Playing Sun Feb 12 at 3:00 at Museum of the Moving Image [Program & Tix]
And that’s all folks. The David Cronenberg retrospective comes to a close at MOMI. But we probably need a rest from our exhaustive coverage, and they sign off with what many aficionados consider to be one of the director’s greatest masterworks.
One of Cronenberg’s purest, most controlled films. Adapted by Patrick McGrath from his own novel, this immaculately conceived character study maps the contours of subjectivity as it is drawn and redrawn in response to the discovery (and recovery) of psychic terrain. The opening shot conflates the arrival of our protagonist with a departure from reality: Spider (Ralph Fiennes) disembarks from a commuter train and into his own private eXistenZ. Released from nowhere to confront his now here, Spider checks into a shabby residence for the mentally ill and shuffles about a landscape of gasworks, dank canals, and forgotten garden plots. Stopping here and there to collect bits of miscellaneous debris in his pockets, he confides his experience to a journal in an illegible script.
Just as McGrath’s novel is the transcript of this journal, Cronenberg’s film plays as the adaptation of the text. Spider operates on a narrative double register: we are watching the movie that Spider projects for himself, assembled from a patchwork of memory, fantasy, and shards of the Real. The negotiation of this simultaneity is a formal tour de force, even more impressive than the doubling of Dead Ringers or the dual procedures of A Dangerous Method, a movie devoted to analyzing people in the process of analyzing themselves. Reading Spider as a sub-Oedipal psychodrama (a mental mystery about the origin of psychosis in Mommy issues) is to overlook this deep fusion of representation and concept, as well as the universal nature of its tragedy: the struggle to make consciousness cohere. It is, like so many Cronenberg films, a feedback allegory. The spider: a creature who externalizes part of itself (the web) to relay signals (the twitching of trapped insects) back to central processing.
Playing Sat Feb 11 at 6:00 at Museum of the Moving Image [Program & Tix]
It’s the final stretch of the complete Cronenberg retro at MOMI, which we’ve been celebrating every weekend here at Alt Screen. Nathan Lee brings readers up to date on the director’s career in one of the only pieces of publicity on the series.
As Ron Wells declared for Film Threat, “Yaaaay! Our crazy uncle Dave from Canada is back!” eXistenZ was viewed as a return of sorts to Cronenberg’s low-budget genre roots, and also a summation of his greatest themes and preoccupations.
It’s no longer enough for action movies to be amusement. Now they have to be amusement parks as well. They’re blurbed as “thrill rides” and “roller coasters,” and the more they follow the basic pattern of your average Nintendo game, the more highly they’re touted. It was considered a breakthrough a few years back when a studio tested “interactive” movies, which gave the illusion of choice by letting audiences pick from different (fixed) outcomes. Now, what would really be interactive would be for someone to say screw the movie and take a pickax to the screen–if not to the moviemakers themselves. And if you push audiences far enough, removing just enough of their sense of the familiar, they just might do it: All it takes is crossing the line from safe entertainment into uncontrollable chaos.
This distinction has haunted the work of director David Cronenberg for the last 20 years. In his latest film, the sense-deranging thriller eXistenZ, the potential for chaos exists at every turn–as befits a vision in which reality is manufactured, flesh fuses with metal, and organic guns shoot human teeth.
Playing Sat Feb 4 at6:00 at Museum of the Moving Image [Program & Tix]
Winner of a one-off Special Jury Prize at Cannes “for originality, daring and audacity,” Crash kerfuffled inept, easily scandalized critics the world over. Author J.G. Ballard, for his part, called it “A stunning, shattering and brilliant adaptation of my book.”
Nathan Lee, for his part, has ruminated again and again. In his feature for Alt Screen:
The most inexhaustible movie I know– it never stops changing. If we take “favorite” to mean the film you most endlessly return to, the one that never stops disclosing new problems and pleasures, then all roads point to Crash. There is something in the curious affective register of Cronenberg’s films that rewards coming back, a rich indeterminacy of tone forged in the application of scrupulous classicism to the most outrageous scenarios. At once bluntly matter-of-fact and deeply fucking weird, Crash takes this beguiling ambivalence to apotheosis.
Seriously – or maybe not so seriously – what the fuck is Crash? Meticulous realism or free-floating psychodrama? Wish fulfillment or cautionary tale? Diagnostic or symptomatic? Satirical or speculative? The answer is: YES. Crash doesn’t operate by either/or; it follows the logic of and. Ridiculous and sublime. I’d puzzled over the movie three or four times before watching it at a 2002 Cronenberg retrospective at Anthology Film Archives, and remember being annoyed at the capacity crowd for whom, apparently, this was the funniest shit imaginable. And it is funny, though what you’re laughing at isn’t the outlandish kinks of this particular “psychopathological” project. It’s the comedy of sexuality itself.
Playing Fri Feb 3 at 7:30 and Fri Feb 4 at 3:00 at Museum of the Moving Image [Program & Tix]
We’ve still got three more weekends left of MOMI’s David Cronenberg retrospective. Don’t miss Nathan Lee’s paean to the director’s prevailing awesomeness for Alt Screen.
It must be a sure-fire hit, as The Fly is the only film screening more than once. Says Andrew Sarris, “”Not since Psycho has there been a movie so completely drenched with modernist malaise and yet also such a deeply felt work of art.” Two less justifications for not making the Queens trek.
David Cronenberg’s 1986 remake of the sci-fi schlockfest The Fly is celebrated as perhaps the most perfectly balanced of Cronenberg’s pre-prestige films, with as much attention paid to the director’s infamous knack for exploiting the audience’s own hang-ups about the deficiencies and unpredictability of their own bodies as is toward his almost completely humorlessness take on the splatter genre. Admittedly, the tale of a scientist accidentally fusing his own body with that of a housefly might not on the surface have as much potential to spur our icky introspection as the violent couch potato epic Videodrome or his uncompromising examination of life and death at the end of a hood ornament Crash (still his most underrated film). Thankfully, Cronenberg’s draft of Charles Edward Pogue’s screenplay switches focus from the damsel in distress freakshow of the original 1958 film to (predominately) the slow transformation and decomposition of the human body and what it does to that body’s owner.
Though The Fly rewards a generalized reading as a metaphor for terminal illness without too much unused, leftover thematic material (hell, it’s a pretty fantastic little horror flick/chamber tragedy on the surface, hence the easy tag line “Be afraid. Be very afraid.”), almost every one of The Fly‘s viscous substances reflect the of-the-moment AIDS panic, re-characterizing the film as something of a requiem for the pool orgy abandon of the director’s decade-earlier They Came from Within. In its galvanizing portrait of a body ravaged and sexual stasis infected by bugs, The Fly might be Cronenberg’s most direct horror film ever.
Playing Sat Jan 29 at 3:00 at Museum of the Moving Image [Program & Tix]
Cronenberg mania continues. Be sure to check out Nathan Lee‘s return-from-semi-retirement Alt Screen feature on his favorite director. Incredibly, it is the only major press on this ultra-major retrospective.
Canadian splatter-movie auteur David Cronenberg was a lot more interesting when he made movies for drive-ins instead of arthouses, and this visionary horror film ranks among his most disturbing, provocative work. At an isolated clinic, psychotherapist Oliver Reed teaches patients how to manifest mental anguish in treatable boils and lesions on their skin–a practice that may be tied to a string of grisly murders committed by hooded, mallet-wielding dwarves. It’s haunting, it’s terrifying, it’s original, and it illustrates the governing theme of Cronenberg’s work: The mind is constantly at war with the flesh, and flesh is easier to destroy.
Playing Sun Jan 22 at 3:00 at Museum of the Moving Image [Program & Tix]
Yes, we’ve got Cronenberg fever. Catch these early rarities, which the director considers “the start of my artistic journey.” Says Bob Clark, “Cunningly written, deftly shot, and not without their share of sucker-punch shock and controversy, these aren’t just films that deserve to be seen—they demand it.”
Stereo (1969), shot in B&W without sound and structured to look like a film document of a scientific study, plays like a first draft of the themes that would dominate films like Shivers, The Brood and Scanners. Eight volunteer test subjects undergo surgery to induce telepathy (some of them even have their speech centers removed) and move into a modernist concrete and glass building while a doctor attempts to observe the formation of a telepathic collective. Pseudo-scientific narration frames the footage, explaining that “the telepathic experience is essentially omni-sexual in nature.” It’s intellectually and conceptually sophisticated but decidedly non-commercial, a quasi-experimental underground film that has yet to find a narrative form. Cronenberg fine tunes his thematic obsessions with Crimes of the Future (1970), a more visually assured but equally detached production that creates a futuristic ghost-town with his eerily empty public spaces and the alienated halls of the “House of Skin” (the physical location is the same as Stereo but the addition of color and the more pronounced atmosphere of human absence makes it even more effective). The mutations and diseases discovered by our detached narrator, radical dermatologist Adrian Tripod, are quintessential Cronenberg inventions, from “creative cancer”(which develops new organs in one patient’s body) to “Metaphysical Import Export.”Both films were shot without synch sound, and the antiseptic soundtrack, dominated by a dry narrator, only makes the films more unsettling. These are essential to Cronenberg fans, dispassionate portraits of fictional experiments in the mutation of mankind in the near future.
Playing Sat Jan 21 at 7:30 at Museum of the Moving Image [Program & Tix]
MOMI’s hotly anticipated David Cronenberg retrospective kicks off this weekend with an on-stage conversation between the filmmaker and chief curator David Schwartz (2:00–sold out; make sure to read about the waiting list and live video feed in the museum’s Bartos Screening Room). The event will be followed by one-off screenings of A History of Violence (at 5:00) and Dead Ringers (at 7:30).
The keynote address in what has become—rising out of the neurotic bath of 1970s exploitation films—one of world cinema’s most original and discomfiting visions, this 1988 masterwork by David Cronenberg has aged into a kind of subterranean sacredness. Name another film that takes as many risks, runs its astonishing course with such a steady hand, and has as much to say about brotherhood and corporeal transience. Derived from a true story about a pair of gynecologist twins who committed suicide together, but marinated in Cronenberg’s unique physio-anxiety, the film tracks Jeremy Irons as two dislocated doctors with an avant-garde practice whose warped symbiosis becomes infiltrated by a third party (Geneviève Bujold, as a sensible-minded hophead who has the audacity to like one of the identicals and not the other), and who begin spiraling into a crazed dream world of mutation-phobic dementia, pharmaceutical zombiehood, and body panic. To watch Irons not merely inhabit two characters in the same frame but also manifest the dizzyingly complex dynamic between them—their history, dependencies, fears—is to see the thespian equivalent to splitting the atom. Proportions of wit, fear, weakness, hostility, and kindness vary from brother to brother, never quite adding up to 100 percent, while during the film’s shattering, mordant birthday celebration the differences between the twins become lost in a sleepwalking barbiturate swoon.
Playing Thu Jan 5 at 8:00 at reRun Gastropub Theater — FREE event! [Program & Tix]
reRun’s gratis screening series, “Top 10 Criterion Blu-Rays,” concludes this Thursday with David Cronenberg’s postmodern masterpiece Videodrome.
We here at Alt Screen are very excited about Museum of the Moving Image’s upcoming Cronenberg retrospective (Jan 21 to Feb 12), and normally we’d advise you to wait and see the film projected in celluloid. But “normal” has nothing to do with Videodrome. reRun’s retrofitted screening room–tucked away in the back of a local gastropub, nestled beneath the cold stone arches of the Brooklyn bridge–is just a perfect venue for Cronenberg’s paean to subteranean video culture.
Ballard’s feverish book is nothing if not lurid, but for all its tableaux of dispassionate, automated sex and mangled car bodies, Cronenberg’s film exemplifies cool, hieratic austerity. His setups and cutting have never been more inhumanely deliberate and exact. This exquisitely somber film’s metallic designs, stark electric guitar score, insinuating camera movement, and dazed, somnambulist acting maintain a tone of dreamlike repetition and attenuation. In its subdued, subtractive minimalism and almost oppressive formal control, Crash toys with the possibilities of enervation and entropy.
Simultaneously parodic and mournful, freakish and familiar, Crash’s narrative is elliptical, trancelike, interiorized. Characteristically, there is no final narrative release – only dissolution. If this is a film about cars, fucking, and death, then it’s about cars, fucking, and death as a state of mind, desecrating the automotive fetishist’s fantasies of freedom, enclosure, and invulnerability. Never moralistic despite satirical tendencies, Cronenberg’s films fuse the calm rigor of scientific research with the visceral shock of transgression.