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Crowning Cronenberg

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Mark Kermode | 15:31 UK time, Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Veteran horror director David Cronenberg is about to be awarded a Fellowship by the BFI at this year's London Film Festival. I gave him a Kermode Fellowship a few years back and in my opinion he has given us some of the most extraordinary, disturbing and thought provoking films in all of cinema.

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Comments

  • Comment number 1.

    Well done to Cronenberg, and to the Good Doctor for hitting the nail on the head. Cronenberg works because his films actually *mean* something. There is something about his films that means you are able to watch them again and again, that lets you slip into that unsettling world of his and be taken through this bizarre landscape. For my money, Dead Ringers is his best - it's always knocking about in my top 5 or 10 - but it's a great body of work and well done to him.

  • Comment number 2.

    I love his films. There is a quality about all of them, even the early ones, that sets them apart from his contemparies. It's a coldness, a detachedness (is that a word?) that's really hard to put your finger on but yet at the same time is so.... Cronenberg.

    And yet, they also contain something very important - humanity. You've mentioned some good examples of it here, but even in his more mainstream efforts such as The Dead Zone (one of my favorites!), a film which in lesser hands could have been so much B movie fodder but looks at the human cost of Christopher Walken's curse, as he battles with the dilemma of knowing that someone will in the future cause the end of humanity, so should he kill that person? It was his most subtle film up to that point and still packed an emotional punch.

    A History Of Violence is another great film in a CV littered with them. Throughout his work there's a litany of central (male) characters to whom things happen - Scanners, The Dead Zone, Videodrome, Existenz, The Fly, Naked Lunch, Dead Ringers (two people) and Spider - and we as the audience are locked into their fate, following them as they make their voyage to (mostly) their end.

    I'm looking forward to A Dangerous Method immensely - even if it has got Keira Knightley in it.

  • Comment number 3.

    As much as I love Cronenberg, I find his output pretty patchy. His early horror stuff was all great, and I have a particularly strong soft spot (if you can call it that) for Scanners and Videodrome. But Existenz I thought was a dreadful film that seemed to me to just re-hash ideas from Videodrome and Naked Lunch. A History of Violence was half a good film, and I'm afraid Spider bored me to death.

    Thankfully Easton Promises was on top form and A Dangerous Method looks set to be great too.

  • Comment number 4.

    The Fly is one of the, if not the greatest film ever made.

  • Comment number 5.

    As a life-long fan of Cronenberg, I was stunned when A History Of Violence turned out to be his finest film to date. I can't think of any other director whose best film was released after 30 years and with 15 films behind him.

    The best, most consistently interesting auteur still working.

    VERY much looking forward to A Dangerous Method. His partnership with Viggo Mortensen has so far been hugely succesful and the inclusion of Michael Fassbender in the cast is a big bonus.

  • Comment number 6.

    'Touchfinder' mentioned it already, but one of my favorite Cronenberg films (and to me, maybe his least flawed) is The Dead Zone (of course you wouldn't mention it Mark). I read the King story before and after seeing the film. I think Cronenberg did that rare thing of improving upon an already great story with just a few minor changes.

  • Comment number 7.

    Great director. I jumped up and down cheering when I heard he was attached to direct Cosmopolis. Fave director fave author... shame Colin Farrell dropped out.

  • Comment number 8.

    Cronenberg's early, ideas films were his best "dreams of dark and troubling things" and they don't come more dark and troubling than 'videodrome'. With it's themes of voyeurism and S&M, it's surprising how many of us embrace the film and are eager to dive to down the rabbit hole with Max Renn.

    From 'Dead ringers' onwards Cronenberg's film became increasingly glacial and aloof 'Crash' i don't get at all (admittedly i've only seen it once). A History of violence was unremarkable, but i'll give 'A Dangerous method' a look.

  • Comment number 9.

    but of course - this is the LEAST the LFF could do for a filmmaker of this magnitude.

    Like Lynch, Welles and Scott - Cronenberg is quite simply one of those filmmakers that is in a class of his own.

    You cannot put him with the Movie Brats or any New Wave malarky - this guy is a living cinema auteur that is still churning out films that are of the highest quality.

    Class!

  • Comment number 10.

    I think people are perhaps being a bit harsh on eXistenZ - it came out the same year as "The Matrix" and, IMO, handled the themes of reality distortion, manipulation and the limits of free will with much more success. At the very least, it didn't use the "simulated reality" element merely as a jump off point for action sequences and CGI. Instead it explored the consequences and didn't just revert to the usual "Hero's Journey" cliche monomyth narrative, as the latter example did.

    It's definitely worth a 2nd look, if you can handle the slightly stilted acting.

  • Comment number 11.

    Totally agree with Joel_Cooney.

    For me eXistenZ gets better with each viewing, And the stilted acting works once you understand that it is not untill the end that the characters are out of the game. The film explores ideas that Nolan would address in Inception and (here I disagree with dragliner78) it doesn't rehash ideas from Videodrome and Naked Lunch it builds on them, particularly the concept of what is reality. It explored the idea of virtual reality and online gaming before it was a mainstream passtime, and the idea of who controls who in these virtual worlds. The art direction and visual effects are spot on.

  • Comment number 12.

    Props to you for the Silent Running poster, Dr. kermode. If you and you and Mr. Mayo were drones, which would you be, Huey, Duey, or Louie?

  • Comment number 13.

    Cronenberg's films have become always have an isolationist theme to me. I love Crash, and especially Dead Ringers. Can't wait for A Dangerous Method. Kudos on BFI for giving him this much deserved fellowship.

  • Comment number 14.

    I'm always prepared to give a film another go, so I promise to give Existenz another viewing with an open mind. It has been quite a while since I saw it, actually. I remember at the time not being particularly thrilled by Jude Law, but I've warmed to him after several recent performances, in much the same way as I did to Leonardo DiCaprio after The Departed.

  • Comment number 15.

    Cronenberg is certainly in the pantheon of greats. I count myself lucky that I got to see the likes of Scanners and Videodrome the first time 'round, when no one had seen anything like it, and before so many others parroted the moves without the philosophy. I partially agree with the above knocking of Existenz as I felt it was retreading earlier tropes, but that didn't stop me from enjoying it on its own terms. One of the signs of the greats is that even the lesser works are still interesting.

    Given his cerebral themes, and his fantastic visual sense, he is perhaps underrated as an actor's director. Jeremy Irons turn in Dead Ringers was the role(s) he should have won his oscar for the same year as Reversal of Fortune. Nothing against Armie Hammer as the Winklevii, Irons is the masterclass for double portrayal. Ralph Fiennes intense schizophrenic in Spider elevates the movie above the fairly dour and predictable source material.

    I hope that someday Cronenberg might do another horror, not that I miss the grue, but genre work including science fiction, and fantasy along with horror, has a vocabulary that suits his elastic reality. Even if he feels that he's done all he wanted to in genre work, his absence there is still notable.

  • Comment number 16.

    Dr. Kermode, I have a gift for you. It's a young man called the Nostalgia Critic tearing apart your favorite film's antichrist. Exorcist II: The Heretic

    http://thatguywiththeglasses.com/videolinks/thatguywiththeglasses/nostalgia-critic/32956-exorcist-2

  • Comment number 17.

    Indeed one of the finest directors ever, no wonder Scorsese is a huge fan. I may not love all of Cronenberg's films but he's never made a dud.

    He makes horror interesting because he never forgets the human element. Films like The Dead Zone, The Fly and Dead Ringers left me incredibly satisfied but also incredibly sad at the same time

  • Comment number 18.

    Cronenberg is one of my favourites. Incredibly interesting director.

  • Comment number 19.

    Just have to say,"Shivers", "Rabid", and "The Brood", because no-one else has. Thank you, Mr Cronenberg.

  • Comment number 20.

    @Daniel Hollis... I couldn't agree with you more - The Fly is a genuine masterpiece - film just doesn't get any better than that. The character development and emotional transition that takes place in The Fly is some of the best you'll ever see. My two favorites after The Fly are Videodrome and Scanners... actually I have a friend who worked with Cornenberg on Scanners in the effects department and was one of the characters in the film who gets shot during the mind meditation scene - he gave me one of the original gun shot squib belts used during that scene. I plan to use it in my first feature film next year just so I can say I have a tiny piece of Cronenberg in the film, haha.

  • Comment number 21.

    I adore Cronenberg but i've think he didn't really nail his craft till "Videodrome". I think "The Brood" is one of the most boring and pretentious films i've ever seen. The following 3 of his films "Crash", "Naked Lunch", "A History of Violence" are 3 of my alltime favourite films and one of his most underrated and mostly forgotten films is "M. Butterfly" which is vintage Cronenberg but it's not obviously so.

  • Comment number 22.

    I remember David Lynch being asked if Cronenberg was sane or insane and he said "He's both those things." I thought that was interesting.

    A history of violence, I "enjoyed" the most of all the Cronenbergs I've seen. I haven't seen many, though; after seeing part of Videodrome I didn't dare to see many other films of his; yikes!

  • Comment number 23.

    Glad to see Mr. Cronenberg getting the props he deserves. Been a huge fan since seeing Scanners in its original release.

    Also, one of his highly forgotten films is FAST COMPANY. Made between The Brood and Scanners. By no means a Horror/Sci-Fi thriller but a really decent film on car racing. Can't say it's the greatest of all car racing films, but for some one to take the chance on a genre they're not known for, I give him high marks.

    And, how can you go wrong with such great 70's actors like William Smith, John Saxon and Claudia Jennings. Plus if you grab this on the 2-DVD release package, you get both of Cronenbergs early student films STEREO and CRIMES OF THE FUTURE

  • Comment number 24.

    excellent, insightful blog entry. videodrome and spider are my personal favs, but i think the dead zone is underrated, perhaps dismissed by purists for its relative normality. M. Butterfly seems to be his most neglected work, as far as i can tell it doesn't even have a uk dvd release. But with Lynch in semi retirement I just hope Cronenberg maintains his output- against the tides of test audience multiplex fodder we need his intelligence, daring and depth.

  • Comment number 25.

    Because of your blog post, I moved Crash to the front of my 'To Watch' DVD line. It's one of the few films by Cronenberg that I haven't seen. I'm not nearly as impressed as you were, Dr. K. I liked it slightly more than Existenz (which came in at #9 on my 'Worst 10 Films of the 1990s' List).
    I like Cronenberg's films... When he succeeds he makes interesting albeit very cold films. When he fails, he makes unintentionally funny snoozers.

  • Comment number 26.

    The only Cronenberg films I've seen are SCANNERS and THE FLY. Both brilliant. My favourite line from THE FLY is when Seth's first experiment fails, and she asks him what he's thinking. I can't paste the line here because it contains profanity; suffice it say it is delivered in a way only Jeff Goldblum could. Goldblum is just an amazing actor, one of my favourites. He is good in anything.

  • Comment number 27.

    For me its Videodrome, which is a video nasty in a genius way.Once seen never forgotten.Was i disturbed ? You betcha!!

  • Comment number 28.

    Without being too snobby, I'm one of those film fans who prefers to see films because of the director and not because of the lead actor/actress. Cronenberg was the first director to make me see films this way. Seeing Scanners, Shivers and Rabid for the first time, there was a consistent brilliance and an ability to make me feel unsettled yet gripped.

    Can we also credit him as the master of the exploding head?

  • Comment number 29.

    I was 17 when Dead Ringers came out. It blew me away then and it still does now. No other director could have achieved that unnerving mix of horror and pathos and got a performance of that stature from an actor (Jeremy Irons). Hats off to Bujold as well - criminally underrated in her role. Few other directors would have even dared tackle the themes of blurred sexual and personal identity evident in that film. It is a masterpiece. I thought he could never better it. That is until I saw A History Of Violence. Cronenberg's exploration of identity is unparalleled in modern cinema. He is a visionary and one the greatest director's working today and any honour bestowed on him is long overdue. The great thing is, his best work may still be in him...

  • Comment number 30.

    And here I thought he was a rubbish ham-fisted director, half gore, half soft-porn and zero talent. I suppose the perfect combination for the average middle-age adolescent who wants to rationalize the nasty little pleasure he gets watching splatter movies.

    And to think that I actually paid money to watch Eastern Promises... talk about suspension of disbelief (just take the bloody diary to the police, for crying out loud)... it was like watching Eastenders but with more gore and less violence.

  • Comment number 31.

    Dead Ringers is still one of the most disturbing films i've ever seen, it's not even the concepts, it's just the mood of it.

  • Comment number 32.

    One of cinema's true geniuses, and a man who's managed to never cave to studio pressure and stayed true to his artistic vision.

  • Comment number 33.

    Ah Mark, how could you talk about Cronenberg and not mention "The Dead Zone" ? Sure its atypical Cronenberg, its not body horror but by far its my favourite Stephen King adaptation and has a stunning central performance from Christopher Walken. The moment where Walken sees the vision of president Martin Sheen launching the nukes is just unforgettable... "the missiles are flying, alleluia".

    http://youtu.be/1EO9y4rGxvk

 

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