Archive for David Cronenberg

Utopia

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , on June 29, 2022 by dcairns

It’s appropriate, I think, that David Cronenberg got Greek money to shoot CRIMES OF THE FUTURE in Greece, because it may be his first utopian science fiction film.

It might not seem that way, but consider: it’s a world where infection and pain have been all but eliminated. Also, people seem to spend all their time making and consuming art. The few people we meet who have vaguely regular jobs seem to be living the dream: the tireless bureaucrats running the National Organ Registry set the place up themselves so they could work there; the sexy grease monkeys from LifeFormWare love their work; the cop has a sense of mission.

“…with all our earthly problems solved and with bigger ones worth the solving,” says Squadron Leader Peter D. Carter in A MATTER OF LIFE AND DEATH, and this seems to be the heaven Cronenberg offers us. No mention is made of longevity or immortality, but he might as well have thrown that in too, since his characters are all in a search to give meaning to their lives, now that the usual problems of late capitalism and biology seem to have been removed.

Also, perhaps for budgetary reasons, there are no cars: motorhead Cronenberg might not consider that utopian, but I do.

The film feels quite NAKED LUNCH-y, but I think XISTENZ is the best comparison: there are factions in ideological conflict over questions of authenticity, but instead of Phildickian Big Question #1 (What is reality?) this is more about Phildickian Big Question #2 (What is a human being?). Evolution seems to be getting out of hand… is this a good thing or a bad thing? Though a performance art piece is titled Body is Reality, the film doesn’t play the VIDEODROME/NL game of leading us into hallucination without warning. Or at least I don’t think so.

CRASH is another comparison: again, factions, individuals and couples pursuing some kind of meaning through quite extreme activities

The film looks terrific: Cronenberg’s period films have always benefitted from the added panache imparted by the past. This uncertain future has its own aesthetic: retro tech is in fashion; biomechanical gadgets are everywhere. Rather than the glassy and inhuman Canadian architecture he started out celebrating, here Cronenberg has beautiful crumbling Greek buildings, acid-lit and ominous.

I have quibbles. The internal logic is at times flakey — Viggo Mortensen’s art involves regular surgical interventions, but his body starts out free of scars. This is a distracting puzzle that doesn’t help anything and could, one feels, have been inexpensively dealt with. Is the biomechanical chair supposed to be so shonky? The design is nice, but its awkward lurching doesn’t seem to perform any service for the poor occupants, especially while they’re eating. The motivations of one lot of assassins seemed vague to me, their place in the overall narrative unresolved.

On the other hand, this is perhaps Cronenberg’s most visually beautiful film: his new collaborators, like cinematographer Douglas Koch and costume designer Mayou Trikerioti, seem to tread nimbly in the footsteps of Peter Suschitzky and Denise Cronenberg, and composer Howard Shore and production designer Carol Spier are back to provide direct continuity with the past.

I’m undecided about the ending. It struck me as anticlimactic — we’d been waiting for an IMAGE to top all before it, and Cronenberg instead focuses on performance. It’s a lovely performance, though. A second viewing may clear my doubts away. At any rate, it’s a proper Cronenberg film, arriving when it had looked like we weren’t going to get any more of those. Now do RED CARS.

Page Seventeen III: Rise of the Machines

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 31, 2022 by dcairns

Before I proceed with the account of how, owing to my illness, I entered into peculiar relations with God–which I hasten to add were themselves contrary to the Order of the World–I must begun with a few remarks about the nature of God and of the human soul; these can for the time being only be put up as axioms–tenets not requiring proof–and their proof as far as is at all possible can only be attempted later in the book.

Back in the beginning, perhaps, she had had some kind of conscience-impelled notion of reforming Doc. But she could not think of that now without a downward quirk of her small mouth, a wince born more of bewilderment than embarrassment at at the preposterousness of her onetime viewpoint.

At the hospital, the urgency of making a statement got through to her, briefly, before the drugs sucked her into an artificially deep and dreamless sleep. She told the police what had happened in more detail, in a dead voice that might have come from a machine. And in the same dead voice, she answered all their questions. She was the only remaining witness to the event. The family who found her, screaming, in the road, arrived ten minutes after Louis’ fatal plunge down towards the ravine and his father’s subsequent disappearance. It was they who had rung the police.

Over the next two days, three brain specialists examined Jimmy, and they were perplexed and frustrated. His symptoms resembled a stroke in some ways; in others, profound amnesia from head trauma, for which there was no physical evidence. There might be a tumour involved, but the parents wouldn’t give permission for X rays. This was fortunate for the changeling, because the thing in its skull was as much a porpoise brain as it was a human’s, and various parts of it were nonhuman crystal and metal.

Dr Tanner confirmed that the man was wearing a light blue jacket. He could not say whether he limped, as he had not seen him walking. When shown a photograph of Mr Mack, Mr Dobie and Miss Annand had been unable to say with any certainty whether he was the man they had seen: his back had been to them and they had never got right up close to him. Dr Tanner, on the other hand, stated that the man he saw sitting on a rock was an exact likeness of Mr Mack. On both occasions, the police asked, was Mr Mack alone? Yes, said Mr Dobie and Miss Annand, the man they saw was quite alone. Dr Tanner said that had there been anyone else with him he would not have been concerned.

It was Saturday, and — providing there were not last-minute complications in the case of the woman with the triplets — he would not be obliged to go to the clinic and could devote the morning to working out at the gym and taking a sauna before Elianita’s wedding. His wife and daughter were in Europe, cultivating their minds and replenishing their wardrobes, and would not be back for a month. Any other man with his considerable fortune and his looks — his hair that had turned to silver at the temples and his distinguished bearing, along with his elegant manners, awakened a gleam of desire even in the eyes of incorruptible married women — might have taken advantage of his temporary bachelorhood to have himself a little fun. But Alberto de Quinteros was a man not unduly attracted to gambling, skirt chasing, or drinking, and among his friends — who were legion — it was commonly said that ‘his vices are science, his family, and the gymnasium.’

“Ah, there she is,” said Molnár. “My precious one. Hello, darling.” Nathan took a step backward in his slippery paper booties in order not to impede the strange, intimate flow between patient and doctor. Could she and her surgeon be having an affair? Could this really be written off as Hungarian bedside manner? Molnár touched his latex-bound fingertips to his masked mouth, then pressed the filtered kiss to Dunja’s lips. She giggled, then slipped away dreamily, then came back. “Talk to Nathan,” said Molnár, withdrawing with a bow. He had things to do.

Seven passages on medical matters, possibly, from seven passages on seven pages seventeens in seven books towering by my armchair, to which I am pinned by a warm, heavy, slumbering Tonkinese cat called Momo.

Memoirs of My Nervous Illness by Daniel Paul Schreiber; The Getaway by Jim Thompson; The Ninth Life of Louis Drax by Liz Jensen; Camouflage by Joe Haldeman; The Testament of Gideon Mack by James Robertson; Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter by Mario Vargas Llosa; Consumed by David Cronenberg.

Holiday Affray

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on April 13, 2021 by dcairns

Also over Easter we rewatched the original and one true TOTAL RECALL, quite a messianic film if you think about it. True, Arnold Schwarzenegger rides to Mars not on a donkey, but wearing a robotic fat lady costume, and he kills a lot of people, but he also saves the mutants and terraforms the planet, which I’m sure Jesus would have done had he thought of it.

Paul Verhoeven threatened for years to make a Jesus film, which would at least have been interesting. I imagine his Christ would have been more human than most, but maybe I’m wrong. The closest he got was ROBOCOP, where Peter Weller rises from the dead, walks on water (seriously — check out his final confrontation with Ronny Cox), and stabs a guy in the throat. At least two of those things get done by Christ in The New Testament.

Verhoeven, Mel Gibson and John Woo are the unholy trinity of Christian mayhem merchants.

This oxygen volcano has a certain Maria Montez nostalgia value, but feels like something the leads should be dancing around in SHOWGIRLS.

Saint Paul’s other big unmade film also had a Middle East setting, his crusades film, planned in the wake of the Gulf War — Schwarzenegger as Schwarzkopf.

But back to Mars. Dan O’Bannon and Ron Shussett, ALIEN’s originators, adapt a Philip K. Dick story. The project passed from David Cronenberg to Fred Schepisi and back to Cronenberg and then somehow to Verhoeven, changing company in from De Laurentiis Entertainment Group (which folded) to Carolco in the process. Verhoeven, discussing the extreme violence, said that gore in movies meant nothing to him since he grew up in WWII and so bodies blown to pieces in the streets. O’Bannon, responding in another interview, said that was all well and good, Verhoeven was “psychotically desensitized,” but he should remember that he was making films for audiences who are not.

We kind of are, though. But Cronenberg himself said that movie violence desensitizes us to more movie violence, but no amount of fake punch-ups will lessen the impact of a real punch, given, received or witnessed. Which is true. Though I think movies can get us into trouble by creating the impression that certain activities will be fun if we try them. The reality is often disappointing.

Anyway, apart from the graphic and OTT carnage, there’s also Rob Bottin’s spectacular asphyxiation effects, achieved with fake heads, bulging eyes, protruding tongues… I find these repellent but hilarious. While the faux Arnie head which emerges from the fat lady is unconvincing (they hold on it too long in a static medium close-up), the gagging stars would be totally compelling if they weren’t so extreme.

A difference of reaction: Fiona is really freaked out by them, which she puts down to her panic disorder, a condition which gives you the feeling you can’t breathe. Whereas I find them amusing — though the horrific/absurd confusion OUGHT to be disturbing. And I have asthma, which means I periodically really CAN’T breathe.

I’m always struck by how the film, despite the talents involved, the money lavished, and the nasty fun provided, isn’t very good-looking. Mars looks kinda awful, right from the get-go. There’s so much wrong with the very first effects shot…

Firstly, it fails to establish the domed cities, which we need to know about. The sets consequently always seem really small, I think because there’s little to tie the buildings in with the domes. We need wide shots of miniatures that show lots tiny buildings inside domes, and these little buildings would then be seen full-sized with the actors moving about them, and THEN we’d feel a sense of scale.

It’s crazy the way everything is tucked underneath the horizon line. Feels like an attempt to make things easy to matte together.

And the yellow construction cranes are popping too much. The fact that there’s work going on is something we don’t need to know about yet, the domed cities should be the priority.

Verhoeven’s skill with blocking is something only intermittently present in his work, flashing up unexpectedly in scenes that don’t always deserve it. Though the staging of the fights is pretty good, making the slow-moving AS seem like an effective scrapper, it’s only with the first long dialogue scene with Rachel Ticotin that we get a nice lesson in old-school staging:

As a prospective Cronenberg picture, it’s intriguing to see how the layered plot twists or “mind fucks” would connect with his first person films — VIDEODROME, NAKED LUNCH, XISTENZ, SPIDER — where we’re led up a subjective garden path away from consensus reality. Rather than going deeper into delusion, TOTAL RECALL progressively strips away the false scenarios our lunk hero is ensnared within.

Of course, it’s all happening in Rekall, Inc, and Arnie’s dream should end with a big reveal showing him “a drooling vegetable,” as Verhoeven vividly put it (and with relish) in the chair, his memory implant having malfunctioned and fried his brain (the term “schizoid embolism,” a conflation of the psychological and neurological, is a trashy bit of ersatz science Cronenberg would probably have improved upon). But, in a big action picture starring the number-one box-office star, this was unthinkable. So Verhoeven says he ended the picture on a fade to white to give the audience a subtle feeling that something was up…