Tuesday, August 14, 2007

A Promise from David Cronenberg

Update, 9/28/07
Read the Roundtable Pictures review here:

By Mike Gillis

Even David Cronenberg's earliest, most visceral and admittedly sloppy works -- "Shivers," "Rabid," "The Brood," "Scanners" -- shed more light on the human condition than shed blood. They are consumed by wild exploration of the borders between psychology, technology and anatomy, a theme the director continues to probe to this day.

Cronenberg, who was quickly labeled a horror director and penned off in that stable for many years, easily and almost effortlessly transcends genre trappings. "Videodrome," despite initial marketing as a horror movie of the week, remains a literate, sexual and uneasy take on thought control in popular culture.

Cronenberg found commercial success with his remake of "The Fly," which despite a modestly bigger budget and some star power (Jeff Goldblum and Geena Davis), again revisits the messy merger of body and science. Cronenberg actually scored an earlier hit with "The Dead Zone," the second-best Stephen King adaptation ("The Shawshank Redemption" being the first), which led to all kinds of offers from Hollywood, including, most inexplicably, "Flashdance." I recall Cronenberg explaining in an interview he told his agent at the time, the infamous Dawn Steele, that she would never thank him for taking the project, despite her insistence. "I will destroy this," I recall him saying to Steele.

The director enjoyed substantial critical success with "Dead Ringers," in which Jeremy Irons plays twin brothers, both gynecologists, whose fates are hopelessly sealed by biological predestination. It's been called one of Cronenberg's most pessimistic works, but it's also one of his most Hitchcockian -- not to compare the two directors -- and operates from within an almost noirish framework. A perfect vehicle for a picture that also probes sexual jealousy and drug addiction.

Then there's "Crash," based on the peculiar but fascinating book of the same name by J.G. Ballard, which imagines a group of fetishists who sexualize car crashes. The film, which Ted Turner refused to release while he owned New Line Entertainment, was lost theatrically in the NC-17 black hole. It's an odd failure for Cronenberg. The material seems tailor-made for the director, yet he can't push his picture far enough. It's shocking and unsettling, to be sure, but one wonders if there's simply too much left to explore.

In recent years, Cronenberg has pursued similar themes, even more assuredly. "Spider" remains an underrated masterpiece, based on the novel by Patrick McGrath, which delicately and meticulously dissects the machinery of an unraveling mind.

"A History of Violence" deserved an Oscar. Although it earned a nomination for William Hurt in the supporting role and for its screenplay, it's director -- the whole picture -- deserved the recognition. I defy you to find five better films from 2005. (The film did rack up numerous awards elsewhere.)

And so, that's my long-winded way of saying I'm looking forward to Cronenberg's next picture, "Eastern Promises" due next month, and in typical Cronenberg style, without much fanfare. The film reunites Cronenberg with Viggo Mortensen, who starred in "A History of Violence."

Here's a look at the film's trailer: