Tag Archives: David Cronenberg

Drive, he said

Cosmopolis, an unreadable novel by Don DeLillo, has begotten a somewhat watchable film from David Cronenberg, which in turn has begotten a highly listenable soundtrack by Cronenberg’s longtime collaborator, Howard Shore. And I do mean “collaborator.” Cronenberg gave Shore his entree to film scoring with The Brood in 1979, and he’s used Shore’s music on all of his subsequent films except The Dead Zone.

Though there are plenty of long-running relationships between directors and composers — I’d be hard-pressed to think of a Steven Spielberg film that hasn’t been scored by John Williams — few compare with Cronenberg and Shore in terms of artistic quality. Alfred Hitchcock relied on Bernard Herrmann to give his films warmth and humanity, to the point that I’d give Bennie co-auteur status on just about all of Hitch’s certified great films. But Shore’s approach is more adaptive than Herrmann’s. His scores for Dead Ringers, Naked Lunch, and Crash, for example, do not announce themselves as Shore’s work the way Vertigo, Marnie, and North by Northwest are instantly recognizable as Herrmann’s compositions. Shore is also exceptionally astute in his choice of collaborators. His use of Ornette Coleman makes Naked Lunch an exceptional soundtrack. The Lord of the Rings is a showcase for beautiful female voices, such as Aivale Cole, Isabel Bayrakadarian and Emiliana Torrini.

Shore’s work for Cosmopolis has some of the same metallic sheen as Crash (appropriately, since cars figure heavily in both flicks), but without the earlier film’s spiky menace. Shore wrote his music to be performed by Metric, a Canadian band with a bright, synthesizer-heavy sound that works for the protagonist’s disaffected mindset. Like the young financier in his stretch limo, the music combines forward motion with a sense of drifting. There are very few composers whose work I want to get even before the film comes out. Shore is one of them.

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One-Percenter humor

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As if things weren’t already weird enough, filmmaker David Cronenberg and actor Robert Pattinson (heard of him?) rang the opening bell on the New York Stock Exchange this morning to hype the imminent release of Cosmopolis, Cronenberg’s adaptation of Don DeLillo’s 2003 novel. After a summer of brain-dead corporate movies I’m seriously looking forward to seeing a movie about a soul-dead bankster (played by Pattinson) carving a path of — what do they call it? — creative destruction across a few blocks of Manhattan, but are the banksters themselves even aware of what the movie is about? If not, it’s pretty funny; if they are, it’s even funnier — albeit in a very dark way that should dovetail quite nicely with Cronenberg’s work. One-Percenter humor? That’s a scary thought. Life imitates David Cronenberg? That’s even scarier.

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Friday finds

Duke University has a digital archive of over 100 travel diaries written by British and American women.

Elmore Leonard’s 10 rules for writing.

Not to be outdone, Ray Bradbury has 12.

George Orwell’s rules for making a perfect cup of tea.

The creator of Dracula died broke. There is also some dispute over what killed him.

Here’s an original way to reduce cognitive biases. And don’t we all want to reduce cognitive biases?

“I visited the Jenolon Caves in Australia, and in some of the caves they have self-guided tours where you pick up a headset and get descriptions of what you’re looking at. Since this is a big tourist destination they offer these in many languages. One of which is Klingon. I was startled when I saw that – I do wonder how many people choose to take the Klingon tour. But that has now become my ambition, to have the Dothraki language added to that, so we have equality with the damn Klingons.”

John Peel’s record collection, digitized. Starting with “A,” appropriately enough.

Behind the scenes at the auditions to find Sean Connery’s replacement as James Bond.

Now that a remake of Total Recall is about to open, look at some concept art from the time when David Cronenberg was set to direct the original film, before it ended up in Paul Verhoeven’s hands.

So — what would happen if you stuck your hand into the Large Hadron Collider? Well, you wouldn’t turn into Dr. Manhattan, that’s for sure.

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Dream projects: David Cronenberg

Since books and movies are my two most frequently blogged-about subjects, I’m going to spend the next several days combining the two in a semi-meme. More of a challenge than a meme. The point is to identify a work of literature that ought to be made into a film and point to the living director best suited for the job. I invite any and all lit-bloggers and film-bloggers to weigh in with their own choices and let me know so I can link to their posts. I’ve got books in mind for, among others, Spike Lee, Peter Jackson, Quentin Tarantino, and Carroll Ballard, but I’m going to get things rolling with a nightmarish dream project, an extreme choice for one of our best and most extreme filmmakers.

DAVID CRONENBERG: The Secret History of the Lord of Musashi, by Junichiro Tanizaki.

In a review of Dead Ringers, a New Yorker critic described David Cronenberg’s storytelling mode as “debonair cruelty.” That’s a pretty Tanizakigood description of Junichiro Tanizaki’s blackly comic 1935 novella about a sixteenth-century Japanese warlord whose feats of valor on the battlefield are rooted in a bizarre erotic obsession  formed when, as a boy, he watched women preparing the severed heads of enemy soldiers taken as trophies in battle. In particular, his fixation centered on a young woman’s enigmatic smile as she prepared a “woman-head” for presentation. In order to experience the rapture of this vision once again, the budding warlord becomes the catalyst for a revenge plot that changes the course of a small, extremely bloody piece of history during the period of Warring States.

Tanizaki’s novella couches this tale in a parody of tediously didactic Confucian history — sort of the Asian version of Parson Weems — that upends the idea of ignoring a hero’s faults and listing only his virtues for moral instruction, and the lecturing tone gets drier and funnier as the exploits get ever more outrageous. Since just about every Tanizaki story except The Makioka Sisters (his best known work outside Japan) hinges on some kind of outre sexual obsession, the author is offering his readers an exceptionally shrewd self-parody as well.

The mingling of beauty, grotesquerie, and cynical humor in The Secret CronenbergHistory of the Lord of Musashi would be right up Cronenberg’s alley. He may have replenished his bank account with A History of Violence and Eastern Promises, but we’ve already seen how commercial success only whets his appetite for extreme material. This is, after all, the man who followed relatively conventional genre films like The Dead Zone and The Fly with Dead Ringers and Naked Lunch, then detoured for a Broadway adaptation (M. Butterfly) before heading right back to the edge with Crash. Watch the bondage scene in Dead Ringers, then imagine how Cronenberg would handle a scene like this:

When Hoshimaru arrived at the attic on the third night, an extraordinary head lay before the girl. It was that of a young samurai of twenty-one or -two, but, strangely, the nose was missing. It was an attractive face. The complexion was wonderfully pale, the freshly shaven places glowed, and the glossy black hair was as splendid as that which draped luxuriously over the girl’s shoulders and down her back. No doubt the warrior had been an extremely handsome man. His eyes and mouth were of classic form and there was a certain delicacy in the firm, well proportioned, masculine features. Had there been a fine, straight nose in the middle, the face would have been the epitome of the young warrior, just as a master dollmaker might conceive it. But, for some reason, the nose was missing, as if it had been sliced off with a sharp blade, bone and all, from the brow to the upper lip. A pug nose might not have been so sorely missed; but one would expect to find a sculpturesque protuberance soaring from the middle of this splendid face. Instead, that vital feature had been cleanly removed, as if scooped off with a spatula, leaving a flat, crimson wound. s a result the face was uglier and more comical than those of ordinary ugly men. The girl carefully ran her comb through the noseless head’s lustrous black hair and retied the topknot; then, as she always did, she gazed at the center of the face, where the nose should have been, and smiled. As usual, the boy was enchanted by her expression, but the surge of emotion he experienced at that moment was far stronger than any he had felt before. Juxtaposed with the mutilated head, the girl’s face glowed with the pride and the joy of the living, the embodiment of flawless beauty. And her smile, precisely because it was so girlish and unaffected, now appeared to be brimming with the most cynical malice, and provided the boy with a wheel on which to spin endless fantasies. He thought he would never tire of gazing at her smiling face. The fantasies it inspired were inexhaustible and, before he was aware of it, had lured his soul away to a land of ambrosial dreams where he himself had become this noseless head and was living with the girl in a world inhabited only by the two of them. This fantasy was very much to his liking. It made him happier than he had ever been before.

I’m imagining Cronenberg’s eye for color and texture at work among the silk robes, polished floors and bloody carnage. I’m also imagining the blend of lushness and austerity Howard Shore could bring to the soundtrack music. Until he broke the bank with The Lord of the Rings, Shore’s best and most challenging work was done for Cronenberg, and he needs another challenge. And I’d like to see the actress who could play Lady Kikyo, the tormented noblewoman whose wish for vengeance allows the hero to realize his deepest wish, and provides a closing tableau that would give the definitive answer to anyone who wondered if Cronenberg could manage to come up with anything wilder than Crash.

ADDENDUM: If Cronenberg doesn’t want the job, second choice would be David Lynch. From Blue Velvet to silk kimonos would be a natural evolution for Lynch.

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Friday finds

Nick discovers the meaning of curds and whey.

Take a tour of book of 2,500 different book covers from 1926 to 1947.

Bat Segundo comes in torrents. Really.

Doc Mooney marks the premiere of It Might Get Loud, a documentary about the electric guitar featuring Jimmy Page, the Edge and Jack White, and offers a prescription for electric guitar bliss.

Christian Bauman gets a terrific profile in Acoustic Live.

The Virginia Quarterly Review is sponsoring a contest to pick the best young book reviewer, “young” meaning below the age of thirty. The winner gets a grand plus a publishing contract for three more reviews at a grand each.  

Michael Gray’s excellent biography of Blind Willie McTell, Hand Me My Travelin’ Shoes, is about to come out in a handsome paperback edition in the U.K. Still no sign of a U.S. edition, but I’ve read the hardcover and I can tell you the book is worth the extra freight for anyone interested in blues, American music and, of course, Bob Dylan, who wrote one of his very best songs about the Georgia bluesman.    

Would you like a signed copy of the most dangerous book of poetry ever written?

Some enterprising soul has posted clips from Dead Ringers, which not only gets my vote as one of David Cronenberg’s best films but also signaled the arrival of Howard Shore as a major film composer. A couple of minutes into this clip you’ll find the bondage interlude, in which Shore’s lush, romantic score helps carry the scene from outrageousness to poignance. I’ve held forth at length on Shore’s work before — click here if you want to read the post.

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