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