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David Cronenberg (#110 of 57)

A Deadly Blessing Cult Cinema: An Arrow Video Companion

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A Deadly Blessing: Cult Cinema: An Arrow Video Companion
A Deadly Blessing: Cult Cinema: An Arrow Video Companion

A figure named Death dressed in black standing in front of the sea. A woman shot through her glasses with blood pouring down her face. A man huffing gas while stroking a garment made of blue velvet. These images—all iconic moments from watershed films—first presented themselves to me during my adolescence as I intensely perused a 1999 volume titled Entertainment Weekly’s 100 Greatest Movies of All Time. Most cinephiles surely have a comparable story, a moment when the local multiplex started to take a backseat to the larger scope of a cinematic past that seemed far more mysterious than anything Anakin Skywalker and the gang were getting into.

The Films of David Cronenberg Ranked From Worst to Best

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The Films of David Cronenberg Ranked From Worst to Best
The Films of David Cronenberg Ranked From Worst to Best

David Cronenberg’s films don’t age. This is incredible when one considers the range and speculative nature of the material that often attracts the director, particularly during the first half of his career. Many low-budget 1970s and 1980s genre films are quaint now, but the years haven’t diluted Cronenberg’s early “body horror” films one iota, and, in many cases, time has intensified their outrage, which mixes the visceral with the cerebral in a fashion that’s distinct to the filmmaker. Cronenberg has subsequently worked in every genre, save, arguably, for comedy, though his films are reliably informed by a subterranean strain of mordant humor. He’s adapted a handful of notably subjective novels thought to be “un-filmable,” and he’s consistently wrestled with defiantly alienating subjects, often associated ambiguously with unconventional sex.

This agelessness springs from an uncommon authorial focus, directness and clarity, which is reflected by the films’ deceptively unfussy, nearly sculptural mise-en-scène (honed in significant part with a group of longtime collaborators). Cronenberg rarely strains for melodrama, never leans too heavily on the score when silence or diegetic noise will more effectively establish emotion or mood. The director never approaches shocking material as if it’s shocking, and this casually intellectual need to explore something, while reserving judgment in a manner that’s analytical yet human, is the very center of his cinema. Cronenberg’s greatest accomplishment, though, may be the mystery that tinges all of his films, which still, for all their thematic ambition, ultimately possess an element of unknowability. The weird pull of these films can be attributed to a contradiction: They’re the work of a literalist who’s determined to plumb the figurative.

Review: David Cronenberg’s Consumed

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Review: David Cronenberg’s Consumed
Review: David Cronenberg’s Consumed

Consumed is clearly the work of David Cronenberg. The novel suggests a print fusion of the filmmaker’s early, grungy, bluntly metaphorical work with the subtler, formally refined, classical elder-statesman films of his most recent period—and the contrast of those sensibilities allows for occasionally quite effective shocks. The prose is chilly and erudite, suggestive of Nabokov and, particularly, of Ballard, which will resonant with fans of the director’s Crash. In the tradition of those authors, Cronenberg sweeps you up in the pure power of his aesthetic command, coaxing your guard down so as to spring perversities that eventually cast the entire book in unsettling hues of twisted inevitability. Cronenberg isn’t moonlighting; he’s a real novelist.

Naomi Seberg and Nathan Math—the names are clues—are 21st-century yellow journalists who thrive on the instability culture of YouTube, Twitter, and TMZ. Nathan, who has aspirations to write for medical publications, is given to justifying his more exploitive story choices; Naomi, though defensive about her lack of intellectual bona fides, more instinctively gets off on the kill of nailing a scoop. Both of them, it’s explicitly established, are married to the endless variety of phones, cameras, and recorders that Cronenberg details with an agency that’s at once enticingly sexual, banal, and actively off-putting. The author frequently attributes human characteristics to the journalists’ tools of the trade, while assigning mechanical attributes to the humans themselves; as in his films, he’s equally repulsed and aroused by innovation as a pathway toward evolution that paradoxically dehumanizes our species. In an early seductive passage, a woman’s struggle to look upon Nathan is described as a “process so electromechanical that it seemed photographic.” A subsequent sex scene is writ so metaphorical as to slyly, deceptively, outline eventual late-act revelations: