David Cronenberg at Museum of the Moving Image

Museum of the Moving Image curator David Schwartz interviewed movie director David Cronenberg at the museum on Jan. 21, 2012. Photo by Steve Herrig

“No humans were hurt during the filming of that last scene,” movie director David Cronenberg joked following the showing of the famous clip of the exploding head from his movie “Scanners” (1981).  Cronenberg flew in from Canada last Saturday to kick off the 19 film retrospective of his work that the Museum of the Moving Image, in Astoria, is having now through February 12.  Museum curator David Schwartz told the sold out house that it was the only time the museum has done a second retrospective of a living filmmaker.  The museum’s previous Cronenberg retrospective was in 1992.

In contrast to the exploding head in “Scanners” Cronenberg’s current film, “A Dangerous Method,” about Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung, is clearly far afield from his early work.  Cronenberg talked about being typecast by his earlier, horror, “blood and guts” movies.  Cronenberg recalled that when he made “The Dead Zone” (1983) he was accused of, as well as lauded for, having gone mainstream.  He said that compared to his earlier movies like “Shivers” (1975), “Rabid” (1977) and “Videodrome” (1983), “The Dead Zone” was relatively tame, based on a novel by a respected author, Stephen King, and not too violent.  “But then right after that I did ‘The Fly’ (1986) which was pretty violent and gory and nasty,” Cronenberg pointed out.

“I’m a curious person and fairly literate, and there’s a lot of things that interest me,” he explained.  “If I made a thousand movies they wouldn’t all be like “Scanners,” obviously.  I think it’s a comfort thing.  There’s a security.  They expect the same thing from you,” Cronenberg said.  “I’ve done movies like “M. Butterfly” (1993) and even “Dead Ringers” (1988) and if you are only a fan of the first horror films, then those films seem strange.”

Cronenberg pointed out that it is not just some of his fans who long for his earlier films, but fellow filmmakers too.  “Guillermo del Toro (director and producer) who’s a really good friend said, ‘You’re making fantastic movies now but I really like the early, crazy stuff.’”   The story was told that when director Martin Scorsese first met Cronenberg he expected him to be a very scary person but was surprised to find him to be a perfectly nice guy.  “I said, Marty, you made ‘Taxi Driver’ and you’re afraid of me?” Cronenberg recalled, to much audience laughter.

On making his earlier, horror films Cronenberg remembered, “If you were a young, inexperienced director you could manage to get to direct a low budget horror film.  There was a built in audience for it and, if you were not very good at it or just learning how to make movies, you could have a bit of a success.”

He continued.  “I always thought that horror films are a wonderful arena for philosophical exploration.  As a filmmaker the thing that you film the most is the human body.  It’s not about landscapes.  For example in “The Fly,” which came out in the 1980s, people felt it was a metaphor for AIDS, with Jeff Goldblum’s character deteriorating.  For me it was about an accelerated aging, which is about coming to terms with your own mortality which is one of the basic core discussions you have in any philosophy or religion and one of the basic one’s of art as well.  So, for me it wasn’t a problem to be discussing these philosophical things in the context of a horror film.  I thought they fit quite well together.”

Concerning his approach to “A Dangerous Method” Cronenberg said, “I just don’t come to a movie with a pre-conceived idea of what I must do to be myself or impose an imprint on it that’s recognizable.  It’s as if I’ve never made another movie when I make a movie.  I just don’t think about the previous ones.  Each movie tells you what it wants, what it needs.  In this case the style of it came from the era, which was the early 1900s in Central Europe in what was the Austro-Hungarian Empire, a very formal, a very restrained, very repressed era.  They certainly thought of themselves as living in a classical European structure.  For me that’s where the style of the movie came from.  It came from the material itself, rather than some idea of what “Cronenbergizing” should be.

“The very first film I ever made was called “Transfer,” and it was about a psychiatrist and his patient,” Cronenberg said.  “It was a short, seven minute long, film.  So obviously the idea of psychoanalysis and that very strange new relationship invented by Freud, the relationship between a patient and his therapist, a very complex one that had never existed before Freud, was a fascination to me right from the beginning of my film making career.  For those who say ‘This is so strange for you to make a film about Freud and Jung,’ it’s really coming full circle.”

The Museum of the Moving Image is located at 36-01 35 Avenue (at 37th street) in Astoria.  For more information on the Cronenberg retrospective please go to http://www.movingimage.us.

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About unpaidfilmcritic

Up until 2009 Seth Shire spent nearly two decades in the New York film industry as a post production supervisor of feature films. Highlights include working on the films of Martin Scorsese, James Toback and Spike Lee. Since leaving the film industry Seth has expanded into new and varied areas where he has found a great deal of satisfaction. Seth currently teaches in the Sociology Department of CUNY Queens College. His courses include "Mass Media and Popular Culture," "Introduction to Sociology," and "Sociology of Cinema" where he is a very popular teacher. Seth is also the film critic for "Town & Village," a Manhattan weekly newspaper, a position he has held for the past six years. Seth gives back to his community through volunteer teaching at Manhattan's "The Caring Community," a center for senior citizens, where he teaches a very popular course on documentaries called "The Golden Age of the Documentary. In the fall of 2010 Seth taught "Critical Reading and Writing" at Parsons School of Design. He has also taught "Cinema Studies" at the New York Film Academy. Seth lives in Stuyvesant Town, in Manhattan.

Posted on January 25, 2012, in Feature Articles and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. WoW! In thinking about the variety of films that Cronenberg has done, I wonder what a Cronenberg comedy would be like. Probably fabulous. Thanks for a great article.

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