Friday, January 8, 2016

Classic Movie Review: David Cronenberg Shorts

Three Shorts By David Cronenberg
Camera (2000)
Directed by: David Cronenberg.
Written by: David Cronenberg.
Featuring: Leslie Carlson, Marc Donato, Harrison Kane, Stephanie Sams, Kyle Kass, Katie Lai, Natasha La Force, Daniel Magder, Chloe Randle-Reis, Camille Shniffer.

Chacun Son Cinema: At the Suicide of the Last Jew in the World in the Last Cinema in the World (2007)
Directed by: David Cronenberg.
Featuring: David Cronenberg.

The Nest (2014)
Directed by: David Cronenberg.
Featuring: Evelyne Brochu, David Cronenberg.

Most major directors have a host of directing credits that people have never heard of. Often times, these are early shorts or TV work made when the director was trying to break into the business, or at film school, etc. – and often they are hard to find, unless the director is proud of them. David Cronenberg for example made four films while at film school – and released two of them – Crimes of the Future and Stereo on the DVD of Fast Company (1979) – and they are quite good. I assume the reason he didn’t release the others is because they are not. Cronenberg also has 11 directing credits for TV – TV movies, shorts or episodes – between 1970 and 1975 – when his debut film, Shivers aka They Came From Within – came out (and one credit right after, in 1976). Since then, however, it’s mainly been his features – one 1988 of the Fridays Curse (the Friday the 13th TV series) and two early 1990s episodes of something called Scales of Justice aside (I am very curious about this later credit – why did the director of The Fly and Dead Ringers do two episodes of Canadian TV?).

Since the year 2000 however, Cronenberg has made three interesting short films (see the note at the bottom of the page) – and those are the ones I am having a look at here. The first of these is Camera, from 2000, that was commissioned by TIFF to play in front of some movies at that year’s festival (another of those films, Guy Maddin’s The Heart of the World, is one of the greatest shorts ever made in Canada, and has previously been reviewed). In the film, an aging actor, Leslie Carlson, talks directly to the camera about aging and dying – as well as that “old Panavision” camera the “children” have brought into the house. Carlson thinks the camera does nothing but destroy – that its sucking away our humanity. He gives a bitter, somewhat paranoid rant, directly to the camera for most of the runtime. It’s only in the last moments, when the children turn their Panavision camera on him, that Carlson lightens up and talks about how wonderful the camera is – and what it can do. He is telling the truth when the camera isn’t on him, and lying when it is.

By having an elderly actor play the role – one who had worked with Cronenberg before (in Videodrome, The Dead Zone and The Fly), it’s hard not to see the films cynical view of the future and death as Cronenberg’s cynical view of the future of cinema – and film – itself. The digital revolution was just starting in 2000, but telling, the kids bring in a film camera, not a digital one.

This leads into the second short – At the Suicide of the Last Jew in the World in the Last Cinema in the World – made as part of the Chacun Son Cinema project, which brought together directors from around the world to make shorts of only a couple minutes long to talk about the future of film. Some directors, like the Coen brothers wickedly funny segment World Cinema, have an optimistic view. Not so for Cronenberg, who cast himself as the Last Jew in the World, who spends the movie with a gun in his mouth, as a news reporter gives live updates on whether or not he’s killed himself yet. It’s an odd, depressing little film – one that doesn’t leave much hope for movies or movie going (or Jews for that matter) in the future, having everything replaced by cable “news” where if it bleeds it leads. It isn’t a particularly original idea, but when you only have three minutes to express your feelings on the future of film, what do you expect?

The most interesting of the three films to me is the most recent one – The Nest. The film stars Evelyne Brochu who sits topless on an exam table in some sort of would-be drab but futuristic operating room (actually Cronenberg’s garage), as she talks to her doctor (Cronenberg himself, as only a voice, and at one point a gloved hand). She thinks the doctor is a shrink, who is trying to talk her out of having the surgery – but he assures her he is not. She wants to have her left breast removed, because she is convinced that there is a nest of insects – perhaps wasps – living inside it (the right one is a “real tit”) she explains. The doctor is skeptical, and they go around in circles talking about the surgery – perhaps he can just remove the nipple, and create a hole for the insects to escape from, she wonders. Ah, but what if they don’t want to come out, he counters.

The film is disturbing in the extreme, precisely because of the coldness with which Cronenberg shoots it. The entire film is one shot, all from the doctors POV, as the two dispassionately discuss cutting off the woman’s breast. Normally, you would assume that the woman is just crazy – but given some of things that have come out of the bodies of Cronenberg characters over the years, I’m not so sure. For those who have wanted Cronenberg to return to “body horror”- The Nest is about as close as you’re likely to get.

The three films don’t really add much to the Cronenberg filmography – at least not by themselves. They are not overly original. But they are all interesting, disturbing and memorable. If you’re a fan of Cronenberg, you really should check them out.

NOTE: If you look at the IMDB you’ll actually see 5 different credits – one for Camera in 2000 and one for Short6 in 2001 – although the short included in Short6 is in fact Camera. You see his credit for his Chacun Son Cinema segment, and then you see two in 2014 – one for The Nest and one for Consumed. Consumed is actually just a shorter, two minute version of The Nest. Cronenberg made it to act as a trailer for his debut novel, Consumed.

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