Dead Leaves

Fiona and I love this time of year. Here’s one of the most autumnal things I know, Wayne Fitzgerald’s credits for Cronenberg’s THE DEAD ZONE with haunting music by the late Michael Kamen.

Lovely stuff. The film itself is perhaps a little overstuffed, with guest stars in every role, and it has a dash of soap opera to it, but it’s the first film Cronenberg made after VIDEODROME…

VIDEODROME, unlike its predecessors, had a really strong leading man, and marked the first time Cronenberg’s horror shifted from the biological to the psychic/psychological (SCANNERS is on the cusp, but lacks a strong lead), and the first time subjective experience became central to his storytelling. As he explains it, VIDEODROME departs from consensus reality part-way through, as James Woods gets infected by the pornographic video signal.

THE DEAD ZONE doesn’t play unreliable narrator games, but it takes us along out of normal society along with its protagonist (early Cronenbergs followed a redundant genre stereotype by positioning some useless embodiment of normality in the centre, though they were ALWAYS shoved out of the spotlight by the person with the penile armpit growth or the external womb). A very particular kind of Cronenberg lead is established with Christopher Walken — actors who play villains in other films often play heroes for this director. Walken is pretty weird and uncomfortable as Johnny Smith in the opening scenes, but fortunately he soon sinks into a coma and comes out of it five years later as the Walken we know and love.

If you’re watching it for Halloween, which I recommend, check out Walken’s reaction to the news that his psychic powers are going to kill him. He GRINS.

Walken evinces a similar unexpected response in A VIEW TO A KILL just as he realizes he’s about to fall from a helicopter to his doom. In both cases, it’s like he’s spotted the Grim Reaper looking at him and can’t help mirroring its smile.

The Dead Zone (Special Collector’s Edition)

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9 Responses to “Dead Leaves”

  1. Kamen was a friend from my adolescence. He didn’t actually go to Communist Martyrs High (aka. The High School of Music and Art but was around so much I thought he did. With several others he formed the New York Rock ensemble — a kind of Talking Heads avant la lettre and. Marty Fulterman was a friend and collaborator with Kamen at that time. Kamen went on to do many film scores, my faves being Brazil and The Adventures of Baron Munchuausen. Marty Fulterman, meanwhile, changed his name to “Mark Snow” and made a splash with the music for The X-Files before becoming what Lambert Wilson calls “an obsession!” of Alain Resnais — for whom he composed the scores of Coeurs, Wild Grass and the master’s latest You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet

  2. I’d forgotten about Snow’s Resnais collabs. A beautiful combo.

    I agree with you re the Gilliam scores: The Dead Zone is my favourite, but those two are great, and marked the first time Gilliam really worked properly with a composer instead of relying on stock music. Stock music is almost impossible to use well, although Gilliam had pretty good taste in what he used and how he used it.

    The Brazil album also includes a rendition of the title song by Kate Bush, which never made it into the film.

  3. Holy cow! I didn’t know about that Kate Bush version of “Brazil”. Color me gobsmacked.

  4. Nostalgic for me since the video uses most of the same material from the trailer. The trailer which made me and my pal say “We have GOT to see that!” but which apparently made most people say “What the hell’s that? Not for me!” Subsequently saw the film in a mostly empty cinema. I don’t know why they didn’t use the song to promote it at the time. When you have a film that good there ought to be SOME way of getting an audience in.

  5. I don’t remember seeing the trailer. I was already a fan of Python and Gilliam, so that’s why I saw Brazil, which I hated the first time but couldn’t get out of my mind.

  6. Did you come around to it in the end?

    John Cassavetes told that story about hating A Place in the Sun so much he went to see it three times, continually complaining about it to friends, until one of them said, “You don’t hate that film, you love it!”

  7. Oh, yes, it has become one of my all-time favorite movies. It got under my skin that first time by hitting me where I was sensitive.

  8. It’s often the way… I had a similar experience with Britannia Hospital, in a way a comparable movie.

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