Fangoria #56, August 1986, p.21-23
David Cronenberg: Lord of the Fly
By Anthony Timpone
The director of the New Flesh tackles a remake and gives Fango the scoop in an extensive interview!
Remember that classic Wood Allen line where a fan goes up to the Woodman and says, "I love your movies, especially the early funny ones"? Well, after experiencing the mild horrors of The Dead Zone, diehard David Cronenberg fans looking for ghastly sex parasites or exploding heads might have been heard saying , "I love your movies, Mr. Cronenberg, especially the early bloody ones."
Well, The Fly returns Cronenberg to his more horrific roots, this time combined with a strong dramatic structure of the kind that mainstream critics first noticed in 1983´s The Dead Zone, Cronenberg´s critically praised Stephen King adaptation written by Jeffrey Boam. Even the co-writer/director says that The Fly´s "characters and dialogue are all mine," he quickly credits Charles Pogue´s initial remake script for coming up with what many will label the "Cronenberg touches."
Cronenberg seems to be the last person you would expect to helm a big-budget remake, especially since he never liked the original version of The Fly to begin with. But, this update appears perfectly tailored to his trademark terrors. Some familiar Cronenberg themes emerge in The Fly - themes like science run amuck, loss of control, the New Flesh and others explored in Shivers, The Brood and Videodrome - stuff that makes you think between the mayhem.
On the Ontario-based set of The Fly, the mild-mannered 43-year-old director sits quietly in his chair while first assistant director John Board barks orders to the crew. Between shots and the long set-ups of Chris Walas´ complicated special makeup FX, Cronenberg graciously ushered Fango around and spoke extensively on his new summer movie which opens this August.
FANGORIA: What first appealed to you about Charles Edward Pogue´s script for The Fly?
David Cronenberg: The reconceptualization of the original´s basic premise attracted me, the idea of this scientist´s gradual transformation. The film really becomes a metamorphosis, a different kind of story altogether, not just a quickie head switch. Though it is certainly true that there have been many transformation films - it has become something of a sub-genre in itself - Pogue´s The Fly was so well done and the details were so interesting and physically right, that it really got me. It´s ironic, but the stuff in The Fly that people will call "most Cronenberg" was already in Pogue´s script before I rewrote it. The stuff that they might not notice as being mine - the characters and the dialogue - are mostly mine. I hope they notice.
Fang: Did you ever expect to make a horror film for Mel Brooks?
Cronenberg: No, but that´s what´s nice about the movie business. These things come out of the blue and suddenly, unexpected connections are made. I never thought of Mel Brooks as an extraordinary producer before he made The Elephant Man, and I could have imagined myself asking Brooks if I could direct it. During our meetings on The Fly, we primarily wanted to make sure that we all felt the same way about the project in general and not hold any mistaken illusions of what we wanted to do.
Fang: After the producers agreed to let you rewrite The Fly, which of the story´s weaknesses did you deal with first?
Cronenberg: I felt that the characters were too faithful to the original in the sense of having a kind of ´50s flavor. For instance, a long-suffering faithful wife was just in the script to hold the scientist´s hand as he deteriorated. I´m being a little hard on the script; it was better than that. Plus, there was an attempt to create a bad guy. The story didn´t need one. What´s fascinating about The Fly is that the lead character Brundle (Jeff Goldblum) is the good guy and the bad guy. It´s really more Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde than Dracula. It´s one man who´s both.
Fang: Would you object if The Fly is labeled as your "monster movie?"
Cronenberg: The Fly is the closest thing I´ve ever come to making a monster movie. It is a monster movie in a certain sense, there is a monster in it so I couldn´t resent that.
Fang: Did your legendary calls for "more blood!" come out during The Fly´s filming?
Cronenberg: Actually, I said "less blood" at one point. I have a new favorite expression on The Fly: I had to keep telling Geena Davis [Goldblum´s co-star] to "beg more!" I like that. "Beg more" is pretty good. But one of Chris Walas´ crew guys operating blood on a sequence asked me if I could say the classic line. So, I did say, "More blood!"
Fang: In some ways, then, The Fly downplays the schlock horror elements of your earlier offerings?
Cronenberg: I´m not saying that there aren´t some very disgusting scenes in The Fly, there are some very strong scenes and it is a horror film with sci-fi elements. But (laughs), there´s also a great deal of acting, dialogue and characterization. The movie´s beginning is very much that, as opposed to blood from beginning to end. It´s nothing like that, though I´ve never been afraid of blood. The Dead Zone was relatively restrained for me because that was the movie´s tone. Each project takes its own tone, and I didn´t have any impulse to impose gore on The Dead Zone because it was really a different story, a psychological thriller rather than a horror film. The Fly is definitely a horror film.
Fang: Were you surprised by some of the films that Hollywood offered you after The Dead Zone won such respectable acclaim?
Cronenberg: I´ve been getting good offers for a long time. There are some people who do get typecast as actors and directors, but I really haven´t had that problem. I was offered Witness, Beverly Hills Cop, After Hours and even Flashdance! I´m happy about that and appreciate it because it means that people who offer scripts to directors - producers, studio executives, etc. - realize that I´m not a genre director. I like to have that confirmation that they just think of me as a great director, period. For those who doubted it, The Dead Zone did confirm my ability to direct actors, though I never doubted it, nor the actors I worked with. In any film I´ve done, there has been good acting somewhere in the movie even if there are lots of special effects and the minor characters aren´t too good. For those who assumed that because I only did horror films, The Dead Zone put that assumption to rest. Even Robert De Niro, who knows Chris Walken very well, says The Dead Zone is the best thing Walken has ever done.
Fang: Was Pogue involved in the rewrites at all and did he visit the set?
Cronenberg: Pogue wasn´t involved in my rewrites and hasn´t visited the set. He´s a friend of the producer [Stuart Cornfeld] and would have been more than welcome. He told Stuart that he liked my script, which was very generous of him. It´s very easy to dislike somebody who has rewritten your script. He didn´t think I destroyed what he had done, just tailored it to my personal tastes.
Fang: Why did you eliminated the DeWitt character from your Fly rewrite? [In Pogue´s script, DeWitt is an untrustworthy businessman who funds the scientist´s experiments and attempts to steal the telepods, but is eaten by the final stage Fly monster.]
Cronenberg: DeWitt was a bad guy, but he really didn´t deserve to be mutilated no matter how many times he curses. He wasn´t a nice guy, but it didn´t justify him being killed by the lead character. I streamlined the script and got rid of him and the other unintriguing office politics.
Fang: As with Shivers, Rabid, The Brood, and Scanners, The Fly, on the surface, seems to be saying that humankind shouldn´t meddle with the unknown and that scientists and doctors can make life fairly miserable for people.
Cronenberg: I have never considered that to be one of my themes. For me, my scientists are always heroes. They are people who are pushing everything to the outer limits. They are exploring, taking chances, and getting hurt and hurting other people, but that´s what human beings do. We do that in our personal lives, we do it socially and culturally. So, I don´t particulary single out the medical profession or the physial sciences for criticism. That´s just something people do. I could just as easily have made these people sculptors, artists, or writers and they would do the same thing. They attempt things that are dangerous. I consider myself amongst them.
Fang: As in Videodrome where Max Renn becomes part of the New Flesh and loses his marbles, Seth Brundle of The Fly loses his humanity and body to the Fly.
Cronenberg: Yes. As the lead character begins to transform physically, he´s also transforming mentally and emotionally into something else. I wanted to explore what happens to the mind when the body changes and vice versa. Can you really change one without changing the other?
Fang: What did you want the Fly itself to look like in its various stages?
Cronenberg: The primary image and one of the things that the producers and I spoke about and wanted to avoid was having Brundle turn into a 185-pound fly. It would be silly if Brundle was just turning into this huge fly, and physiologically impossible, even given the fantasy elements of any sci-fi horror film. It would have been as silly as the head switch in the original, and it wouldn´t even work as well as that since this isn´t the ´50s anymore. I wanted to make sure, as Brundle says, that he was evolving into something that had never existed before, a real fusion between an insect and a man that would embody elements of both. The creature´s evolution was very open, and Chris Walas was very happy about that.
COMING IN PART TWO, NEXT ISSUE: Designing The Fly, directing the Space Bug, plus Cronenberg the philosopher, Cronenberg the director, and Cronenberg the actor!