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Cronenberg, David

Entry updated 29 October 2021. Tagged: Film, People.

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(1943-    ) Canadian film-maker, author, actor and director, one of the most important practitioners of sf, in any medium, of the last quarter of the twentieth century. From his early student and underground films – Transfer (1966), From the Drain (1967), Stereo (Tile 3B of a CAEE Educational Mosaic) (1969) and Crimes of the Future (1970), the television short Secret Weapons (1972) – through his gutsy, increasingly surreal exploitation movies – The Parasite Murders (1974; vt They Came From Within; vt Shivers), Rabid (1976), The Brood (1979), Scanners (1980) and Videodrome (1982) – to his more mainstream ventures – The Dead Zone (1983) based on Stephen King's The Dead Zone (1979), The Fly (1986), a remake of the 1958 Monster Movie, Dead Ringers (1989), The Naked Lunch (1991) based on William S Burroughs's The Naked Lunch (1969), Crash (1996), based on J G Ballard's Crash (1973), eXistenZ (1999) and Cosmopolis (2012), based on Cosmopolis (2003) by Don DeLillo – Cronenberg has shown a remarkably consistent visual and intellectual style, dealing with the mind-body divide, near-future social, religious and chemical taboos, the Media Landscape, and the extremes of experience.

Cronenberg has also worked as an actor, in John Landis's Into the Night (1985) and, more notably, Clive Barker's Nightbreed (1990). The odd man out in his own filmography is Fast Company (1977), an efficient but nondescript movie about drag racing. The highly bizarre violence and mutation, often sexual in nature, of mid-period Cronenberg – especially the phallic parasites of The Parasite Murders and the sadomasochist visions of Videodrome – won him a reputation as the most uncompromising genre auteur of his generation, but The Brood, an interior-directed family-trauma drama, revealed a vein of icy sensitivity that later yielded The Fly, an extraordinarily moving rereading of its hackneyed premise which abjures monster-on-the-loose melodrama for a quietly affecting study of the process of physical change, and Dead Ringers, an entirely psychological and non-sf variation on Cronenberg's habitual themes that demonstrates how he has created his own category – the Cronenberg Movie – rather than inhabited the sf or Horror genres in the way that contemporaries like George A Romero and Wes Craven have done. On being hailed as "the King of Venereal Horror", Cronenberg commented: "It's a small field, Venereal Horror, but at least I'm king of it."

Although he is reported to have said around 1993 that he would no longer be working in horror or science fiction, Cronenberg's films have retained a very distinctive Cronenberg tone, hovering between Equipoise and an intense univocal obsessive-seeming focus on extremities of the human condition, as could be said of his film M. Butterfly (1993), an adaptation of Henry David Hwang's successful play about a diplomat who falls in love with an apparently female Chinese opera singer, not realizing she is actually male. Recent films that incorporate sf or supernatural elements, in a manner continuously expressive of his central concerns, include The Nest (2014), a nine-minute short (see Parasitism and Symbiosis), and Maps to the Stars (2014), a family-romance exposé of the savage irreality of Hollywood (see California), an irreality that includes ghosts hard to distinguish from the "real" actors drowned in film (see again Media Landscape).

Cronenberg's first novel, Consumed (2014), contains a riff on The Nest – where a young woman is plausibly convinced that wasps are nesting in her left breast – and edges into sf through a linkage of universal surveillance (which exists today) and a global conspiracy to treat human beings as consumables (which may not). An interesting book of interviews is Cronenberg on Cronenberg (coll 1991) edited by Chris Rodley. [KN/JC]

see also: Cinema; Cyberpunk; Humour; Monsters; Pseudoscience; Sex.

David Paul Cronenberg

born Toronto, Ontario: 15 March 1943


  • Consumed (New York: Scribner, 2014) [hb/nonpictorial]


  • Cronenberg on Cronenberg (London: Boston: Faber and Faber, 1992) [coll: interviews: edited by Chris Rodley: hb/photographic]


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