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Ray Pride

By Ray Pride

Cronenberg's corpus: they're all funny

The Davids D’Arcy and Cronenberg discourse in depth at GreenCine. Several savories from their career-ranging epic: “When I make a movie, I try to completely ignore everybody’s expectations about what I do, and I don’t think about my other movies, and I don’t impose those things on any given movie that I’m making.” When A History of Violence premiered at Cannes 2005, “There was a famous incident involving an Austrian critic saying, “Shut up, you fucking piece of shit critics. Don’t you know this is not funny. It’s serious.” within david.jpg“This was reported in the New York Times blog, in which the writer says that he was a very good and intelligent critic, but they felt, and I think they were right, that they had a better handle on what was going on in the movie than he did, because it does ask the audience to twist and turn in terms of tone. It’s funny, it’s shocking, and then it’s immediately scary, then it’s immediately funny again, and then it’s sad and emotional, and it does all that. It is a dangerous thing to do, because if you’re walking a bit of a tightrope, it can’t backfire on you. What I really wanted to do was replicate the kind of emotional roller coaster that you have in the course of a normal day… Why can’t a movie have that many moods within it? The template for movies these days is very clunky… There’s never any mixed scene of tones and moods. People can get confused. They can think that they’re supposed to be solemn, because it’s a Cronenberg movie, and they think that’s a serious thing. But I’ve never made a movie that’s not funny. They’re all funny. Is violence “edgy”? “Conflict is the essence of drama, said George Bernard Shaw, and violence is the most basic kind of conflict. So violence doesn’t give you an edge. What you see in a lot of movies is not even real violence, it’s attitude. Attitude is anti-art. It’s a pretense, it’s a façade, it’s a defense mechanism. It means you’re not digging deep, you’re not going into something real. It’s not something that makes you vulnerable. If what you’re expressing is attitude, it’s all defensive. And you can’t be defensive if you want to be an artist. You have to make yourself vulnerable. You have to allow yourself to open up, and that’s anti-attitude.” Cronenberg recalls the critics in the UK who demanded that Crash (the good one) be banned: “I’m still pissed off.

Not just Chris Tookey, but Alexander Walker, who said it was “beyond the bounds of depravity,” which I thought was a pretty good territory to be in. Chris Tookey – you can just tell by his name – actually gave A History of Violence a good review. However, he did manage to say, “What a surprise. I never thought I’d manage to say that Cronenberg could make a good film,” and then he went on to slag five of my films that he hated, and then he went on to say that A History of Violence was good. Does that make me like him? No. I do not forgive. The relationship that you have with your critics is a very strange one.” How does Cronenberg’s writing process work? “With an original script, I’m very undisciplined… Every script that I’ve written has followed a completely different pattern. It’s partly because it’s been many years between writing scripts. So I don’t really have that great rhythm that only a professional screenwriter would have. Even though, even to them it varies, because you’re always working with other people ultimately. It’s always a collaboration, and there are always other people’s temperaments and expectations and understanding of what dramatic structure is… It really isn’t like writing fiction. It’s not even an art form, writing a screenplay. I can tell you that it’s been a long time since I’ve gotten a screenplay that had good spelling. These are professional screenwriters. Some of them are getting a million, $2 million a script. And they can’t spell. To me it’s astonishing. They would never make it as prose writers, but that doesn’t matter because you can actually write a good script with terrible grammar, terrible spelling and all of that, but if your dialogue is great, even if it’s misspelled… I never know what to expect when I start to write an original script.” [The screenplay for the director’s unproduced period Formula 1 racing pic, Red Cars, has been published as a book with 194 illos; details here. “150 euros, you can’t go wrong,” sez Cronenberg.]

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It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon