This Saturday, February 28th, the Cinematheque Quebecoise will be screening three of David Cronenberg’s films: Shivers (1975), Rabid (1977) and Scanners (1981) as part of the programming for Montreal’s Nuit Blanche festival.
Full disclosure, Videodrome and Dead Ringers have burned a hole in the aesthetic sensibility of my heart. I was blown away by last year’s Tiff Lightbox retrospective, Evolution, which featured intimate details of Cronenberg’s work such as early manuscripts for films and the actual pod used in The Fly. I use any chance I can get to quote Deborah Harry’s character, Nicki Brand, in Videodrome: “Got any porno?”
As a Toronto implant via Montreal, Cronenberg’s use of Hogtown in his movies (which has been quite well documented and analyzed) transformed my perception of the nation’s financial capital from a cold and dreary place into a cosmopolitan city that is creative and sexy. If he can do that for the T., then imagine what he could do for the city of sin? Therefore, even though I will not be in attendance, to have a program strictly dedicated to his earlier, Montreal-based films excites me to no end.
Montreal’s tax shelter laws of the 1970s, which enabled the filmmaker to make his earliest films, allowed Cronenberg to experiment with sex and sleaziness, which he later streamlined into his other films. These flicks, which focus on the catastrophic horrors of the body (as opposed to his later work which centered around the mind), demonstrate Montreal’s tawdry provocativeness (Marilyn Chambers, the leading lady of Shivers, was a porn actress at the time the film was made). It should be noted that Shivers was the first film that managed to make enough of a profit that it was able to pay Telefilm back.
In the late seventies and early eighties, when these films were made, the FLQ had already made its mark against Anglophones in Quebec, who were escaping to Ontario in hopes of a brighter future. Quebec, consequently, was quickly losing its status as the nation’s most economically important city. As a result, watching Shivers, a film about zombies searching for love in a condo on Nun’s Island, feels simultaneously quaint and prophetic.
As Cronenberg achieved more success as a filmmaker, he began to shoot movies in his native Toronto. Toronto, for Cronenberg, is a cross between the US and Europe, something that is simultaneously familiar and alien, perfect for the sci-fi genre. The backdrops of his films present sprawling isolation and an uber-British chilliness, traits that are particularly Torontonian. Leitmotifs of individuality, loneliness, atheism and a propensity for scientific thought are pronounced in Canada’s most important city (consider the abandoned loft space where Jeff Goldblum morphs into The Fly).
By remaining in Canada, Cronenberg continues to be an outsider filmmaker who is loved by the mainstream. By maneuvering the nation’s inchoate film industry of the 1970s, with its commitment to public funding for culture and art, he has been able to maintain a sense of creative autonomy. Rather than let Hollywood shape his film efforts, he instead readjusted Canada to fit his vision.
By all accounts, Saturday night is going to be awesome. If you happen to be in the area, make sure you go to the screening. You might find yourself whispering under your breath, “Je me souviens” while both melting and being eaten alive at the same time.