More David Cronenberg Bios & Profiles
Biography #2 (for eXistenZ)David Cronenberg was inspired to write eXistenZ in 1995 by an interview with author Salman Rushdie which triggered the idea of an artist who suddenly finds him/herself on a hit list and forced to flee into hiding. He decided to make the hero a game designer, thinking that game design could possibly ascend to the level of art.
Most recently, he adapted Crash from J.G. Ballard's cataclysmic novel, Crash, starring Holly Hunter, James Spader, Elias Koteas, Deborah Unger and Rosanna Arquette. A film about technology and eroticism, Crash created international controversy, went on to win the Jury Prize in the Cannes Film Festival, 1996 for audacity and innovation and collected five Canadian Genies for Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Cinematography, Best Editing and Best Sound Editing. In addition, it won the Golden Reel Award for the Canadian film with the highest Canadian box-office gross.
Cronenberg's reputation as an authentic auteur has been firmly established by his uniquely personal body of work including the films for which he wrote the screenplays: Shivers, Rabid, Fast Company, The Brood, Scanners, Videodrome, The Fly, Dead Ringers and Naked Lunch. In addition, he directed The Dead Zone and M. Butterfly. His films have won him awards and recognition around the world.
Born on March 15, 1943 in Toronto to a journalist father and pianist mother, early on, Cronenberg submitted fantasy and science fiction stories to magazines. Although none were accepted, he received encouraging letters from editors urging him to keep writing.
He entered the University of Toronto Science faculty, but after a year switched to English Language and Literature, graduating in 1967. While at university, he became interested in film and produced two shorts in 16 mm, Transfer and From the Drain. His first films in 35 mm were Stereo and Crimes of the Future, both shot in the late 60s. In these works, Cronenberg established some of the themes and preoccupations that would characterize much of his later work.
In 1975, Cronenberg shot his first commercial feature Shivers (aka They Came From Within or Parasite Murders), which became one of the fastest recouping movies in the history of Canadian film. His next feature, Rabid, starring Marilyn Chambers, went on to make $7 million on a production investment of little more than $500,000, providing Cronenberg with an impressive track record after just two pictures by 1977. He then directed the drag-racing film Fast Company, inspired in part by his own passion for cars and racing. He moved on to direct The Brood in 1979, starring Oliver Reed and Samantha Eggar. The film was psychologically intense rather than action-oriented, with well delineated characterizations and remarkable imagery that caught the attention of many critics. The film was an artistic breakthrough for Cronenberg and led him to larger-budgeted and more ambitious films.
Scanners, which centered on the telepathic powers of an underground element of society, was aimed at a wider audience than his earlier horror/fantasy films and became his biggest hit yet, prompting Newsweek to comment, "a 37-year-old Canadian climaxing his five-year rise to the top of the horror heap." The week it opened, Variety listed Scanners as the number one box-office film in North America.
Cronenberg's next film, Videodrome, starring James Woods and rock star Deborah Harry, released in early 1983. was hailed by Andy Warhol as the Clockwork Orange of the 80s. In 1993, Videodrome moved out of the cult realm into the mainstream cyberpunk market. The film delves into the clandestine operations of a highly secret underground organization that uses television as the ultimate weapon. Blurring the boundaries of reality and consciousness, the film is a high-tech, nightmarish satire involving violence, sexuality and biological horror, all by now familiar Cronenberg themes.
The Dead Zone followed in 1984, based on the best-selling novel by Stephen King. Financed by Dino de Laurentis, released by Paramount and starring Christopher Walken, Brook Adams and Martin Sheen, the film is an allegorical good vs. evil story revolving around the fate of a man cursed with the power to see into the future of those he touches. The most mainstream of Cronenberg's films, The Dead Zone, still retains the directors identifiable style and design and went on to earn three out of the five Avoriaz Film Festival prizes of that year as well as seven Edgar Allen Poe award nominations in the U.S.
Mel Brooks then approached Cronenberg to direct The Fly for Twentieth Century Fox, starring Geena Davis and Jeff Goldblum. The Fly was a huge popular and critical success for Cronenberg, earning many accolades, including an Oscar and a shared jury Prize at the Avoriaz Festival. A remake of the 1958 horror classic, Cronenberg's The Fly was a reconceptualization of the original, detailing the story of a scientist whose genes and molecules become fused with those of a common housefly during an experiment in matter transmission. The film was successful as both a horror/fantasy film and as a compelling love story. It also marked Cronenberg's second cameo appearance as an actor (the first was in John Landis' Into the Night). In The Fly he played a gynecologist who appears in a central horrifying fantasy sequence featuring Geena Davis.
Gynecology surfaced again in Dead Ringers, starring Jeremy Irons and Genevieve Bujold, a psychological thriller about inseparable twin brothers who work as gynecologists and love the same woman, with tragic results. The film was a departure for Cronenberg.
"Dead Ringers is not science fiction and the fantasy element, which is in most of my films, is not there. The film is much more naturalistic," stated the director. Nonetheless, Dead Ringers continued Cronenberg's long fascination with the darker side of human psychology and behavior.
In 1989, Cronenberg returned to acting as the lead in Clive Barker's Nightbreed . In the horror/fantasy, Cronenberg played a psychiatrist who convinces a man that he is responsible for a series of brutal slayings, while at the same time hiding the dark side of his own personality. During this period, Cronenberg began writing the screenplay for his version of William S. Burroughs' Naked Lunch.
For artistic and practical reasons, Naked Lunch was not a literal translation, but a fusion of Cronenberg's own work with that of Burroughs'. Drawing on Burroughs' counterculture novel and other Burroughsian sources for the script, Naked Lunch is about the act of writing something dangerous and complex and how it affects the person writing it. Shot in Toronto in 1991, the film starred Peter Weller, Judy Davis, Ian Holm, Julian Sands, Monique Mercure, Nicholas Campbell, Michael Zelniker and Roy Scheider.
In 1992, Cronenberg directed M. Butterfly, starring Jeremy Irons and John Lone, adapted from the Tony-Award winning Broadway hit based on the true story of a French diplomat, who, for 20 years, was so obsessed with a Chinese diva from the Beijing Opera, he could not discern that the object of his love was really a man. But when they were arrested for espionage, he was forced to face reality. M. Butterfly took Cronenberg abroad for the first time to film in China, Hungary, France as well as Canada.
The same year, Naked Lunch won eight Genie Awards including Best Motion Picture, Best Director and Best Screenplay. In addition, The National Society of Film Critics voted Cronenberg Best Director and his script, Best Screenplay. The New York Film Critics Circle awarded him Best Screenplay and Naked Lunch earned a third Best Screenplay award from The Boston Society of Film Critics.
New York's Museum of the Moving Image held a retrospective of Cronenberg's films to coincide with the release of Naked Lunch in early 1992. The Toronto International Film Festival was the first to honor Cronenberg with a retrospective in 1983. Simultaneously, the Academy of Canadian Cinema published The Shape of Rage - the Films of David Cronenberg a comprehensive anthology of critical essays about his work. The book was updated in 1990 by the Quebec Cinematheque for distribution in Europe. Other retrospectives of his work have been held at the Fantastic Film Festival in St. Malo, France; at Rome's Fourth International Exhibition of Fantasy and Science Fiction; the Edinburgh Festival, France's Metz Film Festival; the Cinematheque Franaise and the Fantasporto Film Festival in Portugal.
The most comprehensive retrospective of Cronenberg's work was mounted in Japan in March 1993. Sponsored by Tokyo's Seibu department store, the governments of Ontario and Canada and Toronto's Cinematheque of Ontario/International Film Festival, the two week event included screenings of all Cronenberg's motion pictures, television films and commercials. Accompanying the films was an exhibition of 300 artifacts, props, stills and posters and special effects puppets including 16 mugwumps and the sex blob from Naked Lunch.
His films have garnered international awards including the Grand Prix at the International Festival of Horror and Fantasy Films in Spain two years running for Best Picture and Best Director. The Fly won an Oscar for Best Special Effects / Makeup. Dead Ringers won accolades from the L.A. Film Critics for Best Director and Cronenberg was invested with Chevalier of the Order of Arts and Letters, bestowed by France in 1990 and upgraded in 1997 to Officer of the Order of Arts and Letters.
On television, Cronenberg directed two docu-dramas for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation's series Scales of Justice, which recreates true criminal cases. He also directed a controversial commercial for NIKE.
During the past several years, Cronenberg has acted in a number of films. "When I'm being a writer, I start to feel disconnected from the set, as if it's just a sort of weird fantasy that I'm actually a director. Acting is an easy way to reconnect with being on a film set." He had a cameo role as a Mafia hitman in Gus Van Sant's To Die For, played a moonshiner in Moonshine Highway for Andy Armstrong, appeared in Trial by Jury with Armand De Sante and in John Landis' The Stupids. He appeared in the Canadian films Henry and Verlin, Blood and Donuts and most recently, Don McKellar's Last Night after playing the lead in his short film Blue.
Publications on Cronenberg include the 1991 edition of Cronenberg on Cronenberg published by Faber and Faber of London, England and edited by Chris Rodley. The second edition was updated and published in 1993 upon the release of M. Butterfly. Rodley, a documentary filmmaker of distinction, has made two films on Cronenberg, Long Live the New Flesh following the completion of Videodrome and Naked Making Lunch on the making of the film Naked Lunch.
In May, 1998, New York's Thread Waxing Space Gallery hosted a two-month exhibition entitled Spectacular Optical featuring a group of visual artists who share thematic affinities and were influenced by various phases of the artistic production of David Cronenberg' s films. The exhibit included film elements, props and drawings from Cronenberg's work.
Cronenberg lives in Toronto with his wife and teenage son and daughter.
for "eXistenZ" updated 20-Aug-2002
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