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From the Drain

Entry updated 8 April 2019. Tagged: Film.

Film (1967). Produced by David Cronenberg and Stefan Nosko. Directed and written by Cronenberg. Cast comprises Stefan Nosko and Mort Ritts. 14 minutes. Colour.

Two men are in a bathtub. The first (Ritts, who starred in David Cronenberg's first student film, Transfer [1966]) is sat at the plughole-end of the bath and proceeds to ask a series of insinuating and increasingly malevolent questions of the other (Nosko), who displays Paranoia about the possibility of "tendrils" emerging from the plughole. "This is the disabled war veterans' recreation centre, isn't it?" asks the first man. And: "Tendrils? Oh God, you must really have had a hard time of it." The first man – he claims to be "programme director" of the recreation centre – feigns being attacked by tendrils, laughing derisively at the very idea as he does so and insisting that such dangers only ever emerge from the human mind. He eventually persuades the frightened man to swap places with him and, sure enough, a vine-like tendril emerges in stop-go motion from the drain to strangle the man with the pathological fear of tendrils. The programme director watches his victim die and then pulls out a notebook to enter his findings: a blue-black fluid oozes from the mouth of the dead man. The programme director then casts the dead man's shoes into a cupboard already containing many other pairs of shoes.

Made for a budget of around C$500 while Cronenberg was still at the University of Toronto, From the Drain is not much more technically accomplished than Transfer, but clearly demonstrates the influence of the French New Wave of Cinema and shows some early consciousness on Cronenberg's part of the tension between personal Identity and the impersonal Metaphysics created by the conjunction of Psychology and Technology. Torontonian plumbing may not convey quite the same societal menace as, say, Communications, but there is in From the Drain some indication of how a Superman or dominant figure might redirect the fears and misapprehensions of the human mind to physical cause and effect, and perhaps too of how a Scientist might use Telepathy or some other Superpower to orchestrate a Conceptual Breakthrough. The "programme director" in From the Drain is conducting a Godgame or Thought Experiment in much the manner of a New-Wave Villain of science fiction. "Everybody's a Mad Scientist, and life is their lab," Cronenberg said in Cronenberg on Cronenberg (1997). "We're all trying to experiment to find a way to live, to solve problems, to fend off madness and chaos." These themes received more comprehensive treatment in Cronenberg's next film, the feature-length Stereo (Tile 3B of a CAEE Educational Mosaic) (1969). [MD]


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