Tag Archives: David Cronenberg

Little Boxes #34

(from Hi-Yo Silver #22, script by Gaylord DuBois and artist unknown art by Tom Gill [thanks to Stephen in comments], 1957)

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The Ring (2002) – directed by Gore Verbinski, based on the the movie by Hideo Nakata, the novel by Kôji Suzuki & the Japanese ghost story Banchō Saray

by Margaux Williamson

(My friend Duane Wall likes horror movies but none of his friends do. So every year on his birthday, he selects a horror movie and then invites his friends over to watch the movie. Last year was Bruce MacDonald’s Pontypool and the year before was David Cronenberg’s The Fly. This year it was the American version of The Ring. The movie’s title was kept secret until it started, when five minutes in someone shouted, What is this called!?)


 

The Ring is a horror mystery about an unmarked videotape that somehow kills the people who watch it. The short video work features black and white footage of disturbing and seemingly unrelated scenes. One of the characters, before being properly impressed by the power of the video, expressed his opinion that it just looked like a bad student art video. (His respect deepens quickly enough). After a person watches the video, they receive a mysterious phone call and then die seven days later with a look of horror on their faces. That is, until an investigative journalist (played by Naomi Watts) starts poking around.

The movie also stars a self-sufficient child, a man afraid of monogamy and fatherhood, horses, a cluster of worn and futuristic apartment buildings and a good old-fashioned romantic/creepy island.

The atmosphere of the movie was seductive and its themes pleasurable: “don’t eat that apple!” verses “knowledge will set you free!”, peace-making verses resourceful military strategizing, the goodness of a small community island versus an impenetrable microcosm that is intolerant of foreigners and misfortune, metaphors of scapegoats and viruses becoming interchangeable.

There are lots of fun things to say about the movie but they all involve the ending. I never mind hearing the full details of a plot before I see something, but for the kind of movie whose primary success is derived from its surprises – maybe it is best to not give away its secrets.

Later on, after watching the movie, my mind wandered to the plot points and tried to connect the ways certain elements fit together. When I could fit them together with logic, I would feel a spooky pleasure. When I couldn’t, and the only end point was “supernatural mystery,” I felt as disappointed as a kid being told that babies come from heaven. We all know the real answers can be a lot crazier than the made-up ones.

It made me think of an article I had read awhile ago about David Cronenberg. He talked about being sent scripts from Hollywood that involved the supernatural and how insulting or disappointing that was since he, as an atheist, was philosophically opposed to those views. He assumed that anyone who watched his movies could see that.

I loved the image that comes to mind with this scenerio – confused studio executives trying to understand both the moral integrity of David Cronenberg and the difference between The Fly and the script for the demon/god vehicle Constantine while Cronenberg looks on patiently disappointed by what to him was obvious – his horror movies are entirely of this world.

 

Postscript: I also enjoyed the movie Constantine.

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Filed under margaux williamson, movies

“Hauntings,” by Guy Maddin (1912-2010)

by Chris Randle

I have a minor obsession with lost artworks. The potential psychological motivations for this are almost embarrassingly transparent, but there’s also the increasing scarcity of vanished masterpieces as a concept. Though unfinished or abandoned creations will always tantalize – no one’s ever going to read the ending of Big Numbers, Alan Moore’s fractal opus – mass digitization should save a future Cardenio or London After Midnight from erasure. I think that’s one cause of the current vogue for ultra-limited cassette releases: when almost any work is instantly accessible, willful obscurity becomes a source of cultural capital.

My own little fixation isn’t quite as covetous, or so I’d prefer to believe: it’s a desire for obliterated possibilities to be made manifest again. To see a major-key version of the obsession, look at Guy Maddin. The director of such weird and wonderful fabrications as Brand Upon the Brain, My Winnipeg and The Heart of the World was already defined by his love of the archaic. Ethereal cinematography, strict monochrome, silent typographic dialogue – if a technique has been absent from conventional filmmaking for 50 years or more, he’ll cherish it. But the September opening of the Toronto International Film Festival’s new Lightbox headquarters allowed Maddin to spoil his artistic parents rotten. Hauntings is an installation of 11 short pieces essaying “unrealized, half-finished or abandoned films by otherwise successful directors,” a “ghostly collage” licked together with glowing ectoplasm.

The film fragments are arranged in two horizontal rows along the Lightbox’s diminutive gallery space; the tumour-shaped, slit-eyed helmet from Videodrome is sitting behind glass nearby. They’re staggered, hiding a couple of the projections behind other ones, and vary widely in length. Playing and overlapping simultaneously, they give the installation an effect of constant distraction. Memory is messy here. Several Maddin hallmarks are obvious: every clip is silent, most are in black and white, swooping closeups abound, and the very Germanic list of “otherwise successful directors” (Murnau, Lang and von Sternberg all appear) is filled with people he’s already cited as favourites.

But Hauntings never succumbs to reverent imitation. Its realization of Mizoguchi’s Out of College, which centres on a young aviator torn between his fiancee and oily cockpits, does channel the master’s painterly attention to light…but it also features Udo Kier as the eager airborne graduate. No tragic geishas, either. Fiancee Teruko is much more Maddin’s type: beautiful, bewitching, flickering between “dangerous” and “maybe just totally inscrutable.” He should collaborate with Dan Bejar.

A couple of the notional films don’t name an inspiration at all, enigmas among enigmas. In “Bing & Bela,” the husband of another mystery woman has been transmogrified into an inexplicably bloody white wolf, and she can’t decide whether to leave his corpse on the grave of Bing Crosby or Bela Lugosi (who are indeed buried right next to each other in Holy Cross Cemetery, Culver City). I know Kenneth Anger still technically walks our plane, but I pictured his spectral hand spelling out EROS and THANATOS during a tinsel-strewn séance. As one intertitle puts it: “REDDEST OF LIPS! WHITEST OF WOLVES!”

The feverish ardour of Maddin’s deadpan text narrations is another habit untempered by his ghostwriting. (My favourite title card in Hauntings is probably “WOOED TO THE LAND OF NOD,” from an allegorical Hollis Frampton tribute where camera-headed Kino is literally seduced by passing clouds.) The director has mastered a tricky contortion: embracing the phantoms he admires while tweaking their tics at the same time. So his version of Murnau’s lost Satanas shows revolution gone wrong from the atmospheric perspective of various toes: “Hopeful feet…On their way to join the surging masses! The lumpen cheer!” Part fetish reel, part Marxist sight gag, and funny as hell, it’s the kind of joke that could only be played on a friend.

A few years ago, I saw Maddin in discussion onstage with Toronto film critic Jason Anderson. The idea was that they’d each take turns constructing a fantasy life with scenes from favourite movies. The director’s first choice was an old British film, seemingly dating back to the 1930s. In his clip, a little girl was moving in with her relative for reasons I can’t remember; the benefactor is a chauvinist cad who immediately reels off all the rules she’ll be obliged to follow. (“I don’t like having…women around.”) Maddin, beaming, told us he wanted to relive childhood as that stunned moppet, because hers had precious “structure.” I understood where he was coming from, if not where he was going. I just wish I could remember the film’s title. What if I’m only imagining it?

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Filed under chris randle, movies, TV/video, visual art

On Computers, Profusely

by Chris Randle

#chardonnayswag

What’s a musician to do, now that “free” is not only a routine fact of cultural consumption but obnoxious tech-guru dogma too? You might try releasing your band’s next album online at a pay-what-thou-wilt price point, although that tactic has a high chance of failure if you’re not already famous. You could license and be sponsored. You should probably include digital download codes with your vinyl, nestling utility inside slabs of aura. Alternatively, you can bid to choke the insatiable maw: giving away so many songs, so much content, so much of yourself that the sheer size of your output attracts notoriety and obsession. The young rapper Lil B has achieved a strange, ultra-specific web renown with that marketing strategy, but he did so out of compulsion, not calculation. He’s one with his medium like James Woods in Videodrome.

I first stumbled across him a year or so ago at Cocaine Blunts, where blogger Noz has become a tireless though clear-sighted booster. In 2006, when he was 15, Lil B’s Berkeley rap group the Pack notched up a minor hit; their album later flopped and their label dropped them. Then the madness began. B, aka Brandon McCartney, created 100+ Myspace pages over a series of months (some of them “secrete,” like the Minus World), each featuring a handful of tracks and freestyles. His Youtube account is constantly updated with sort-of music videos, zero-budget clips he films around Berkeley.

B seems to spend more time tweeting than sleeping, perhaps because the former is a better outlet for his id. His fans, most of them young and fanatical, are encouraged to follow the Based Lifestyle – a philosophy stressing positivity and (relatively) clean living. Not yet an acolyte, I felt like Clement Attlee did about Christianity: “Believe in the ethics. Can’t accept the mumbo jumbo.”

The Based God’s discography already stretches well into the quadruple digits, with its own attendant tropes. He yammers about swag and sex a lot; the latter oscillates between the hilariously surreal (“I’m so wet that a pussy get mad at me”) and the unsettling (gynecological porn-talk rasps over a lo-fi footwork track). One of his maxims is “hoes on my dick cause I look like ________,” filled in with intentional absurdities: Mel Gibson, Aretha Franklin, Jesus.

The peacocking blowjob-related material might obscure how experimental B can be. For each of his stunt samples, like the X-men TV show, there are many more where he raps over New Age loops, ambient synths or Antony and the Johnsons. (He once struck up a Twitter conversation with me about Momus.) On a lot of the trademark “based freestyles” he barely bothers to rap, favouring spoken word, syntactical ad-libs and stream-of-consciousness rambling.

He slips in and out of personae with the same ease. On the infamous “Pretty Bitch,” Lil B goes from profane swagmaster to something far more protean: “I used to be a goon, now I’m a pretty bitch.” (He claims he’s finer than Nicki Minaj, too: debatable.) Elsewhere, the MC describes himself as a princess and “a faggot.” It’s not surprising that he’s been the subject of gay rumours, nor that his demurrals are so unbothered (albeit characteristically weird). Code-switching? Sure, and a genius at it, but that term feels clumsily archaic in this context. Lil B and his friend Soulja Boy are making a radical and overlooked break from the traditional hip-hop project of repping one’s hood. B is very, very Berkeley, of course, but only implicitly; his many selves live on the internet.

It’s easy to stalk someone online, and yet it’s not much harder to explore a new personality. B embodies this. He doesn’t even try to reconcile his contradictions; he gleefully heightens them. That’s one explanation for his rabid fanbase – I know it’s why I’m fascinated by the guy – but aside from the music, the Based Lifestyle also has its perks. As Noz wrote, “I can think of worse things for kids to fall into than a cult dedicated to positivity and aggressive-but-safe sex.”

Creativity, too: just click on a #based hashtag to see the results. There is an entire Tumblr site devoted to “cooking,” the MC’s new dance fad/culinary education program. His mania is viral. A few months ago, when I was talking to a friend and fellow obsessive on Gchat, she suggested that I make a Lil B mix so we could try having sex to it. We both soon realized this was ridiculous, but I think he would still appreciate the sentiment.

My favourite Lil B song is “The Age of Information.” It’s kind of like “Sign O’ the Times” if Prince had been a teenager who smoked weed every single day. Atop a dreamy, watery beat, B stammers out generational anxiety:  “I’m on computers, profusely, searching on the internet for answers (give it to me).” I have a couple of years on him, but I can hardly remember what life was like before the internet. By high school I was already writing myself onto message boards and keeping my status updated, which might be ideal preparation for high school. And yet, I was unnerved to find myself agreeing with the critic Tom Ewing when he argued that “it’s really only a matter of time before some kind of bluetoothy broadcast-what-yr-consuming tool becomes popular.”

Lil B, who knows whereof he mumbles here, is one dubious hippie: “This age of information, all we do is judge…Everything that we watch, all we do is classify people.” The thrill of being fluid and mercurial demands less effort than ever now, but it’s still mortifying when a stranger watches you change.

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The Company (2003) – directed by Robert Altman, written by Robert Altman and Neve Campbell

By Margaux Williamson

(I watched this with my friend Sheila Heti late at night in a cabin in the woods. We projected it onto a wall with our make-shift entertainment system. We were under the shared assumption that it was possibly the most entertaining movie that we brought with us. Every 25 minutes or so Sheila would say, “I think maybe I’ve seen this before.”)

There is a ballet company. The Company is in Chicago. The director wears a yellow scarf. He calls people “baby” or sometimes “genius.” A “genius” comes from Canada to choreograph a new ballet, “The Blue Snake.” There is not enough money to make “The Blue Snake,” but the director (easy and charming) says he will find it. The dancers continue to practice and perform, sometimes in a mirrored studio and sometimes to an audience in the rain. Sometimes new dancers arrive, sometimes dancers quit. Some of the dancers live together in a crowded apartment because maybe they don’t get paid a lot. Ryan is one of the dancers. Ryan lives in a big apartment all alone, maybe because she works a night job as a waitress. One night after her nightshift, she plays pool by herself in a bar. James Franco watches her. He has come to the bar after his nightshift as a chef. He goes back to her apartment with her and makes her an omelet in the morning. Ryan’s family comes out to a lot of her performances. They are clearly supportive if not greatly responsible for her career as a dancer. No one talks much. Sometimes the dancers get injured. When one is injured, another ballet dancer takes his or her place. Ryan is in the spotlight after a few others have suffered injuries. Her spotlight is brief, injuring herself while dancing “The Blue Snake.” She’s okay about it, even smiling, and James Franco crosses the stage awkwardly to give her flowers, while the dancers bow after the performance is done. In the last scene, the dancers come out of the mouth of a giant head and dance around. The head looks wrathful and also a little bit like the company’s director.

The best part of the movie was during The Company’s “Christmas Roast” when the dancers, on a make-shift stage, dress as different members of The Company and act out skits representing scenarios that we have already seen. Although the skits were literal representations, they were loose and playful. It was kind of nice to remember that the dancers, like us, have witnessed the scenarios they were part of. Now they are making fun of one of the romantic dances that happened in a thunderstorm. Now they are making fun of the “genius from Canadia.” It made the rest of the movie seem even more starkly like real life – lacking in poetry and even in .. “representation.”

It’s pretty interesting when a movie doesn’t work – when the poetry seems absent, the metaphors don’t resonate, when the art seems missing. It makes the movies that work seem like miracles. It’s especially interesting when a movie like this doesn’t work – a movie where the skill and craft and the director’s experience are all clearly on display.

Failure always seems to be an interesting part of good art. I guess it is easier to fall on your face if you happen to be reaching out far. Some failures are super interesting or easier to forgive than others, like: the bountiful missteps of Marlon Brando; the masterpieces of David Cronenberg that are aiming for the multiplex but end up at the cineforum; the David Lynch-like silence that sometimes follows David Lynch movies; the ambition in Sofia Coppola’s awkwardly revealing “Marie Antoinette” (though to be fair, I didn’t see the end because in the cinema in which I was watching it, the film caught on fire);the incaution in Woody Allen’s one-movie-a-year output (also often awkwardly revealing). Groping and searching and hubris always seem more generous than an immaculate career – more like contributions.

Nothing horrible is revealed in “The Company” other than the fact that it didn’t really work. I am guessing that a movie about an art system is a bigger challenge than a movie about a love affair. I guess at the end of “The Company” we are meant to see the giant head on stage as perhaps the art itself – spitting out dancers with broken bodies or failed or briefly glorious careers. It didn’t really resonate as it was supposed to, but I could see what the movie was maybe going for: art is as a merciless god, barely paying attention to the participants who offer their lives to it — some failing, some falling, some shining.

It’s okay, I think, as I gaze at the hand-painted ballet set, at the wrathful god’s wide-open mouth, projected onto the cottage wall (my friend half asleep beside me): It is only a god of the humans’ creation.

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