Sunday, April 13, 2014

Cronenberg night at the Cinematheque

No one laughed tonight (that I could hear) at Robert Silverman's line in The Brood about how the former psychoplasmics patients were thinking of forming a club! Was it too obvious a joke, or did people just not find it funny? It's not like the audience didn't have a sense of humour at all; the guy behind me guffawed loudly when a kid's drawing is placed over the face of the murdered elementary school teacher. Truth is, I felt kind of out of synch with the audience - a pretty big one, considering how nice a day it was - during this double bill, didn't feel like we were resonating at the same frequencies, laughing at the same things, compared to the Shivers/ Rabid crowd (though I was pleased that a couple of people got the joke behind my Canadian Academy of Erotic Enquiry t-shirt). Still, it was nice so many people came out on such a nice day to see two Cronenberg movies; tonight was much better attended than last week's trip to see Stereo.
During The Brood, I kept thinking about how the film actually continues Cronenberg's theme of revolution, seen in Shivers and Rabid, but it's a rather different sort of revolution, not as explicitly a social breakdown as in those films. At one point Silverman accuses Raglan of encouraging his "body to revolt" against him - something Clive Barker would later develop in his short story "The Body Politic." And there's a definite politic to the image of the two broodniks beating the schoolteacher to death while other children look on in horror. It's not a very friendly image of revolution, but it definitely could be productively mentioned, if someone were writing on the topic, as an image of revolt in Cronenberg's cinema - something which is always a fraught proposition...
Also kept thinking that there's a whole paper to be written on the use of architecture in Cronenberg. It's one of the earliest notable markers of the Cronenberg "eye," beginning with the use of the very oppressive. positively Arthur Ericksonian architecture of the U of T Scarborough campus in Stereo (above). In The Brood, the elementary school in particular is all ominous hard brick and angles, at least in its exterior shots, which are often filmed in such a way as to make the buildings loom over the human subjects; a whole theme, dealing with human relations to institutions, can be teased simply out of the way the buildings are represented, vis-a-vis the characters. There's a shot of kids playing on a tire-swing with a brick wall behind them that particularly stood out, tonight, since it's framed so that you notice the wall more than the kids. Normally an image of kids playing would focus on the kids, would privilege them over what's around them, to emphasize play and innocence and childhood and so forth, but in The Brood what you really feel is the wall (three years before Pink Floyd put out that album, by the way; The Brood is from 1979).  You get the feel of an ominous, impersonal institution, dwarfing any sense of playfulness, making childhood and innocence seem that much more fragile, easily crushed, imperilled... Overall one senses that the modern world is a profoundly alienating place for Cronenberg, that one of the first premises in his cinema, which is so primary it is mostly articulated entirely visually, is that this world is not the world we were meant to live in, that it's not a natural or inviting place, and that a common human condition is to try to find your way among such towering impersonal edifices... I guess that's the antithesis of the flesh, in Cronenberg's films: the frequently looming corporate and institutional spaces, coldly filmed... There's a lot of that in Scanners, too...
...which made for a very pleasant second half to the double bill, tonight, since these two films feature my favourite two Robert Silverman roles in Cronenberg; it was "Robert Silverman night," in a way. Plus I realized for the first time that Dieter, the yogi that the Stephen Lack character almost gives a heart attack, is played by Fred Doederlein, the actor who plays Emil Hobbes in Shivers! I'm normally attentive to repeat performances of given actors in Cronenberg films - like the big bald black guy who plays an assassin in Scanners; I have no idea what his name is,  even after fifteen minutes trying to figure it out on IMDB, but you see him in Shivers and Rabid, too. I like it when directors do this, and was somewhat surprised that I had to wait for the credits to roll to realize where I'd seen Doederlein's face before. He apparently acts in a Canadian-made horror film called Blackout, as well, which is on my to-see list of late. (He has no other roles in Cronenberg's cinema, however).
Anyhow, another great night at the Cinematheque. I'm kind of bummed that I don't think I'll be able to see The Fly/ Dead Zone double bill this Thursday. That's going to be a night of great cinema - two of Cronenberg's easiest-to-watch, most utterly pleasurable films (even Robin Wood liked The Dead Zone!).

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