David Cronenberg has directed more than 20 feature films in a wide variety of genres, but he remains best known for provocative ’80s sci-fi films like The Fly and Videodrome. Humor writer Tom Gerencer is a lifelong fan of Cronenberg’s artistic vision.
“He is an absolute genius, and he has merged that with an absolute mastery of craft,” Gerencer says in Episode 533 of the Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy podcast. “Often you see one or the other. You see someone who’s very workmanlike and can produce a good movie, or you see someone who is a genius and is just all over the place, and there are good ones and bad ones. But he is both, and that’s rare.”
Science fiction author Matthew Kressel loves the way that Cronenberg films like Videodrome and Existenz blur the line between biology and technology. “Even though he’s talking about technology, often the technology is not what we think of as technology,” Kressel says. “We don’t see computers and flashing lights. Oftentimes it’s biological, or just sort of in the background, which I thought was very interesting. You don’t really see that take in a lot of film and TV and media.”
Cronenberg has worked with many of Hollywood’s top actors, including Michael Ironside, Jeff Goldblum, and Viggo Mortensen. TV writer Andrea Kail particularly enjoyed James Woods as sleazy TV producer Max Renn in Videodrome. “A lot of Cronenberg’s genius is in his casting,” she says. “He casts the perfect people for his roles. James Woods is perfect for that role. He looks sleazy, he acts sleazy. He’s the perfect person for that, that fast-talking, sleazy grifter who allows the story to get the better of him.”
Cronenberg’s most recent project is Crimes of the Future, a jaw-dropping exploration of sadomasochism and body modification. Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy host David Barr Kirtley wasn’t a fan of the film, but he still admires Cronenberg for taking risks. “There are so few science fiction movies that come out now that aren’t franchises and that aren’t tentpole blockbusters and that make serious points and have artistic vision and are original, and this movie is definitely all of those things,” he says. “I wasn’t crazy about it, but you have to respect someone who has an artistic vision and doesn’t just want to put out formulaic films.”
Listen to the complete interview with Tom Gerencer, Matthew Kressel, and Andrea Kail in Episode 553 of Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy (above). And check out some highlights from the discussion below.
Tom Gerencer on Scanners:
It’s absolutely a classic. I was in sixth grade when this came out. Everybody in my junior high was talking about it, everybody was quoting it. Everybody was saying, “I’m going to suck your brain dry.” I had not seen that until later. My friend Greg showed me that scene and I was like, “Holy crap, that is horrifying.” And the scene where the guy’s head explodes, everybody talked about that for years—for years and years and years. And still, to this day, if I think of the word “scanners,” even if I’m thinking of something that has nothing to do with the movie, I will picture that guy’s head blowing up.
Matthew Kressel on The Fly:
The transition of Seth Brundle—Jeff Goldblum’s character—from this nerdy, confident-but-kind-of-shy guy who is clearly attracted to this woman to this insane, murderous fly creature, it was so gradual and perfect. … I had forgotten a lot of the body horror, like where he vomits on the guy’s hand and it dissolves or the arm wrestling in the bar, where he breaks the guy’s arm and the bone pops out. I was like, “Oh right, I forgot about that!” The body horror was, of course, grotesque, but somehow it managed to do it in a way that didn’t feel superfluous or gratuitous. It just felt like it worked with the story.
Andrea Kail on Existenz:
My first thought when [Jennifer Jason Leigh] walks in and everybody claps was, “Oh, a roomful of men clapping for a woman game designer. That is science fiction.” But I really enjoyed it. The story itself hung together really well for me, and I liked the world they create and the dynamic between the two characters. This was the first movie in this series where I actually gagged. The scene where he eats the food in the Chinese restaurant was horrific. And then the NPCs and how they move, when they’re waiting for the dialog. I just really enjoyed this one. I kind of put everything down and really watched it.
David Barr Kirtley on Crimes of the Future:
The idea of people adapting themselves to eat toxic waste is a cool idea. I don’t know if David Cronenberg ever read Paolo Bacigalupi, but it sort of reminds me of Paolo Bacigalupi’s story “The People of Sand and Slag,” which is one of my favorite science fiction short stories. So I think that’s a cool idea, and there were some striking images in here. There’s a scene where Viggo Mortensen and Léa Seydoux are embracing nude while this autodoc kind of machine is cutting at them. I thought that was a cool image. And then there’s this artist who sews his eyes and mouth shut and covers his body in ears and does an interpretive dance, and I thought that was a cool image. So there were things like that in the movie that I liked.