David Cronenberg is unwell.
“I’m in the middle of a cold,” says the director over the phone. “So if I start hacking and coughing, you’ll understand why.”
While EW is sad to hear that the man who brought us Scanners, Videodrome, and The Fly is under the weather, the fact that Cronenberg is ill seems fitting, given the matter under discussion. Beginning Sept. 29, the Los Angeles-based genre festival Beyond Fest is hosting a career-spanning, 13-film retrospective of the director’s work, much of which deals with horrifying types of sickness — physical and otherwise. The Canadian auteur will be present at several of the screenings in the lineup, which is collectively titled Cronenberg with Cronenberg: A Retrospective of the New Flesh.
“Beyond Fest got in touch with me and said that they wanted to do a retrospective thing, and the timing was right,” explains Cronenberg, who, despite the nightmare fuel-filled nature of his filmography, could not sound more polite or friendly. “I get invited to a lot of things, I’m happy to say, and it always depends on what’s going on in my life at the time, whether I can do it or not. I haven’t been back in L.A. for about four years, and I have a lot of friends there, and I thought, ‘Well, this will be a good fit. I’ll go back to L.A. and we’ll have some fun!’”
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: I certainly don’t want to get off on the wrong foot here, and I’m a huge fan of your work, but the retrospective kicks off with The Shaping of Rage, an all-day marathon of Shivers, Rabid, The Brood, and Scanners. I know a lot of folks in the horror community who are delirious with excitement about this event, but is it possible that’s one early David Cronenberg horror movie too many?
DAVID CRONENBERG: How can I possibly know that? Honestly, I haven’t really done a genre-focused event for many, many, many years. That’s one of the reasons I thought this might be fun, is to just kind of embrace the roots, you know, and just go back and jump into that genre pool with my fans. So the ones who are there for those movies will be very happy to see four movies, I think! [Laughs]
Beyond Fest is screening a double bill of Videodrome and eXistenZ and you will be speaking with those films’ respective stars, Debbie Harry and Jennifer Jason Leigh. What do you remember about working with Debbie Harry on Videodrome?
What do I remember? I remember absolutely everything! What do you want to know?
How did you come to cast her?
I was looking for somebody who had a special, unique screen presence, and I was pretty interested in the idea of using someone who was well known — and that would help us with our financing — but someone who was well known not just as an actress but as a performer. So the combination was pretty exciting, especially given the subject matter of the movie, which is a lot about performance. I can’t remember who suggested her, or whether I came up with her as an idea myself. I certainly knew the music of Blondie and so on. And so I guess I lied when I said I remember everything. That was a long time ago. [Laughs]
No problem, I can’t remember what I had for breakfast.
I think you had bacon and eggs, actually!
Beyond Fest is also screening The Fly and Naked Lunch together. Obviously, they could be described as your two “insect movies.” Do you think they have things in common beyond that?
Oh, definitely. I think the programmers have been very clever in programming movies that have a kind of cross-talk between them. I think, once again, for the fans of the genre, that would be a lovely pairing, yeah. They’re a great double bill. Of course, it’s not just the insect stuff, it’s the body stuff and everything else. Those two movies really will talk to each other, I think, quite well.
Over the past couple of decades, you’ve moved away from the horror genre with films like A History of Violence, Cosmopolis, and Maps to the Stars. Do you see yourself ever returning to “straight” horror?
Probably not. I’ve never really resisted that. I’ve been offered many projects and so on, and they just seemed to be a repetition basically of what I’d done already, so that’s not interesting. I think the reason that I started to evolve away from straight horror was just because, instead of being liberating, which it was in the beginning, and it’s a genre that really is capable of delivering a lot more than just scares if it’s done by really talented people, but I think I found that it was becoming restrictive rather than liberating. So I think in all my films there is still the texture of that underneath everything, but I don’t really see myself going back to that. But you never know, you never know.
Graham Skipper’s recent horror film Sequence Break was described by many, including myself, as “Cronenbergian.” Are you aware of the influence your films on directors?
Oh, sure, I’m happy to say, and in fact [that has been] confirmed by the filmmakers themselves. I mean, Guillermo del Toro gave me the Golden Lion for lifetime achievement in Venice, and Guillermo has told me for years that I had been a huge influence on his work. And I think, even in The Shape of Water, you have a woman and a monster. and you have that in The Fly as well. So yeah, I think my films have been very influential, and it’s quite pleasing for me to know that.
If a person could only see one film screening at Beyond Fest, which would you recommend they watch?
Oh, I couldn’t do that, because it’s a very personal thing, what kind of thing you would respond to. So you can imagine people who might be interested in seeing Dead Ringers are different from people who really want to see Shivers, you know, or Rabid. If I was talking to a person I knew, I could recommend one film, because I know them. But in general, I can’t do that.
More information about the Cronenberg retrospective can be found at the Beyond Fest website.