The James Clayton Column: A Cronenberg Christmas carol?
Is Scanners the ultimate post-Christmas dinner flick? James ponders the benefits of a Cronenbergian festive season...
We’re arriving in December, which means you are now being possessed by Christmas. It’s a little like The Exorcist, really, but with more tinsel, baubles and fairy lights. Deck the halls with Captain Howdy, fa la la la la, la la la la!
Anyway, to momentarily move away from the true wretched horror of Winterval (we’ll be returning to it later) I’d like to focus on the best thing about Christmas: gift giving. You’ve probably already started shopping and are entangled in the process of planning, picking up presents and then wrapping them ready to give to friends, family and people who are neither but that you are obliged to make offerings to.
(This is where re-enacting The Exorcist in a reindeer jumper is a great idea, and will highlight who your true friends are. You’ll also save money because people tend not to expect or want presents from violent, vomiting, crucifix-defiling victims of Satanic possession.)
It can be a major ordeal that batters both wallet and brain. There’s potential for the whole operation to become a horrifyingly expensive black hole of doubt as you struggle to work out what to get your nearest and dearest. If worst comes to worst you end up floundering under waves of nausea, resenting everyone you know and raging against an oppressive atmosphere composed of commercial pressure and jinglepop. Next thing you know you’re pulling ugly Regan faces again and spitting “f*ck you!” at a singing plastic Santa statue outside a shopping centre grotto.
On top of that (or instead of that if you’re really selfish) you might find yourself completely lost when others ask what you want for Christmas. Is world peace possible? Can you fix my broken heart? Can you exorcise these demons that are swallowing my soul? Can you resurrect Bruce Lee?
If idealised dream wish fulfilment is impossible - and Christmas is the time of miracles so it shouldn’t be - then gift request lists have to be made up of things that can be bought with money. Sadly I don’t know anyone that can afford an android butler modelled on Michael Fassbender, an Iron Man suit (Mk. VII armour, please) or a fully functioning Death Star (to scale, small moon size). I’m not going to get what I really, really want so I’m resigned to a few nice stocking fillers and more mundane titbits that aren’t actually necessary.
I’m looking at an empty page with the title “James’ Xmas Wish List” and am drawing a blank (except for those moments when I hallucinate the face of Captain Howdy). I’m struggling to work out what I want for Christmas and probably don’t deserve or need anything. (I’ve been a bad boy this year, but Pazuzu is partly responsible).
Instead, I’d like all the goodwill intended for me to be directed elsewhere. In the past I’ve urged others to give to my preferred charities - Ewok Solidarity and International Paediatric Exorcist Aid - but this year I’m moved to promote a moviemaker who is more than worthy of your time and enthused energy. That man is David Cronenberg.
It may seem odd to associate the ‘Master of Venereal Horror’ with Christmas, but Cronenberg strikes me the perfect film persona to pull out as you start putting up yuletide decorations. I survey the unhinged, excessive party season and catch sharp flashes of repressed subconscious terrors and body horror. These are the Canadian director’s specialities and the themes and ambience of his oeuvre sometimes surface and strike in the deep, bleak midwinter.
Picture a Boxing Day living room packed with atrophying humanoids hypnotised by Morecambe and Wise reruns while kids on a sugar kick climb the walls, and you may come to see that it’s like a mild winter mix of Videodrome and The Fly. Furthermore, films like The Brood and Spider adequately echo psychological traumas, upsetting nostalgia and familial emotions that shadow the Christmas season.
It’s also true that Cronenberg murdered a shopping mall Saint Nick when martial law came down hard on plague-ravaged Montreal in Rabid. Altogether, I’m not convinced that It’s A Wonderful Life cuts it anymore and, thus, nominate Scanners as this year’s post-Christmas dinner flick.
Regardless of Cronenberg’s yuletime credentials, I figure it’s important that people keep the auteur at the forefront of their consciousness. He deserves more respect and appreciation than Father Christmas, the Queen, Tiny Tim and the pre-teen drama queen playing the Virgin Mary in your nearest school’s nativity performance. (I hope that she doesn’t actually give birth to a psychoplasmic Baby Jesus after all that therapy with Oliver Reed.)
Santa is a spurious fiction concocted by the Coca Cola Company but Cronenberg is a living legend who’s gifted the world with a multitude of seminal motion pictures that still resonate, captivate and shock in the present day.
His continuing relevance though mainly comes from the fact that he carries on operating at the top of his game, consistently crafting compelling works that cross genre. His more recent activities - producing crime thrillers A History Of Violence and Eastern Promises and historical biopic A Dangerous Method - have surprised those who previously only linked him to ultraviolence, extreme gore and other queasiness-inducing unpleasantries.
Cronenberg’s prescient ability to read the pulse of the times and incisively capture contemporary underlying anxieties on film are plain to see in Cosmopolis which I personally rate as one of the year’s most important films.
His movies are critically acclaimed and for the most part mostly commercially successful. They are essential viewing and audiences need them but, in spite of all that, the process of getting new projects going is fraught with obstacles and problems. Like Terry Gilliam and Guillermo del Toro, to name two others, he’s a visionary auteur constantly held back by the industry aspects of filmmaking.
It’s great news that Maps To The Stars - an acerbic look at fame in Hollywood and not Cronenberg’s version of Prometheus - is moving forward into production, but it’s frustrating to know that the director’s sat on projects that are unlikely to get a green light. He has scripts for a sequel to Eastern Promises and a follow-up to The Fly, but can’t secure funding or circumnavigate the sticking points of studio politics.
It’d be so sweet to see Cronenberg return to the rich worlds, imagery and thematic concerns of those films. It’s hard to understand why the powers-that-be would hesitate to support and invest in these pitches, especially when screenplay, director and audience are already in place and on board.
The world needs Cronenberg’s own Return of the Fly and the extension of the Eastern Promises narrative more than reboots of The Evil Dead and Carrie. It is thus my Christmas wish that these things be allowed to come to pass. In the absence of some kind of Kickstarter campaign or crowdsourcing initiative - which are always a possibility - I’d like to request that influential, affluent people give generously to the Canadian director this Christmas and in doing so enable him to make these dream projects a reality.
It’d be a fitting miracle for an exceptional moviemaker who definitely deserves it. Really, all I want for Christmas is more David Cronenberg, and I reckon you should desire the same. Long live the new festive flesh!
James Clayton is going to enjoy Christmas more once he’s unleashed psychoplasmic rage monsters on a shopping centre grotto and transformed himself into a mutant insect. You can see all his links here or follow him on Twitter.
You can read James’ last column here.