Archive for David Cronenberg

Dreaming the Shot List

Posted in FILM with tags , , , on November 21, 2015 by dcairns


“For a long time, I tackled each shot as if it were the last, as if someone would be taking my camera away just after I finished shooting with it. Therefore, I had the feeling I was stealing each shot, and in this state of mind it’s impossible to think in terms of “grammar” or even “logic.” Even today, I prepare nothing in advance. In fact, I try to dream in my sleep the shots I will be shooting the next day on my set. With a little luck, I’m able to do it. If not, when I arrive on set in the morning I ask to be alone for a while, and I roam around the set with my viewfinder. I look through it and try to imagine the characters moving and saying their lines. It’s almost as if the scene were already there, invisible or impalpable, with me trying to seek it out and give it life.”

Bernardo Bertolucci interviewed in Moviemakers’ Masterclass by Laurent Tirard. Reminds me of Buster Keaton’s, “By God, when we was making movies, we ate, slept and dreamt ’em.” My problem as filmmaker, in common with many others, is that I’m an insomniac whenever I travel or whenever I make a movie (the two processes are related). My theory is that directors are usually grouchy for this reason, and films are usually bad for this reason. They’re made by people who haven’t slept and can’t think clearly.

Tirard’s book is enjoyable and informative and he has rounded up an amazing array of talent — Woody Allen, Almodovar, Boorman, the Coens, Cronenberg, Godard, Kusturica, Lynch, Pollack, Scorsese, Wenders, Wong Kar-Wai… I wish he asked a wider range of questions, more tailored to his subjects. I think Bert, above, is the only guy with a really good answer to the boilerplate question “Does film have a grammar?” Most of those asked say it does, but you can break it, but you have to know it to break it, blah blah. Listening to Cronenberg, who, for all his wild imagery, has never really done anything with the interplay of shots that broke with the tradition of Griffith, coming out with this pablum is mildly irritating. He could give a better answer to a better question.

Still, it’s a great array of interviewees. Some of them give slightly more practical advice than Bertolucci, too.

A One-Way Ticket to Pakulaville

Posted in FILM, Politics, Science with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 31, 2015 by dcairns


I watched THE PARALLAX VIEW, directed by Alan Pakula — excuse me, Alan *J* Pakula — because I figured it might serve as a surprise entry to Seventies Sci-Fi Week —

— one should always have Surprise Entries. I remember reading the line-up of a season of science fiction films programmed by David Cronenberg, and they were ALL surprise entries, from Robert Wise’s HELEN OF TROY (“Indistinguishable from FLASH GORDON” — nice try, but FLASH goes like a train — maybe SIGN OF THE CROSS would be a better fit) to TAXI DRIVER (“A better version of BLADE RUNNER than BLADE RUNNER.”)

— you see, I was remembering the Parallax Test scene and thought it was a movie about brainwashing, but I think that scene is probably just testing the subject’s emotional responses to words and images. It’s not the full Ludovico. To be a science-fiction film, the movie would have to take the speculations around Lee Harvey Oswald and Sirhan Sirhan and spin them into an elaborate speculative fiction. And the speculation would have to be based on altering present conditions. The Manchurian Candidate does this. It’s based on the way captured Americans were “brainwashed” — ie tortured into submission, in reality — during the Korean War, but it speculates that somebody could be mentally adjusted and become an unconscious assassin, a human bomb waiting for a post-hypnotic suggestion to trigger detonation. That phenomenon had never been witnessed — so far as we know — so the Condon book and Frankenheimer-Axelrod film could be termed sci-fi.


THE PARALLAX VIEW instead shows an organisation recruiting subjects who would make suitable lone gunmen, based on their psychological profiles, and also supplying patsies. No such organisation is known to exist — apart from possibly the CIA and a few organisations like it — but it certainly COULD exist. No adjustment of present social conditions or our understanding of scientific principles or our mastery of scientific techniques would be necessary for this film to come true.

Now I just scared myself.

The reason I misremembered the movie, which I have seen several times, is that it’s somehow elusive in the memory. And a little hard to concentrate on, as if the Hitchcockian, paranoid thriller were a slightly inapt match for Pakula’s offbeat, observational style (and we should maybe refer to the director as Pakula-Willis, since cinematographer Gordon Willis is such a central, essential contributor to Pakula’s best work). The script is by David Giler and Lorenzo Semple, with uncredited assist by Warren Beatty’s close buddy Robert Towne.


I had forgotten some good stuff — Hume Cronyn plays by far the best character (almost the only character, after Paula Prentiss’s one scene). I had forgotten there’s a hyperbolic barroom brawl that wouldn’t look out of place in a Hal Needham movie. I remembered that there was a car chase that’s similarly out-of-place. But the good action stuff is when Pakula defies genre by sitting the camera well back and calmly watching, chin resting on knuckles, as a human life is snuffed. The skirmish atop the Space Needle at the start, and the floundering fight in the flooding river, a huge damn venting a wall of spume in the background. The documentary distance adds a sense of reality, and therefore danger. (Obviously Pakula is doing this partly so he can cover up Beatty’s substitution by stunt double Craig Baxley — excuse me, Craig *R* Baxley — but the point is he makes a stylistic feature out of it.)

A different kind of distance afflicts our relationship with Warren Beatty’s character, a classic seventies alienated douchebag — Beatty cheerfully plays his more obnoxious traits to the hilt. The fact that he spends very little time in the movie with anyone he can relate to at all makes it a little hard to see him as other than an articulated shape. And I think the film has a hard job recovering from the Parallax Test in the middle, since it’s such a tour-de-force. We go from a montage masterpiece back into what is merely a very  good movie. And nobody seems to know who is responsible. Don Record did the title designs and seems to have had a role designing it. John W. Wheeler edited the movie as a whole. Did they collaborate or was the whole sequence farmed out to Record?

It reminds me of Chuck Braverman’s amazing opening sequence to SOYLENT GREEN, which IS a seventies sci-fi movie.

Now go do what you have to do.

Ladies and Germs

Posted in FILM with tags , , , on February 24, 2015 by dcairns


There’s a commercial showing in UK cinemas right now for some kind of anti-armpit treatment. It’s mostly quite bland, but there’s a shot of an inflamed pink CGI surface that’s supposed to illustrate the concept of When Armpits Go Bad, and if you look in the upper right corner (as Fiona and Alex both did, separately pointing it out to me) you can see a caption superimposed that reads “Artistic Dramatisation”.

Over at Electric Sheep Magazine, I look at the Blu-Ray of RABID, which is another artistic dramatisation of an armpit, in this case that of Marilyn Chambers, who has a very dramatic armpit indeed.

When I first became aware of Cronenberg, it was through Scorsese’s praise, and at that time, RABID seemed to be his second film as director. A little later, we became aware that STEREO and CRIMES OF THE FURURE were actual real productions, and could even be seen if you were lucky. We didn’t learn about FAST COMPANY until quite a bit later, because the filmmaker himself wasn’t anxious to talk about it. Now, the IMDb lists RABID as something like his twentieth project, making Cronenberg one of the most retroactively prolific filmmakers I have encountered. If we wait long enough, it seems like he will eventually have made more movies than Raul Ruiz, not by actually making further films, but by the far simpler route of turning out to have made more movies than we previously knew about. I wish I had that ability.


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