Wednesday, 30 November 2011

The Clever and Mysterious Mr. Cronenberg

In my first blog post here a few months back I used an image from David Cronenberg's "Videodrome" (1983) and now I think that its finally time that I got around to doing a blog post on the man himself.

The Canadian film director David Cronenberg has recently completed a new film called "A Dangerous Method" which looks at the intense relationship between psychoanalyists Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung and the birth of modern psychoanalysis. With a stellar cast featuring Keira Knightly, Viggo Mortenson and Irish actor Michael Fassbender, the period drama looks like ideal material for a director who clearly enjoys exploring challenging sexual themes and humans' relationship between mind and body.

Alternatively, a lavish period drama is the last thing that one might expect from the director who's early Canadian feature films in the 70s and early 80s became controversial landmark films in the genre of contemporary horror. He has been called the "King of Venereal Horror" and "The Baron Of Blood". His challenging early work has also been labelled "body horror" and featured characters who's bodies were mutating into something bizarre as in "Videodrome" (1983) or "The Fly" (1986). In "Shivers" (1975)  or "Rabid" (1977) people's bodies were infected with pathogens with gruesome results resulting in the appearance of fissures or strange growths on their bodies. These films ensured early notoriety, especially with "Scanners" in 1981 which depicted characters who could attack each other using their minds and could induce an opponent's head to explode. "Scanners" was strongly associated with a wave of violent horror films in the early 80s which most people saw on home video, some of which were unfairly labelled "video nasties". I vaguely remember the head exploding scenes from "Scanners" being mentioned in debates about video censorship at the time.

As mentioned in previous posts, Cronenberg directed one of my all-time favourite films "Videodrome" in 1981 and then he was offered a Hollywood adaptation of Stephen King's "The Dead Zone" (1983). The film was a much more classical type of horror film that his early 'body horror' work. The central character played by Christopher Walken is a school teacher who awakens from a coma he was in for many years after a car crash to discover that he sees terrifying visions of the future, visions of events which comes to pass unless he acts to avoid them. The central performance by Christopher Walken is one of his best and perfectly portrays the complex and troubled character of a man struggling to come to terms with having knowledge of the future and the responsibilities that brings. In a famous moment from the film, Walken's character shakes hands with a US presidential candidate played by Martin Sheen and in a vision, he sees Martin Sheen as a future US president starting World War 3. See the scene in the clip below:

And finally, back to my Cronenberg favourite ,"Videodrome". For me, "Videodrome" works on a number of levels and even on a very superficial level, it is one of the few films that captures that feeling of the early 80s when video was a new and wonderous invention and the films on video felt different to the ones in the cinema. The early home video markets were dominated by contemporary horror, many of which seemed dangerous or subversive or even illegal and were rarely or never shown in cinemas. Against this backdrop, James Woods stars as a cable TV executive who seeks our extreme violent material for his viewers but after watching the "Videodrome" tape and TV broadcasts which feature scenes of endless pointless violence, he finds himself descending into a world where reality and nightmares seeem to merge. We learn that "Videodrome" carries a signal which causes brain tumours to develop in viewers and was created as a way of eliminating people who enjoy watching violent material. Woods was selected as such a character and as his brain alters he becomes engulfed by hallucinations. He finds that his chest develops a gaping wound though which he can insert a video tape or take out a gun. The film is Cronenberg at his purest and best. His later film "Existenz" (1999) explored similar material as it presented a world where characters can connect their nervous system directly to a video game and like "Videodrome", contact with this technology eroded the lines between reality and hallucination. I will leave you with a rare early trailer for "Videodrome" which shows some of its famous imagery.

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