on 27 November 2003
Opinion on David Cronenberg seems to be divided. To some he is the respectable, intelligent, grown up face of modern horror whilst to others he is the sick, depraved, misogynistic weirdo who brought us the likes of Shivers (1975), Rabid (1976) and The Fly (1986). Either way there is no denying that since he began his career he has produced one of the most varied and interesting bodies of work of recent times and stands up there with the likes of Scorcese, Lynch and Herzog as the most original and successful “auteurs” in modern cinema.
Faber & Faber certainly seem to agree and here they have added David Cronenberg to the rostrum of books dedicated to key filmmakers and their films. These books (i.e. Scorcese on Scorcese or Gilliam on Gilliam) consist of various discussions and interviews with the directors themselves to give a rare, first hand insight into the movie making process.
In Cronenberg on Cronenberg the director takes a more cerebral approach and rather than discussing the actual physicalitys of filmmaking Cronenberg invites us to take a long, hard look inside of his subconscious and examine what propels him to tell the stories he does. He begins by recounting his early life as an Honours Science student at the Toronto University whose fascination for biochemistry was equalled only by his desire to tell stories. Cronenberg was skilled in both areas, finishing near top of his class and winning various awards for his short stories, however, the further he went on, the more he felt the pull towards the arts. This “Schizophrenic split” as he puts it, between art and science was eventually to be reconciled when, shortly after leaving university, he discovered movies.
Cronenberg then goes onto to discuss each one of his films in depth beginning with his early shorts Transfer (1966) and From the Drain (1967) before leading us through his later works such as Shivers, Videodrome (1982), The Fly etc, right up until M Butterfly, shot in 1992 (when this book was published). At all points Cronenberg refers us to familiar themes and ideas that constantly crop up in his work (former DP Mark Irwin observes “He’s probably been making the same film all his life”). Subjects such as otherness, isolation, paranoia and of course his fascination (re obsession) with the human body are all referred to here. He even goes so far as to discuss at length personal facts, which have influenced his work, such as his divorce from his first wife and the subsequent custody battle over there daughter Cassandra. These events went on to inspire his classic horror movie The Brood (1979) and as Cronenberg states “Everything you do is autobiographical in the sense that it’s filtered through your experiences and sensibilities…Catharsis is the basis of all art”
Also talked about here is Cronenberg’s link to the horror genre. Unlike most horror directors Cronenberg is well respected in the movie industry, both by critics and filmmakers alike, and reading this book it’s not hard to see why. Cronenberg is both articulate and extremely intelligent and also bold enough to take the audience further than they’ve been before “I want to speak the unspeakable, show the unshowable”. Whist other horror filmmakers of the late 70s and 80s were churning out cheap stalk and slash serial killer movies, Cronenberg preferred a different technique “My films are very body-conscious…The idea that you carry the seeds of your own destruction around with you, always, and that they can erupt at any time, is more scary”. And thus “body horror” was brought back into late 20th century and the “enemy within” was never more repulsive and unspeakable.
Cronenberg on Cronenberg is an enjoyable and well-written book, which gives more of an insight into the human psyche than it does into filmmaking (which, in this case, isn’t such a bad thing). For the most part the book is Cronenberg talking directly to the reader but editor Chris Rodley adds the occasional statement/paragraph and scene setter to allow us a more balanced and well-rounded view of the man and his work.
Cronenberg himself is accessible and intellectual and like his films never pretentious or condescending. The book is a great companion to an amazing filmography and defiantly worth reading if you have and interest in the man or in genre filmmaking. A great insight into the mind of a sick and depraved, weirdo genius.
on 17 July 2016
One of the superior entries in the extensive "Directors Series" of books from Faber & Faber, Cronenberg on Cronenberg provides a revealing insight into the life, career and philosophy of a unique film artist. Canadian filmmaker David Cronenberg was initially known as the Baron of Blood and the King of Venereal Horror - two unsavoury monikers that have not prevented him from being recognised and lauded by critics as one of the most singular creative talents currently operating in world cinema.
Cronenberg's exquisite filmography includes such early experimental underground efforts as From The Drain, Stereo and Crimes of the Future; to such cerebral low-budget chunkblowers as Shivers, Rabid, The Brood, Scanners, Videodrome and The Fly; to more challenging and insidiously disturbing efforts such as Dead Ringers, Naked Lunch, M Butterfly, Crash and Spider; to more mainstream masterworks such as eXistenZ, A History of Violence, Eastern Promises and his most recent film Maps to the Stars.
Articulate, intelligent, and unfailingly incisive about such varied subjects as sexuality, morality, disease, death, religion, politics and cinema, Cronenberg is a brilliant conversationalist who has even earned his own adjective (Cronenbergesque) to describe his seminal explorations into the realms of body horror. This review is of the revised paperback edtion that was published shortly before the release of eXistenZ and features an additional chapter on Crash that is derived from a lengthy interview editor/author Chris Rodley conducted with Cronenberg for an issue of Sight & Sound. All we need now is for Rodley to cover Cronenberg's post-Crash ouvre is a new edition of the book that covers the last twenty years of his filmmaking.
Until that day we must cherish Cronenberg on Cronenberg as it is a probing and fascinating history of a provocative creative talent. Crowded with interesting anecdotes, candid revelations and invaluable insights that will greatly assist in giving the reader/viewer a more profound understanding of his work, this volume is a must-have for any serious cineaste.
on 6 August 2009
"Cronenberg on Cronenberg" consists of in-depth interviews with director David Cronenberg. The book starts with Cronenberg talking about his background, and then it follows his career chronologically 1960s to 1990s, from early experiments to big movies. The films covered are: Transfer (1966), From the Drain (1967), Stereo (1969), Crimes of the Future (1970), Shivers (1975), Rabid (1976), Fast Company (1979), The Brood (1979), Scanners (1980), Videodrome (1982), The Dead Zone (1983), The Fly (1986), Dead Ringers (1988), Naked Lunch (1991), M. Butterfly (1992/3), Crash (1996).
The book is very accessible and well written and David is clear and concise, but I think as a reader you should of course have seen most of the movies to appreciate this. The book provides access to Cronenbergs ideas and recurring themes: mad scientists, identity disorder, body consciousness, viruses and sheer horror. I liked the focus on Cronenbergs ideas and opinions, which I think is more interesting than how special effects are created. Reading the book also made me more interested in and attuned to his later movies (not covered in this book): eXistenZ (1999), Spider (2002), A History of Violence (2005) and Eastern Promises (2007). Many of his movies on DVD also have very good extra material like commentary tracks and interviews.
on 4 November 2006
The "auteur" moniker that seems to hang ominously like a dead albatross around David Cronenberg's directorial neck is an overly misapplied reputation which requires a bit of deconstruction.
Essentially, when you hear the term auteur, the suggestion that typically applies is that the director in question--in this case, David Cronenberg--is a snotty type who doesn't budge not even the width of an atom for his particular creative vision. Everything on-set by definition must be done to the letter of the man himself, an inflexible character. Auteur, in this highly pejorative sense, is the closest thing to a Mussolini-type dictatorship which one could experience on the film set. Horrors.
But I'd certainly have to disagree.
David Cronenberg, according to many of the players who have worked under him (not toiled, collaborated!), especially in the case of Maria Belo and Viggo Mortensen, lately of A History of Violence, have nothing but rave reviews for the man. Even former porn-star Marilyn Chambers in The Brood had fantastic things to say about the Toronto-based director.
Few so-called auteurs seem to be as democratic as Cronenberg. He places a great emphasis upon his actors' appearance on screen, and much is discussed of how he generally will permit heaps of retakes for various scenes if a given actor feels as though they didn't pull off a scene correctly, or with particular aplomb.
He's one of the smartest directors in Hollywood. He's extremely well read (evidenced by his fluidity of speech during interviews--I've watched them), he's maginificently outspoken, and he knows his material so very well, especially when he writes the scripts himself. What's more is that he's adamant about shooting his films in his native Canada. In a North American industry where most Canadian would-be talent darts south of the border faster than Scotty's teleporter might, Cronenberg has stuck it out in places like the old movie studios at Kleinberg, Ontario and in the provincial captial, Toronto to establish a solid reputation north of the 45th parallel.
If you've never had the chance to hear Cronenberg speak on screen, you're really missing out. See if you can pick up the film called Spider...which starts Rafe Fiennes and Gabriel Byrne, which also contains an excellent segment on the director speaking about his various travails in attempting to land 11th-hour financing for that picture (which nearly capsized because they couldn't land the cash). I'm not raving for nothing--he doesn't miss a beat, this Cronenberg guy. He knows his stuff cold, and so do the people who entitle him to do what he does. They know they're in good hands, and Cronenberg always seems to deliver the goodies.
In terms of the book itself, I've fallen head over heels in love with this "directors speaking about themselves" series. After having first read Cassavetes on Cassavetes in New Zealand, Kieslowski on Kieslowski in the Czech Republic, and now Cronenberg on Cronenberg here in Prague (with Herzog on Herzog waiting anxiously in the wings), you're going to be hardpressed to find better biographical data on these giants of indie cinema other than what you'll read here. Martin Scorsese has even been profiled in this series...from what I've heard, it's one of the thickest of them all. Oh poor bank account...
This book rocks (!!!) because you're getting an uncensored take on the author's views. The book is Cronenberg at his vintage best, cussing, intimately describing various details (especially the final insert on his film CRASH, the "real" CRASH, not the Oscar-winning impostor!) of the sex scenes between his actors Holly Hunter, James Spader, and Elias Koteas, and some keen insider details from the period of cinematic history in Canada back in the old "tax shelter" days, when finance was freely available. When guys like David Cronenberg were only looking for scripts to fit the bill, because they were swimming in Canadian dollars. Those were the days, and Cronenberg pays due homage to the era -- it's what made him who he is today, and without the access to the money back in those days, his destiny might've turned out slightly differently. It's what he describes as his transition from "filmmaker" to "movie maker," a la Hollywood, bigger budgets, bigger stars, and box-office coups.
See if you can also catch a special "director's series" DVD from the American Film Insitute (AFI). It's called "The Directors: David Cronenberg," and he's one of (I believe) several directors profiled, with clips from their various films (I've watched most of 'em). Catch some early clips of Canadian actor Michael Ironside, who is still stupendous, IMHO, even in his later years. That infamous "head exploding scene" from Scanners, still to this day, is something else. It's buried somewhere on that DVD I'm talking about.
So I think I've said enough about completely irrelevant things. If you're looking to be entertained, see if you can pick up a copy. It's not heavy lifting, reading-wise, and it's packed with factoids, anecdotes, and details.
--ADM in Prague