If you have been startled into a state of otherness lately in a cinema, it could be that you were watching the work of David Cronenberg. This director of films that are at once shocking and thought-provoking is a habitué of best-director lists and often serves as his own screenwriter. The International Movie Database credits him with two nicknames: King of Venereal Horror and Baron of Blood. Neither does full justice to his oeuvre.
A native of Toronto, Cronenberg showed an interest in science (and particularly biology and botany) as a child as well as an inclination to follow in the footsteps of his father, a freelance writer. He entered University College at U of T as a science major in 1963 but emerged as an English major – with honours. Cronenberg shot his first film, Transfer, in 1966, as an undergraduate, but his entry into the public forum came in 1975 with Shivers, a “body horror” film about parasites – that drew an influential denunciation in Saturday Night from the critic Robert Fulford.
After the early Canadian shockers came the more widely-distributed Scanners (1981), Videodrome (1983), The Dead Zone (1983), The Fly (1986), Dead Ringers (1988), Naked Lunch (1991), M. Butterfly (1993), Crash (1996), eXistenZ (1999) and Spider (2002) – every one of them a talked-about release with psychological overtones. A History of Violence (2005) and Eastern Promises (2007) took steps toward the thrillers genre, while A Dangerous Method (2011) explored the lives of Freud and Jung. Cosmopolis (2012), a feature about a young New York billionaire who spends an eventful day in his limousine, comments implicitly on economic cycles and the Occupy movement.
Cronenberg has made occasional appearances as an actor, mostly in the films of other directors. His one major foray into opera was directing a version of The Fly with music by his favourite collaborator, Canadian composer Howard Shore.
Published November 2013