Sunday, May 14, 2006

New Guest Oeuvre: David Cronenberg (see sidebar)

I've gone a bit crazy with the As, but I wouldn't want any of those films any other way.



Geez, i really need to see more Cronenberg. I'm hoping Woody Allen is featured soon. i am disappointed that so many Cronenberg fans are lukewarm on aHoV but whatevs.

Goran said...

If there's one filmmaker I'm sick of studying, it's David Lynch - but Cronenberg comes a close second! Not that either of them is particularly inept, it's just that neither of them is deep enough to pop in my subjects 3+ times a year.

I hold great respect and admiration for Cronenberg, but I'm yet to see a picture of his that squeezes out a rating higher than - or, for that matter, lower than -'three-and-a-half stars' from me. Then again, I've actually got an embarrassing amount of gaps to fill here (I haven't seen Crash, The Naked Lunch, Videodrome, or Scanners!) so maybe Cronenberg will one day move up considerably in my estimation.

At the moment, my favourite of his movies is probably A History of Violence, though my fondness of it was diluted by its getting regularly overrated all through awards season (it's a solid movie, and relatively but not *that* much deeper than one starring Chuck Norris). Dead Ringers I may need to see again, but it wasn't a particularly pleasant experience the first time around. The Fly was solid but not remarkable popcorn fun. eXistenZ is much better than most 'whoa-dude-is-this-reality?' movies, but again, not pleasant. Spider was well-shot, well-acted but it kept losing me - it's the closest I've come to falling asleep in a cinema.

So yeah, overall I admire Cronenberg and appreciate most of what he does, but he rarely really excites me.

Kamikaze Camel said...

I've only seen two Cronenberg films. A History of Violence I'd give a B to. Sorta gone down since I saw it only last month. And I am always so shocked to hear people talk about The Fly as a classic because when I saw it a few years back I thought it was a silly B grade horror movie (and I still do). I... don't get what's great about it.

Goran said...

The Fly pretends it's a silly B-grade film - how else could it get the budget? - but there are clever things going on beneath the surface, and a tragic/emotional pull that sets it apart from silly B-grade films. The characters aren't panicky wide-eyed blanks, they're well-thought-out and believably human.

I still don't think it's a great film, but it's certainly a very very good one.

You know, the more I think about Cronenberg, the more I feel like I'm gonna finally *get* him one day. Like I finally *got* Bunuel last year, and I finally *got* Kurosawa just last week.

(As I said, I already appreciate Cronenberg - it's only emotional impact that's lacking. And that sense of intimate involvement you get - or at least, I get - with filmmakers I love.)

damion said...

I am with you on this one. I love Cronenberg!

My Faves:

The Brood
Naked Lunch
Dead Ringers
The Fly

I like:

The Dead Zone

Still need to see:


Patrick said...
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Patrick said...

Haven't seen too many of those, The Fly was pretty good, I think underlying quality of the story somewhat buried under graphic violence and gross out special effects. HOV was a good movie without the larger meaing people seemed to see in it. The message of what violence does to people seemed to be why so many critics put it on top ten lists, guess I didn't see it that way. Good pulp fiction type of story. Generally I don't think Cronenberg's movies are a lot fun to watch, usually very little humor and decidedly an offbeat sensibility behind those films

Nick Davis said...

I don't even know where to start with Cronenberg. I just love him to death. The group that I'm absolutely gaga over are, in chronological order, The Brood, The Fly, Dead Ringers, Naked Lunch, and Crash, with eXistenZ catching up faster and faster every time I watch it. Videodrome is among the most conceptually exciting, but it loses me just a little by the end—both in terms of plot and in terms of my own investment in the film.

Mostly our grades are totally simpatico, except that I'd flip-flop Naked Lunch for Spider. Naked Lunch, to me, feels like a movie that shouldn't work but doesn't: a fabulous representation of one's alienation from and in one's own writing. I love the alien landscape and the outlandish figures, but the demonstrably flat, almost anesthetized compositions keep the whole thing grounded in the appropriate level of despair. And the pathos of both scenes where Judy Davis gets shot work for me every time.

I'll try Spider again soon, but after two visits in the theater, it just failed to hook me. I wound up admiring it in a very sculptural way: I loved looking at it, and I had the sense of walking a full, circular tour around a pretty magnificent object, seeing it from lots of sides, but never really getting pulled in. (I do like your point, though, about Cronenberg's brave and atypical refusal to literalize the metaphors.)

Anonymous said...

I've never seen a Cronenberg film. Oh, wait, I saw A History of Violence, but apparently that's nothing like the rest of his filmography. Where should I start?

Anonymous said...

By the way, I adore your taste in music! Yay Belle and Sebastian.


i wouldnt say AHoV is nothing like the rest of his filmography... it's just the diehard Cronenberg nuts don't seem to like it as much ;)

many of the cronenberg elements are there but, like The Fly, it manages to also play as pure genre if you're not looking for the auteur stamp.

tim r said...

Sorry for such spotty posting and commenting at the moment, guys. I'm not in Cannes or anything exciting like that, but I do have a heck of a lot of work to grapple with for the next ten days -- a whole book to finish and stuff.

I will be back up with more of these things pretty soon. In the meantime, some Cronenberg thoughts. Naked Lunch is the one I saw longest ago, and thus certainly needs a re-view, but I have memories of it being quite bitty: slightly indigestible, with great moments. Take that B— with a pinch of salt, all the same. Spider I'll stick up for as one of his most formally perfect movies (alongside Crash) and for its trick of mapping out the Fiennes character's mindscape with such guarded intricacy. The movie never tips its hand until it absolutely has to, and I don't think I've ever seen a piece of filmmaking disappear so wholly into a deluded consciousness (except bits of Mulholland Dr, I guess) or put us in the position of what it might feel like to be so alienated from reality less exploitatively or coercively. It's a quiet film -- his quietest, by far -- and piercingly sad like nothing since Dead Ringers. I love the moments in it when other characters (Gabriel Byrne as the father, for instance) express a visible puzzlement at the very scenes they're playing, dropping tiny, anxious hints that Dennis needs to investigate his own state of mind. Cronenberg's brilliant at that kind of thing -- compare the moment in eXistenZ when Jennifer Jason Leigh repeats a line for no reason and with exactly the same inflection. Creepy beyond belief. I guess altered states are his specialty, when you think about it, and it's all in the ways he allows rips to appear in the experiential fabric. I also admire Spider for its model technique as an adaptation, dispensing entirely with the book's first-person narration (excised too from Pat McGrath's original script) to find a totally controlled and self-sufficient cinematic language for its revelations. I wouldn't change a frame.

David, I'd advise starting with something from the mid to late Eighties. The Fly is as good a place as any. Then the magnificent Dead Ringers. And then perhaps back to The Dead Zone, another great altered states movie, featuring my favourite Christopher Walken performance, which is saying quite a lot, and my favourite Michael Kamen score as well. Then keep going backwards via Videodrome and The Brood, both fascinating, to the early stuff. That will put you in a perfect position to appreciate what he's up to in Crash, eXistenZ and Spider I think.

A History of Violence is a good film, but it's still one that ultimately disappointed me both times I saw it, and part of the disappointment is that for me it does sort of stand aloof from Cronenberg's truly distinctive framework of themes and formal experimentation. Its ideas, beautifully handled though they are at least for the first hour, just don't strike me particularly new, and they feel like the slightly self-conscious Cronenbergisation of someone else's. I think the clamour to hail it as a masterwork was mixed with a certain amount of relief that he'd decided to come back and play in the mainstream, and I've got to say, without wanting to seem too elitist about it, that I tend to like my DC as far out or, more to the point, as undiluted as possible. (The Fly is genre, all right, but at full strength -- and it's a movie absolutely no one but Cronenberg could have made.)

That said, I have no complaints about that superb Mortensen performance, and if ever a doctoral thesis gets written on the symbolic and narrative significance of the firearm in Cronenberg's work, this would clearly be key. (The difference? It's just a gun. Viggo doesn't need to fish it out of his stomach like James Woods in Videodrome or construct it out of bits of bone and gristle from a Chinese dinner platter like Jude Law in eXistenZ...)


oh god just hearing that last description I suddenly recall why i stayed away from Cronenberg so long. My own loss obviously. It took Crash to really jar me awake to his brilliance and my god that film is 'sticky' I saw it twice that year and never again and several moments in it still unspool in me head without any fuzziness.

I didn't care for eXistenZ at all when I saw it (could be the JJL aversion) but perhaps I will revisit given this conversation.

Anonymous said...

Wow, I just realized that I know the creature effects director from The Fly. In fact, he used to be my neighbor. Why have I never seen that movie?

Nick Davis said...

Do you mean Chris Walas?

Anonymous said...

Indeed I do.

Nick Davis said...

WOW! This gives you a major chip to cash at Cronenberg conventions.

tim r said...

Plus, didn't he direct The Fly II? He perhaps doesn't need reminding of that.