Archive for Videodrome

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.

Director’s Cut

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , on December 10, 2016 by dcairns

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When I first heard about Lucio Fulci’s CAT IN THE BRAIN it was something to do with it having been banned in Britain, which always makes things sound enticing. The description suggested that the movie, in which Fulci plays himself, a director of horror movies undergoing a breakdown in which he’s losing the ability to distinguish between fact and bloody fiction, used highlights from many of Fulci’s previous movies in order to ramp up the gore quotient. This sounded both cheap and nasty, but also oddly meta. It sounded like the last gasp of the giallo, and it was pretty close to being Fulci’s last film (but the tireless Dr. F. managed a couple more, and was set to make WAX MASK when he died).

But the movie doesn’t actually cannibalize the Fulci back catalogue for its gratuitous bloodletting — to give credit where it’s due, pretty much all the unnecessary bloodletting has been staged especially for this movie. Still, by casting himself as stocky, nervous leading man, Fulci is attempting some kind of career summation, making this his TESTAMENT OF ORPHEUS, only with considerably more arterial spurt (when Cocteau gets a spear through his nice V-neck sweater, there’s no leakage of the Blood of a Poet).

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Much of the time, Fulci seems to be playing Cronenberg’s VIDEODROME game — “If violent movies made us violent, THIS is what the world would be like.” But Fulci is not smart like Cronenberg. It’s interesting that he was a doctor, because (a) “Dr. Fulci will see you now” is not reassuring and (b) his films are routinely preposterous about psychology, behaviour, basic cause and effect — they seem to have made by an idiot who’s good with the camera. Now, you can be smart enough to get a degree and still be an idiot when it comes to creating believable characters. Fulci seems to be one of those smart-dumb guys. I don’t accept that the people in his films are ridiculous because he doesn’t care — if you’re able to appreciate good characterisation at all, it would just KILL you to write such crappy dialogue and action for the people in your movie.

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I really hate this asshole.

The neurotic Fulci on-camera seeks the help of a shrink, who hypnotises him and sets about framing him for some murders he’s committing, just because. So this is an unusual giallo where we know the killer but we don’t quite know how serious our director’s derangement is. Now, Fulci was a comedy director before he got into horror, and maybe the stupid, ugly way he portrays the world has something to do with the lowbrow world of Italian sex comedy (I haven’t much of this genre, but I’m imagining it to be a bit like British sex comedy but with slightly more attractive photography and girls — Edwige Fenech trumps Sue Lloyd — in other worlds, depressing). All the women seem to have stepped out of bad pornos. Fulci sexualises them without bothering to cast particularly attractive girls, get performances out of them, or photograph them in a flattering way.

Some earlier Fulci gialli might muster a passable misogyny defense by virtue of their all-pervasive misanthropy, something the genre seems to thrive on (I would love a good theory as to why this element seems so central). Here, the violence towards women, not so much gleeful as laborious and plodding (“Don’t enjoy it anymore. Bad for me,” narrates Fulci, talking about smoking but probably meaning cinema), served up to us with a disapproving scowl, seems to have no meaning at all.

We’re left with the stocky, ill-at-ease director (more dyspeptic than psychotic) trudging from bloodbath to bloodbath, depressed by his own films and this metafictional take on them, and enthused only by his white Mercedes, which he films parking at Cinecitta with great care and attention, for what feels like minutes on end. I think he must have been very fond of that car.

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The ending is almost quite good. But as Fulci, saved from madness, evil hypnotists, the long arm of the law, and movie-making, sails off into the sunset, he still doesn’t look very happy.

 

 

Dead Leaves

Posted in FILM, literature, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , on November 2, 2012 by dcairns

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)