Richard: I am an unabashed fan of David Cronenberg. I felt like a kid in a candy store — or should that be an entomologist at a larvae convention? — at the exhibition and I regularly revisit his movies on DVD. One that always gets overlooked is Spider, a trip into the mind of a severely mentally disturbed man starring Ralph Fiennes. Fiennes is great in a virtually dialogue free performance but it is Miranda Richardson as several characters — all the women in Spider’s life — who really steals the show. It’s a spooky and cerebral thriller.
Mark: Spider was never one of my favourites although it does have a great twist ending. My thoughts on the Cronenberg oeuvre — and they’re almost all great — is how ahead of his time he’s been on our relationship to technology. When Videodrome came out, it was dismissed by a lot of critics. Now we live its reality every day. Same with Existenz. Both visionary films that prove how far ahead of the curve the director can be. But I think the quintessential Cronenberg film is Dead Ringers — a creepy Hitchcockian thriller that has Third Reich overtones of medical experiments and twins — and also because Cronenberg himself looks like a gynecologist harboring a terrible secret.
RC: I also have a soft spot for The Brood. It’s probably Cronenberg’s most traditional horror film, and I take delight in loving a movie Leonard Maltin rated a “Bomb.” Featuring Oliver Reed as an experimental psychotherapist, Samantha Eggar as a fetus-licking mother and murderous psychoplasmic offspring, it is the very stuff that nightmares are made of. It’s lesser seen than The Fly or Dead Zone and way more down-and-dirty, but for sheer scares it’s hard to beat.
MB: I like the brood but I prefer the Dead Zone even though legend has it that Cronenberg regretted doing a movie with all the incumbent studio interference. Know what? It still works. But Cronenberg will forever be one of my favourite directors if for no other reason than breathing life into Naked Lunch. A book I should have loved but could never get through — until I saw the film.
RC: He’s audacious. He made an unfilmable book filmable and opened a lot of people’s minds to reading author William S. Burroughs.
MB: He did the same thing with Cosmopolis, although I must say I didn’t need to see Rabid to appreciate Marilyn Chambers.
“In honour of the huge David Cronenberg exhibit and retrospective currently happening at the TIFF Bell Lightbox in Toronto (running until January 19th), Dork Shelf talks to a plethora of film writers, personalities, programmers, podcasters, and filmmakers about what their favourite Cronenberg films are.
Here’s Richard’s personal take on Videodrome: “I had only lived in Toronto for a few years when Videodrome was released in 1983. Compared to my tiny home town the city was a wonderland; wide open and full of possibilities. CITY-TV was the coolest station in the world, with Baby Blue movies on late at night, music videos in prime time and Mark Daly’s booming voice as the glue that held it all together. I wanted to work there, be part of the something new and different. Something that was steering Toronto the Good into uncharted waters. Then I saw David Cronenberg’s film and read about how it was VERY loosely based on CITY-TV head honcho Moses Znaimer. Somehow this bit of information enhanced the movie for me, as though every time I turned on the television I was engaging in an act of rebellion. For sure the Late Great movies were never going to feature a snuff film, and nor did I want them to, but as a pop culture sponge there was something intoxicating to me about the connection between what I was seeing on the big screen and its relationship, no matter how tenuous, to my real life. Videodrome spoke to me in a way that other films that more closely echoed my experience didn’t. Goin’ Down the Road should have appealed to my Maritime roots, but I didn’t come to Toronto looking for lawyerin’ and doctorin’ jobs, I came for adventure and to be adventourous and that was exactly what Videodrome provided for me.”
The new film Scott Pilgrim vs. The World begins with a title card that reads “Not so long ago in the mysterious land of Toronto, Canada.” It establishes that the movie is set in Toronto, but not the Toronto we usually see in films. That Toronto often subs for New York or Chicago.
The Toronto of Scott Pilgrim comes complete with Casa Loma, Lee’s Palace and other T-Dot landmarks. It’s probably the most expensive movie to feature Toronto as itself, but it’s not the only one. Here’s a look back at Toronto on-screen:
Lawyerin’ and doctorin’ jobs!
For many people, the first on-screen glimpse of Toronto onscreen came from the backseat of a 1960 Chevrolet Impala. Goin’ Down the Road, the story of Pete (Doug McGrath) and his pal Joey (Paul Bradley), two Maritimers who set out in a Chevy to find a better life in Toronto, (SCTV joked they were looking for “lawyerin’ and doctorin’ jobs”) is a city time capsule circa 1970.
Look for great shots of Yonge Street attractions including the classic Sam the Record Man spinning double disc neon sign. The signs are gone now, making their last appearance in the 2008 film The Incredible Hulk.
Long live the new flesh!
Although David Cronenberg has made more than a dozen films in T.O. and says, “I love shooting in Toronto,” film critic Geoff Pevere says, “Toronto had never seemed weirder,” than in the director’s epic Videodrome.
The story of a sleazy UHF television station programmer who becomes spellbound by the hallucinatory power of porn movies, is set in Toronto and not only used many of the city’s locations, but its unique references as well. Civic TV allegedly refers to CityTV, which, in its early days used to air soft-core pornography late at night.
Yonge and Dundas and Beyond
For a look at the down-and-dirty Yonge Street Strip, once the body rub capital of Canada, check out Ron Mann’s 1974 Super-8 documentary The Strip. On the other end of the scale is Atom Egoyan’s Chloe, the story of a Toronto escort and the woman who hires her to test her husband’s fidelity. Toronto has never looked lovelier than this.
“At the level of metaphor, it’s interesting because Toronto is a prostitute. As a city, very often it pretends to be New York or Chicago or San Francisco,” Egoyan said. “So it’s interesting, since this is a film about that.”