Back in the early 80s, we all believed VHS would slowly take over first our minds and then our bodies, supplanting what had up to then been known as reality. Of course, we now know that it would take another decade and the Internet to achieve this. Nevertheless, ‘Videodrome’ remains compelling, either as an example of how new technology always creates new fears or perhaps as prescient warning of things to come. Also, James Woods.
The Dead Zone (1983)
What would you do if you knew that a future president of the United States was a madman hellbent on destroying the world? In the age of Trump, the obvious answer seems to be: Vote for him, of course. One wonders what crystal ball Cronenberg was peering into in 1983, but both these films were also infused with a healthy dose of Cold War paranoia, with the twist that in both cases, we are the bad guys. Also, Christopher Walken.
The Fly (1986)
Perhaps Cronenberg’s most haunting project, ‘The Fly’ draws on Kafka with its man-as-insect motif but is in fact a remake of a 1958 film. The former version was no doubt inspired by science leading mankind to the possibility of nuclear holocaust, but the latter version is no less informed by the AIDS epidemic with its images of a man’s body falling apart. Yes, the 80s were indeed a miserable time to be alive. I remember. I was there. Also, Jeff Goldblum.
Dead Ringers (1988)
A pair of twins use their resemblance to one another to share lovers, unbeknownst to the ladies involved. Until one of the them falls in love and becomes a pill addict. Both are gynaecologists, and the special tools one of them has made for surgery after he loses it are as harrowing as anything Cronenberg has come up with before or since. Based on a true story, of course. Also, Jeremy Irons. Times two.
Naked Lunch (1991)
William Burroughs’s unfilmable book filmed by David Cronenberg, featuring scenes from the life of the author and, of course, giant bugs. Not half bad. Also, Peter Weller, seen for the first time without his Robocop gear. Unless we were hallucinating.
As every North American knows, there is nothing quite as sexy as cars. Or sex. Put the two together and you get ‘Crash’, a film about a group of people who can’t get off without engaging in foreplay that involves being in a totalled vehicle(?). The film caused a big debate, surprisingly. Some wanted it banned. Martin Scorsese loved it.
A History Of Violence (2005)
The first of Cronenberg’s “later, less creepy ones,” ‘A History Of Violence’ still has the odd splash of ultraviolence and is one of the less comic-booky comic book adaptations. Viggo Mortensen carves out a post-Aragorn career. Ed Harris broke a glass promoting it. Perhaps Cronenberg’s best, for those who aren’t into giant bugs.
Eastern Promises (2007)
Viggo returns, this time as a Russian gangster in London. A rarity in the Cronenberg universe, aspiring to realism. So much so that I was assaulted by Eastern Europeans wielding a knife after the screening (true story). Even the tattoos are based on fact, and there is plenty of time to admire these as Viggo engages in a steamy naked knife fight, in a sauna. Of course.
A Dangerous Method (2011)
A tad sexier than their real-life counterparts, Viggo and Michael Fassbender star as psychoanalysts Freud and Jung, battling it out over who gets to explain the subconscious to the Victorians (and Keira Knightley). It was about time David Cronenberg did a period drama, and perhaps it is inevitable that he made it about the men who dabbled in both sexuality and nightmares.
HE CAME FROM WITHIN: RIFF’S Guest Of Honour David Cronenberg
The Reykjavík International Film Festival may not unveil the season’s most anticipated premieres, or unfurl its longest, plushest red carpet, but one thing it has on the competition: it is the only film festival that can offer its guest of honour a trip to Iceland. One recipient of a Lifetime Achievement Award at this year’s festival last touched down in Iceland in the 1960s, when Loftleiðir was the cheapest way to get between North America and the UK. Now, he’s submitting to the ritual of being celebrated by strangers for decades-old work, in part, for a chance to revisit the country, this time for longer than it takes to change planes.