Friday, May 10, 2013
Psychoplasmics: An Introduction
In the February 1987 issue of The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, in his film column "Harlan Ellison's Watching," Ellison dropped a little announcement of sorts, stating that in his next column he would begin an in-depth study of the film's of David Cronenberg. Cronenberg, he said, alone among the "wise guy directors currently assaulting us, had "the intellectual virility and talent to become sui generis" and had "become a writer/director with a voice and a view of the world that could be as important, in its own bizarre way, as that of Hitchcock, Ford, Wilder, or Woody Allen." Ellison's next column was published that April, and it wasn't about Cronenberg. The problem, Ellison said, was that he was trying to track down Cronenberg's early films -- specifically, Stereo, Crimes of the Future, and Shivers -- not to mention the uncut version of The Brood, all of which, at that time, were rare items. Ellison next mentioned the project in his July '87 column, but all he said in that case was that he was still working on it. If you know anything about Harlan Ellison, you'll know that the fact that his following sentence included a status update on The Last Dangerous Visions sort of metaphorically tells the tale of where you might hope to find his completed in-depth study of the films of David Cronenberg.
I bring all this up not to ding Harlan Ellison, really, though he's a writer I've been at war with in my own head for about twenty years now (he is likely unaware of this). But way back when I was reading Harlan Ellison's Watching, a collection of Ellison's film writing published in 1989, and I came across that original announcement, I thought something along the lines of "Oh good." So my subsequent trip to that book's index, only to discover that the number of pages in which Cronenberg was referenced tapered off drastically, with no range of pages -- say, 372 - 381, or something -- anywhere to be found under his entry, was quite a disappointment. But the seed, at least of desire, for such project was planted. Which is somewhat counterintuitive when you consider that back then I wouldn't have called myself a fan of David Cronenberg. I would have liked The Dead Zone, and would remember how the ending of The Fly had left me weeping, but other than that I'd found Cronenberg off-putting, weird to no end I could see, plus some other stupid things I can no longer remember. Yet I thought about him a lot, and was curious enough to be excited to read a long essay about him by a writer I admired. It would still take a long time for me to get to where I am now. In case you don't know where that is, my last post should give you some idea.
Undoubtedly, a near-endless number of long essays and career-overviews about David Cronenberg have been written since Ellison bailed on his, but I haven't read them. There's no use trying to figure out why, mostly because it would just reveal me to be some kind of sourpuss or something, but I can say that it has something to do with not much liking the way most people write about David Cronenberg. That doesn't mean there's not something terrific out there, but if there is I don't know about it. And I haven't spent any time at all looking, which sounds smug and dismissive, but in truth it's just, well, the truth. I might rescue myself from charges of smug dismissiveness by pointing out that I have wanted to write a career overview of David Cronenberg for a very long time, certainly longer than the five months Ellison spent teasing his own, and the specific seed for that, at least the idea to do a career overview of somebody, was planted in 2006, when Dennis Cozzalio began his Robert Altman project. I really enjoyed that series, and it was exactly the kind of thing I wanted film bloggers, among whose number I could not then count myself, to be writing. Then later I started this blog, and would sporadically remember that I was free to write this sort of thing myself. And so, a mere five years later, here we are.
This announcement -- which is what this is, I'm going to write a career-overview series on the films of David Cronenberg, by the way -- functions primarily as insurance that I will follow through. When I hit "publish" in a few minutes, I'll be locked in. I have available to me all the films Ellison had to dig for, and while this announcement has been postponed due to certain research materials not arriving when they should have, everything is now squared away. Which, yes, I'll be using research material. Sort of. I'm going to be pulling information and quotes from two reference sources: Cronenberg on Cronenberg, edited by Chris Rodley and originally published by Faber & Faber in 1992, and then in a revised and updated form in 1997 (I'll be using the 1997 edition); and David Cronenberg: Interviews with Serge Grünberg, published by Plexus in 2006. I chose these books, and these books only, because I want only Cronenberg to influence my thinking about his strange films, if anyone's going to. It's also my plan to read the three novels Cronenberg has adapted into films that I haven't already read, the possibility of squeezing that kind of thing into the course of the series being increased by the fact that I'll be writing and posting these pieces whenever I damn well please. Not that I expect this to take all that long, but I'm not going to rush it, either. Each piece will take things as I think they should best be taken, which will mean some films will be written about in pairs -- certain phases of Cronenberg's career allow for this quite smoothly -- while others will stand alone. There won't be any unifying structure here, unless there is. I don't know. Planning is not my strong suit.
But if I don't post this now, I could very well find an excuse not to post it tomorrow, and the day after that, and so on. So here it goes. The first post could go up as soon as next week. I might have another post, which will have nothing to do with David Cronenberg, go up before that, which is the other thing about this -- this series will be on-going, but I won't be neglecting anything else I might want to write about until it's done. I'll write about Cronenberg when I want to write about Cronenberg, and I'll write about whatever else when I want to write about whatever else. Not that you care, but I just want to be clear about how this is going to work.
So that's how it's going to work. Stay tuned. Ha ha ha to Videodrome or whatever!