- David Cronenberg: Author or Film-Maker?, and: Videodrome. Studies in the Horror Film, and: The Cinema of David Cronenberg: From Baron of Blood to Cultural Hero
In my review of Serge Grünberg's 2006 collection of interviews with Canadian filmmaker David Cronenberg in the first issue of SFFTV, I concluded that 'we await the booklength study that can do this brilliant, seminal auteur full justice'. Ernest Mathijs's The Cinema of David Cronenberg: From Baron of Blood to Cultural Hero makes a decent stab at being this much-needed study, while Tim Lucas's monograph on Videodrome is an exemplary production history of a pivotal work in the Cronenberg canon. Unfortunately, Mark Browning's book is another kettle of fish entirely, but these three works, taken together, certainly show that critical engagement with this complex and elusive talent remains a lively enterprise.
Let's take the Lucas volume first, since it is the most modestly purposed and, largely for that reason, the most successful of the lot. Lucas is publisher-editor of the journal Video Watchdog, which has, for two decades now, provided essential commentary on sf, fantasy, horror and 'exploitation' titles available on VHS and DVD. During the 1980s, Lucas was a main reviewer for Video Times, where his column examined the ways VHS versions of films had been cut or otherwise altered, leading to a greater attention to such matters among cinephiles and, eventually, the home video industry itself. Before that, Lucas was, for a time, a freelance writer for Cinefantastique, a glossy magazine that focused on fantastic film (it ceased publication in 2006 and became an e-zine, <http://cinefantas-tiqueonline.com/>). Indeed, his book on Videodrome (Canada 1983) is the late-blooming fruit of a 1981-82 assignment for that publication, which led him to visit the set of Cronenberg's film twice during shooting - the only journalist permitted to do so. Portions of the manuscript appeared in the magazine, but in such an amended form that Lucas 'disowned the result and ended [his] ten-year affiliation with Cinefantastique' (16). Piers Handling's anthology The Shape of [End Page 301] Rage: The Films of David Cronenberg (1984) included a section of the manuscript, as did the magnificent 2004 Criterion Collection DVD of Videodrome, but this entry in Millipede's Studies in Horror Film is its first full airing. It was worth the wait.
Lucas's approach is eclectic: mixing interviews with Cronenberg, actors James Woods and Deborah Harry and special-effects coordinator Rick Baker with first-hand information regarding the circumstances of the film's production, the book is, as Handling reportedly commented, perhaps the 'most thorough account of a Canadian film production' extant (qtd in Lucas 17). At times, it must be admitted, Lucas's coverage borders on the fannish, as in the lengthy descriptions of the film's notorious special-effects set-pieces - though it is interesting to hear how the 'stomach slit', 'hand gun', and exploding 'flesh TV' were accomplished, and especially amusing to discover, in relation to the scene wherein Woods's character makes love to a television set, that the only surface flexible enough to expand while sustaining a projected image was a dental dam. Meanwhile, as these carefully orchestrated tableaux were unfolding, Cronenberg would hop around shouting 'More blood! More blood!' and, in the case of Spectacular Optical CEO Barry Convex's grisly demise, 'More cancer! More cancer!' (99).
More interesting are the insider accounts of the workings of a complex shoot: the principal location was an abandoned Toronto nursery school, which housed the main sets (including the eponymous torture chamber), along with areas for cast and crew recreation. Since the sets were not soundproofed, demands for total silence during filming were transmitted throughout the building via walk-ie-talkie; a flushing...