Monday, 30 May 2022

Crimes Of The Future & Shorts

The Way
Of All Flesh

Canada 1966
Directed by David Cronenberg

From The Drain
Canada 1967
Directed by David Cronenberg

Canada 1969
Directed by David Cronenberg

Crimes Of The Future
Canada 1970
Directed by David Cronenberg
Arrow Blu Ray Zone B

Warning: Spoilers that come, hatching from within your body to assault your subconscious mind.

With the imminent release of David Cronenberg’s new feature film Crimes Of The Future, a film which has already had walk outs at Cannes due to its allegedly extreme nature (always a sign of a good movie and a great, unpaid advertisement for it), I though I would take a look at the director’s early short films, made before he was more famous for introducing his trademark body horror into the world (pretty much inventing the sub-genre, I suspect or, rather, putting it on the map as something belonging to a definable collective). Now I remember recording these off the old UK cable network Bravo when it showed them maybe 30 years ago but I started watching for a few minutes and then kinda turned off to them, not revisiting them for a proper look, despite my admiration for this legendary director. But I thought I’d look at them now as a good subject for a tie in review and, as luck would have it, I have a nice Blu Ray edition of these in a special, limited edition Blu Ray disc set of Videodrome, released by Arrow sometime over the last decade (it’s a very nice, out of print package... I believe the disc with these shorts on is still available* as a stand alone release direct from Arrow although, judging from the three figure sums it’s going for on Amazon, you might want to hurry onto Arrow’s web store sometime soon if you want these).

Looking at them now, while there are early twinges of DNA strands which connect them to the groundbreaking films which would immediately follow, I’d have to say that I was fairly disappointed with these films in that, I did catch myself nodding off and having to rewind a number of times over the course of watching these due to their failure to adequately stimulate my mind on a lazy, Sunday afternoon. Now, as much as I love the majority of Cronenberg’s output, there are always a few movies which I find are definitely miss rather than hit for me, such as Spider and Cosmopolis... and so I want to remind people that, as dull as I found these particular films, I am very much a supporter of Cronenberg’s work... it’s just that these ones mostly didn’t click with me.

Transfer and From The Drain are both very short, running at just under and over ten minutes respectively. There’s a strong shot of humour running through these two... as I guess there kind of is in the other two (to a lesser degree and, to be fair, I wasn’t laughing at any of them)... but ultimately these were less comedies to me (as they are classified) and more experimental works (which again, could also be said for the latter two, at least in terms of the techniques employed to present them). So Transfer is a dialogue in a snow covered part of Canada where a reclusive psychiatrist, self exiled to a place far from the rest of humanity, is tracked down by a naive patient. Said Doctor shuns the patient and the job, verbalising that “communication was the original sin” and letting the camera wander away from these two, who have been carrying out one of those continuing conversations at different locations pasted together by an aggressive edit, to fade to black just after the director’s voice can be heard yelling “Cut!”

From The Drain shows two fully clothed men sitting in an empty bathtub in, we are told, the Disabled Veteran’s Recreation Centre. One of them, when he finally decides to engage the other’s attempts at conversation, is frightened about the ‘tendrils’ that come out of the drain and urges the other to plug it up... obviously foreshadowing Cronenberg’s brilliant Shivers (aka The Parasite Murders aka They Came From Within and reviewed by me here). At the end, the nervous one is deliberately exposed to what the other claims is a non existent parasite and he is strangled. The shot where one of the two collects the other's shoes and throws them into a cupboard onto a pile of similar footwear, signals that this is not the first time this has happened. The innapropriate Bagpuss-like guitar soundtrack on this short overwhelmed me and drove me nuts, it has to be said.

Okay, so Stereo is shot in black and white on location in a truly interesting building... and completely set both within and, occasionally, just outside said building. On the print itself, the film is called Stereo - Tile 3B of CAEE Educational Mosaic. An interesting set of establishing shots of a helicopter landing and then depositing a passenger is done in total silence and, it turns out, the whole film is shot with no audio and added voice over narration... and this is true of Crimes Of The Future too, which seems closely related to this and maybe shot in the same location (except in colour). After a while, the first of a series of different but mostly clinical, science gobbledy gook couched voices tells us about the experiment in the building of eight patients who have brain surgery to promote a telepathic response in the subjects, which is then further propagated by emotional and sexual of bonding between two or three or all eight of them to increase the rate of thought flow and dependability in their mutual mind sharing. By the end of the film, three have killed themselves and one has drilled a hole in his head to let the voices out (all done off screen and narrated after the fact). This, of course, strongly foreshadow’s Cronenberg’s Scanners (reviewed here) both in terms of telekinetic people being nurtured in a clinical environment away from the rest of the world population and in terms of the back story of the Michael Ironside villain of Scanners having once resorted to trepanning due to similar conditions.

Crimes Of The Future is similarly set in a series of clinical institutions, starting off with lead voice over by Adrian Tripod, director of the House Of Skin and detailing various homosexual overtones as the male survivors of a world where women have mostly died out due to a curious virus called Rouge’s Malady (foreshadowing AIDS and which effects both sexes, although women are much more susceptible to it). There’s lots of foot fetish imagery in this and also, the film culminates in the broached impregnation of a five or six year old girl who probably hasn’t succumbed to the disease yet, as Tripod becomes involved in an organised gang of paedophiles attempting to save the future population of the planet in this manner. The last shot of the film where Tripod almost but, doesn’t quite make good on this, instead succumbing to something which causes a blue liquid to weep from one eye, is mostly confusing and doesn’t really help things. I don’t know if Cronenberg’s new film, which has a very strong female cast and so is obviously not a straight remake of this (and probably isn’t connected at all), shares any of the ideas explored in this one but the child molestation angle would certainly, in my book at least, explain the walk outs in Cannes (yeah, I could do without the implication of that kind of mental erosion in films I watch too, thanks)... but I’m still happy to give the new movie a go because, well, I kind of trust Cronenberg now (I maybe wouldn’t have, had I seen these movies when they were fresh and of their time, before I'd seen his fantastic early features, I suspect... so it’s a good job I didn’t).

Stereo (which I assume gets its title in a reference to two people synching their minds to each others’ frequency), to me, is definitely the stand out movie on this set and both that and Crimes Of The Future are just over an hour long. They both utilise slow, languid camera movements for the most part but Stereo will be the one that sticks in my mind. There’s a moment where Croneneberg, when one of his characters walks into a room, montages lots of quick fire cuts of each and every object in the room as a kind of mini exploration/assault on the minds eye in terms of what is there. It’s not made relevant why he does this and I suspect he was just experimenting with techniques but it’s an interesting thing I don’t’ remember seeing him do on any of his other films. There’s also a nice visual moment in Stereo where one of the baby’s dummies, which each subject is seemingly issued with, is visually compared in terms of the shape in profile to the Omega symbol found on the back of a pack of Tarot cards. It’s spelled out quite specifically by way of the visual comparison while not once referring to it in the narrative. Again, I don’t know the significance of the metaphor (if there is one) but, well, at least it was interesting.

And that’s me done with the early works of David Croneneberg, collectively as Transfer, From The Drain, Stereo and Crimes Of The Future... and I have to say that I am still very much in the Cronenberg camp but, yeah, I did find these early works a bit of a dull, hard watch, to tell the truth. Still, I’m very glad I saw them and also very glad that I got the limited Videodrome edition with these on extra discs... because now I can go and read the little hard bound booklet which comes as part of the set and which talks about these and the main feature. If you are a fan of the director and tend to grab everything he does, then you should probably try and track these down. If not, I would suggest your life may not be all that much richer for having seen them anyway.

*At time of writing this review.

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