By: Kyle Goldman & Scout Stolpmann
David Cronenberg is an iconic Canadian film director. With such films as "Scanners"(1981), "The Fly"(1986), and "Eastern Promises"(2007), he has pioneered what is known as the "Body Horror", a subgenre focusing on mutilation or transformation of the human body. He is still active in the industry, with his most recent directing credit being from "Consumed"(2014).
Cronenberg was born and raised in a Toronto middle-class progressive Jewish family. As a child he frequently would write short stories. His creation of the ‘body horror’ genre stems from his fascination with bugs and botany. “I never thought of the biology part of it as horrific anyway. To feel that you were really beginning to understand the form of life, how life came to be and exists, that was exciting.” His father was an American journalist from Maine and his mother was a pianist native to Toronto. Initially Cronenberg enrolled in the Honours Science program at the University of Toronto, but later switched to English language and literature where his interest in film began. In 1965 a fellow student named David Secter made a film called Winter Kept Us Warm. The romantic-drama starred many of Cronenberg’s friends and was made entirely in Toronto by Canadian filmmakers. At this moment it clicked with Cronenberg that you could make a film even if you were outside of LA despite the minuscule film industry in Toronto. With a newfound interest and confidence in filmmaking, Cronenberg set to work by starting the Toronto Film Co-Op with Iain Ewing and Ivan Reitman.
Early Career Edit
Cronenberg made two short art house films entitled Stereo and Crimes of the Future, both of which show the seeds of his imagination. Ivan Reitman would help Cronenburg produce his first feature film Shivers after the Canadian government provided funding based on his previous work. When he released his follow up film Rabid, there was finally a breakthrough with international distribution which allowed Cronenberg access to a larger audience. Reitman at this time departed from his partnership with Cronenberg, as his comedy career was beginning to take off with the success of National Lampoon’s Animal House. Cronenberg’s follow up was a sharp left turn with the film Fast Company which had very little to do with his otherwise Horror based filmography. An oddly light film about racecar drivers, it seemed very oddly out of place. Fans of Rabid were concerned that Cronenberg maybe wouldn’t continue down the path of Horror. Much to the pleasure of these fans, he followed this up with the cult classic The Brood, a film that was heavily influenced by the events of Cronenberg’s first marriage and the turmoil that came with it.
Mainstream Success With "Scanners" Edit
David Cronenberg finally broke into the mainstream with the smash-hit film Scanners which he considered a nightmare to create. In order to retain his funding from the Canadian government, Cronenberg was forced to go into production with an incomplete script. Cronenberg describes that at the time many accountants of large professions would tell their clients they’d need a tax write off since they’d made too much money. So they’d invest in films, but it would only ever come at the end of the year. A producer would ask Cronenberg if he had an idea, and if the answer was yes the response was “Great, we’re shooting in two weeks”. Each morning before shooting began he’d write the daily section of the screenplay from 4-7am in time for it to be filmed the same day. Some days, Cronenberg would have to spend the break writing what they would be shooting after the break was over. Given the lack of time available, few sets were able to be constructed and often times the crew would have to scout for locations on the day. Reshoots were later necessary for the film to “make sense of what we’d done before”. The film went on to become the #1 film in North America when it was released and went on to receive critical acclaim.
Development in Film Edit
Cronenberg may have been the father and proliferator of the "body horror" genre, but his films have tended to move towards the psychological horror as time passed. In his earlier films, more focused on body horror, the viewer has a hard time relating with the character on screen. His work progresses to focus more on the personal aspects of the characters in his films (while still undergoing terrible bodily trauma/transformation), but this allowed the audience to relate much more with the character, allowing for a more personal sense of discomfort as they can perhaps more easily imagine something similar happening to them. His film "A History of Violence"(2005) has no "body horror" at all. It focuses on a restaurant owner with a dark past, who has this darkness surface, and we see its effects on him and his relationships with his family. There is violence and blood but rather than focus on the physical aspects of bodily harm and violence, it focuses more on the psychological impacts of the violence instead. There is tension between him and his wife, his son runs away, his brother betrays him and ultimately tries to kill him, these are all within the realm of possibility for the average viewer, and it's that ability to relate to the characters that makes these later films so unsettling.
Being known as the father of the "body horror" genre, a well known director, writer, and actor, Cronenberg has certainly shaped the film landscape around him and is the source of inspiration for many.
David Cronenberg is still quite active in the film industry, with his most recent directing credit being from "Consumed"(2014). He also has an acting role in a movie coming out in 2017. He recently was offered to direct the first episode of season two of “True Detectives”, but he turned it down because he thought the script was bad. (DigitalTrends.com)
Cronenberg also published his first book, "Consumed," in 2014, branching out of the film industry but keeping with his dark and twisted subject matter. The novel involves ritualistic killings, apotemnophilia, and other, widely regarded as 'disgusting' topics.
9. Riches, S. (2012). The Philosophy of David Cronenberg. Lexington: The University Press of Kentucky.
Ratner, M. “Dangerous Methodology: Interview with David Cronenberg.” Film Quarterly, vol. 65, no. 3, 2012, pp. 19–23. Film Quarterly, published since 1958, discusses the life and works of David Cronenberg. This article sheds some light on some of the thoughts, opinions, and methods of the film genius.
Siegler, E. (2012). David Cronenberg: The Secular Auteur as Critic of Religion. Journal Of The American Academy Of Religion, 80(4), 1098-1112. Elijah Siegler, with the, Journal of the American Academy of Religion, writes about the importance of studying Cronenberg’s and other influential filmmakers’ works. This article highlights some accomplishments Cronenberg has made, as well as some different interpretations about his work.
Liebrand, C. (2011). Trauma and Narration in David Cronenberg's Spider. Psyart, 12. Claudia Liebrand, from PSYART, takes an in-depth and philosophical analysis into one of David Cronenberg’s films. Here we analyze “Spider” and its effect on viewers, and what makes it so successful.
Tamir, E. (2010). Beaty, Bart: David Cronenberg's A History of Violence, 2008. Kritikon Litterarum, 37(3/4), 283-285. Eyal Tamir discusses some of David Cronenberg’s work in this article, highlighting some key films as well as analyzing the effect of violence on viewers.
Grant, M. (2009). William Beard, The Artist as Monster: The Cinema of David Cronenberg. Science Fiction Film and Television, 2(1), 119+. Michael Grant, from Liverpool University Press, analyzes William Beard’s study of David Cronenberg. He highlights some strengths and weaknesses in Beards arguments, bringing us closer to the real essence of David Cronenberg.
David Cronenberg (Image fromhttp://en.unifrance.org/directories/person/143030/david-cronenberg)