Cronenberg fanatic to explain why History of Violence wasn't an overwrought, laughable mess. His fans all seem to love it as well as a number of reviews, but I can't think of a single thing in that movie that didn't seem ham-fisted or amateurishly executed, and the dialogue made some of the Star Wars screenplays look Shakespearean in comparison.

The Fly was cool, though. But not something I'd think puts him in the category of Altman, Malick, Soderbergh, or some others that come to mind.
posted by docpops at 11:53 AM on March 20, 2006

What's with the wierd picture of the daily show contributers with stickers over their mouths?
posted by delmoi at 12:22 PM on March 20, 2006

Cronenberg rocks! Haven't seen History of Violence, yet...
posted by brundlefly at 12:53 PM on March 20, 2006

Well, I do like Cronenberg's work, but what I thought was good about A History of Violence was its relentless focus on its twin themes of violence and how people try to create their own identities. Pretty much every little detail in the film had something to do with one of those two intertwining themes, even the sex scenes (eg, the wife's cheerleader outfit representing a role she is creating for herself, or the father-son relationship -- I could elaborate on this stuff much more, don't get me started). I admire how tightly constructed the movie is on that level.

My aesthetic taste tends to be on the formalist side of things, though, and I didn't have a problem with the acting. I can see how if you weren't buying the acting the film as a whole wouldn't work for you. De gustibus non est disputandum and all that -- I don't much care for Soderberg or Malick myself, but that's cool.
posted by whir at 12:56 PM on March 20, 2006

Huh. I like Cronenberg myself, but I thought A History of Violence was positively dreadful. Everyone I know who's seen it -- all Cronenberg fans, too -- tought it was awful as well (with the exception of Hurt's performance. Also, his weird beard made him look a little like Hugo, Man of a Thousand Faces.).
posted by scody at 1:01 PM on March 20, 2006

I can appreciate Cronenberg, but the man seriously butchered M. Butterfly. Or maybe that play just wasn't meant to be adapted to the screen.
posted by ScotchLynx at 1:28 PM on March 20, 2006

The characters of A History of Violence seem cold or detached because they're mostly small town pastiches that receive Cronenberg's normal character treatment. The dialog sounds no more stilted than any of his other films.

I've seen a lot of comparisons to gangster films of recent years but that's a red herring. Try watching The Killers or Out of the Past -- it's only a quick jump from a noir film classic to Cronenberg's film. Instead of concentrating on the character's past like traditional noir, he runs with the exploration of the incursion of the past into the present and how it affects relationships and psychology. It's a great spin on the "man hides from a terrible past only to confront it" subgenre. Wonders what they look like having sex, indeed.
posted by mikeh at 2:36 PM on March 20, 2006

I loved History Of Violence, and it may even be my favourite Cronenburg film - but I've never really been able to explain why very well...

(And anyway, I'm pretty much a fawning cinephile and a Cronenburg fanatic.)
posted by Drexen at 2:37 PM on March 20, 2006

For me, the best thing about History of Violence was the directness of the entire film. From the very first shot to the final (abrupt) conclusion... I loved it and so did my girlfriend (our first date!) who is, as docpops so eloquently puts it not a 'fawning cinephile or Cronenberg fanatic'.

I am though, so I won't bother talking down to you.

I also recently rewatched Crash. Great film. It had been about 10 years since I last saw it and, gosh, there's a lot of sex in that film. How exactly my 14-year old mind did not remember this little detail, I will never understand. (I did however remember the ending as well as the last spoken lines of the film).

I've also had the distinct pleasure of seeing his unsettling short film, Camera.

Short reply: thanks for the link and long live the new flesh.
posted by slimepuppy at 2:47 PM on March 20, 2006

Another big Chronenberg fan who just didn't enjoy History of Violence, though I've only seen it once and plan to see it again. Some of the actual scenes of violence (or, more specifically, shots of the immediate aftereffects of violence) really rang true with that gut-renching clarity that he has.

Overall though, I enjoyed Ed Harris and thought everyone else was in a different, kind of sillier movie. My faves of his would have to be: Dead Ringers, Crash, Naked Lunch, The Dead Zone, and Shivers.
posted by stinkycheese at 3:16 PM on March 20, 2006

I finally realized that my mother was cool as all getout when she bought a ticket to the NC-17 Crash for my underage ass, then went to see a different movie. Thanks, mom! My favorite is still Videodrome, though.
posted by brundlefly at 3:52 PM on March 20, 2006

I've seen probably half a dozen Cronenberg films and I think that, aside from The Fly, A History of Violence is the first one I've liked much. (I keep watching his films anyway). I think I liked it for how violence was central to the film, like in most thrillers, but not necessarily the "solution."

In most thrillers there's a big build-up, the hero's in danger, the hero shoots the villain, that's the end and everyone alive goes home happy. Maybe with a blanket wrapped around the shoulders, as the briefest of nods to pyschology, but generally it goes from problem to buildup to violent confrontation to credits, with the resolution carrying an implicit endorsement of violence ("you have a problem? Kill it. End of problem.")

With this one it seemed to me that every deployment of violence caused further problems--effects on the people who witness it, and also effects on the people who conduct it, with the question at the end remaining: what happens to the family as a result of what they've seen and done?

It was a genre film, but one that put some pertinent questions to the genre it was part of. Maybe that makes me a cinephile (I doubt it--I'm not very sophisticated), but at any rate this (imagined?) approach is what I liked about the film.

But apparently there's plenty of room for interpretation--I've seen it twice, and the second time I saw it, the person I went with thought that, except for the scene at the hotel, the violence was all justified and uncomplicated, and that the family essentially had nothing to think about at the end.
posted by Tuwa at 4:01 PM on March 20, 2006

I don't know if anyone here ever caught the tv moment when Cronenberg was scolded by that awful woman Dini Petty in Toronto close to 20 yrs ago. I felt bad for Cronenberg-- he was there to discuss one of his films-- not to be treated like some insolent, difficult child.
posted by GoodJob! at 4:07 PM on March 20, 2006

I haven't finished reading the interview yet, but Cronenberg had a profound effect on me. At least I realized that I had to see as many movies he'd made as possible. He touches veins.
posted by Busithoth at 4:15 PM on March 20, 2006

Good analyses. Thanks.
posted by docpops at 4:21 PM on March 20, 2006

I don't like Cronenberg's films and I thought HoV was easily the worst film I saw last year (which is saying alot considering Batman Begins and Lord of War came out last year). Pedestrian treatment of an interesting topic; no basement; no need to ever see it again. Snoozeville.

And don't get me started on ExCremenz.
posted by dobbs at 4:27 PM on March 20, 2006

Put me down firmly in the Cronenfan camp - except for eXistenZ, which was PKD so very lite it flew away into its own bottom. Possibly good practice for an actual PKD movie (did you notice the takeaway they went to was called Perky Pat's?) but it shouldn't have been released. Perhaps people who don't read from that genre were more impressed (my gf at the time thought it was a complete mindfuck. GF, I told her (I spoke in acronyms at the time) GF, that was an old story before I learned to read, and it's no fresher because the game consoles are made of jizz). But then Dave left all that except in arch remarks in Crash about how the weird guy was in fact kidding about transports into a new flesh, because that's science fiction crap. And now he's all Viggo, Viggo, and I'll probably go and see it but the new flesh is most likely same as the old flesh, which is a shame.
posted by Sparx at 4:32 PM on March 20, 2006

What was the scolding regarding, GoodJob? Typical moralizing bullshit?
posted by brundlefly at 5:00 PM on March 20, 2006

A few months back I might have stood up for eXistenZ in the face of you haters, but I watched it for the second time and found I didn't like it as much as I remembered I did. I still think it's more of a parody than it gets credit for, though, and somewhere in my profoundly geeky brain is a part that is tickled pink by characters in a movie screaming "death to realism!" at the top of their lungs.
posted by whir at 5:08 PM on March 20, 2006

I won't say that eXistenZ is a masterpiece, but I would suggest watching it directly after watching Videodrome for an interesting context.
posted by melt away at 6:00 PM on March 20, 2006

no love for naked lunch?
maybe it's just the burroughs fan in me, but that's my favorite of his films.
posted by juv3nal at 6:30 PM on March 20, 2006

Every time I read a review of a Cronenburg movie I think it sounds absolutely fascinating. Every time I see a Cronenburg movie I am immensely disappointed. This has held true for everything from The Brood and Shivers through to History of Violence, which I watched only this last weekend. I was stunned by how poor the acting of the two leads was (Hurt and Harris were superb, though) and how unrealistic and contrived the dialogue and the basic scenario were. Almost embarrassingly so.

Cronenburg always, always does this to me. His movies always strike me as being little more than poorly-realised headwanks.
posted by Decani at 6:34 PM on March 20, 2006

And I have no excuse for misspelling his name.
posted by Decani at 6:35 PM on March 20, 2006

Why yes brundlefly, it certainly was.
posted by GoodJob! at 7:19 PM on March 20, 2006

Decani writes "Every time I read a review of a Cronenburg movie I think it sounds absolutely fascinating. Every time I see a Cronenburg movie I am immensely disappointed."

This has been my general experience, too. I'd be tempted to say "criminally overrated" were it not for the lingering sense that I might be missing something....
posted by mr_roboto at 7:22 PM on March 20, 2006

Decani and mr_roboto nailed it, for me. I honestly don't think he's as awful a director as I often say he is... however, the fact that he consistently fucks up such brilliant premises makes him somehow seem worse, if that makes any sense. I think the same thing about Tim Burton: I always wish they'd given the scripts to someone else. Pretty much anyone else. Yes, even Joel Schumacher.
posted by dobbs at 7:36 PM on March 20, 2006

The creepiest thing about The Brood was the shoutout to the Dr. Denton's Company in the end credits. I will never look at footie pajamas the same way ever again.
posted by availablelight at 7:56 PM on March 20, 2006

I think Cronenberg is the greatest Anglo-Canadian filmmaker who ever lived, but I just can't understand why AHoV was so lauded.
Actually, that's not true, I know exactly why it got the kudos. Hollywood and the fishwrappers finally got something out of him that they could easily categorize/market/understand.
It was work for hire, it felt like work for hire, and I didn't get that feeling of truth, of realness that I've gotten from even the most outlandish of Cronenberg's films.
My cliched & inarticulate $0.02.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 9:16 PM on March 20, 2006

Close range violence, says Cronenberg, is strangely intimate.

Just like Metafilter
posted by troutfishing at 10:11 PM on March 20, 2006

no love for naked lunch?

No love for it at all. I'm a Burroughs fan as well, and Cronenburg took great book and made it into a lousy film. He evacuated all of Bill's dry humour and made it into a limp horror B movie.

Loved Dead Ringers though.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 1:32 AM on March 21, 2006

I am totally delighted by the fact that Cronenberg is getting the respect he deserves. I remember being a kid and reading about Videodrome in Fangoria or something and being totally fascinated by the image of James Woods sticking his head into the tv screen.
Later, in high school, as I began to approach film with a filmmaker-centric point of view, I rented Shivers (They Came From Within), Rabid, The Brood, etc etc etc, and the result was that my notions about horror films, and filmmakers themselves, were completely reordered.
I was slightly taken aback when Cronenberg began making self-consciously "respectable" films in the early 90's...part of what I appreciated about his earlier films were that they were idea-driven but rendered all the more subversive by the fact that they were dressed up in sleazy, psycho-sexual clothes--"venereal horror".
The Criterion DVD of "Videodrome" is....awesome.
posted by ghastlyfop at 5:33 AM on March 21, 2006

History of Violence benefits greatly from being re-watched on the small screen. Those moments that many seem to think are clumsy or overwrought are reduced in stature, and ultimately I ended up realizing just how intimate that movie actually is. Try it again on the idiot box.
posted by theinsectsarewaiting at 5:53 AM on March 21, 2006

That's funny - I watched a boot on my TV & wondered if it wouldn't have been better on the big screen. But, like I said, I'm going to try it again.

Anybody heard of his Painkillers project? I sure wish he'd go with that idea. Some old info on it here (scroll down). Sounds like a natural!
posted by stinkycheese at 6:46 AM on March 21, 2006

See? Everyone's opinions are completely at odds! Madness! Insistent, weirdly intimate, violence-tinged madness!

Oh yeah, Naked Lunch'd be my favourite Cronenberg film thar. I don't think he crashed Bill's gig at all.
posted by Drexen at 8:07 AM on March 21, 2006

I love Cronenberg's Naked Lunch. I would think that anyone who "got" Uncle Bill's Naked Lunch (as far as there is "getting" to be done) would like the film, as it's in the spirit of the book - which is all that really matters.
posted by melt away at 8:11 PM on March 22, 2006

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