WHO is he?
Canadian auteur working since the 70s, who launched himself through deceptively simple B-horror movies, whose films deal with very contemporary ideas reminiscent of the writings of philosophers such as Jean Baudrillard and Paul Virilio. Cronenberg is one of the leading figures in what is known as Venereal Horror or Body Horror — a sub genre whose visceral payoffs are predicated on the malleability and destructibility of human and animal flesh.
WHAT are his films about?
Cronenberg’s early features are all typical examples of body horror and deal with the ideas of transmutation of the human body through either pandemic outbreaks or failed scientific experiments. In later films, this theme segues into notions of loss of physical reality and the progressive humanisation of machines and mechanisation of Man. His concerns seem to have diverged in the last decade and his recent films deal with a potpourri of themes such as the limits of human reason, the cyclicity and banality of violence and the arbitrariness of economic capital.
Cronenberg works with a closely-knit set of collaborators, including his sister and costume designer Denise Cronenberg, composer Howard Shore, cinematographer Peter Suschitzky and editor Ronald Sanders. He prefers separating actors to over-the-shoulder shot taking in conversation scenes. His films are notable for their use of interior spaces, synth soundscapes and highly stylised, often postmodern décor. These films are very graphic, and shots of ripped innards or severed organs are commonplace.
WHY is he of interest?
One of the most important filmmakers to work within genres generally considered disreputable and crass, Cronenberg is a key bridging element between mainstream industrial cinema and auteurist cinema. Like Roman Polanski and Stanley Kubrick, Cronenberg manages to couch personal ideas and serious questions in populist idioms and demonstrates that any sort of material is suitable for authorial appropriation and artistic transformation.
WHERE to discover him?
The quintessential Cronenberg movie, Videodrome (1983) centres on a cable-TV programmer who becomes increasingly obsessed with a grotesque snuff show he chances upon. Slowly, he finds himself transforming into a cassette player himself, repeating acts that are programmed into him. This rattling film taps into the home video boom of the 80s and unsettlingly explores the deadly triumph of the visual over all other senses, a concern that is all the more relevant now.