Interview with David CronenbergI'm not interested in the latest camera development. I'm very anti-techno. I've never shot in CinemaScope. I'm not interested. But Ican't understand a director who doesn't really understand whatdifferent lenses do. I've got to tell my cameraman what lens I want. He can't tell me. If you don't have some technological understandingof why that looks that way, you'll never understand that it can bedifferent.
I could see what was going on with Stanley Kubrick at a certain point:an obsession with technology. I thought, 'Why is there so muchSteadicam in The Shining ?' It didn't surprise me when I heard thatthe guy had been hired to do one day and stayed for nine months! Itwas a new toy. In Barry Lyndon it was the emphasis on being able toshoot candlelit scenes by true candlelight, and modifying stills cameralenses for use on a movie camera. But why? The illusion is fine! It'sthe illusion I want. The reality is totally irrelevant.
Yet, inevitably, when you do special effects it's always an invention. It's always a new experiment, because the context is always different. Even in Dead Ringers I was breaking some new ground in smallways with motion control. Not because I wanted to, but because Ihad to, and wanted to survive the experience.
I had no influence whatsoever. I don't mean that in an arrogant way,but in a very tangible way for me. I didn't feel the hand of someoneon my shoulder, like Hitchcock's on Brian De Palma. There was notone film-maker who was so almost me that I couldn't get to the realme. An important element in my decision to go into film was becauseit did come relatively easily. I'm sure that was one of the reasons Iwrote 'Orgy of the Blood Parasites' (Shivers ). It just sprang up. There was some other momentum there, when I was writing for thescreen, that wasn't there in the novel. That was exhilarating. Interestingly, both Crimes of the Future and Stereo were influencedby Ron Mlodzik, a very elegant gay scholar, an intellectual who wasstudying at Massey College. He played the lead character in both ofthem. When I showed Stereo in Montreal, after a screening a youngman came up to me and started to proposition me. I told him I wasflattered that he should want me to go to bed with him because heliked my movie, but I wasn't gay. He was shocked. He was sure afterseeing Stereo that I was. I attributed that to the translation of RonMlodzik's presence in Stereo and Crimes of the Future. How that translates to the other films I'm not sure. It's still very illuminatingabout my own sensibility though, simply because I chose to use Ronas lead player in those films. How directly that connects with my ownsexuality or not, it certainly connects very directly to my aestheticsense of his space, and his medieval gay sensibility, which I like a lot. His Catholicism was very medieval, and so was his sense of style.
I'm not particularly insecure or paranoid, but I always thought Iwould much more likely be put in jail for my art than for myJewishness. A friend who saw Videodrome said he really liked it andadded, 'You know, someday they're going to lock you up,' andwalked away. That did not help. I suppose underneath I always hada feeling that my existence as a member of standing of the communitywas in grave jeopardy for whatever reason. It's as though society hadsuddenly discovered what I really am, what is really going on inside, and wants to destroy it.
My role in Stereo was as Dr Luther Stringfellow, the absenteescientist who actually set up the experiment, because in a sense, I hadset up an experiment. In Crimes of the Future I am Antoine Rouge,the absentee mentor who has died and who is reincarnated as a little girl.
One of the things you want to do with any kind of art is to find outwhat you're thinking about, what is important to you, what disturbsyou. Some people go to confession or talk to close friends on thephone to do the same thing. And of course, your dreams are important. I've never approached mine in any methodological orpsychoanalytic way, but I recognize that they're interesting- a versionof my own reality. I have to pay attention to that. That's anotherway to let yourself know what you're thinking about. You have to subvert your psyche sometimes to know what's really going on.
I often wonder what it's like to be a cell in a body. Just one cell in skinor in a brain or an eye. What is the experience of that cell? It has anindependent existence, and yet it seems to be part of something thatdoesn't depend on it, and that has an existence quite separate from it. When you think of colonies of ants or bees, they aren't physicallyjoined the way an organism made up of cells is, but it's the samething. They have an independent existence, an independent history. But they are part of a whole that is composed of them. That's whatfascinates me about institutions. An institution is really like anorganism, a multi-celled animal in which the people are the cells. Thevery word 'corporation' means body. An incorporation of peopleinto one body. That's how the romans thought of it. Five peoplewould incorporate and become a sixth body, subject to the same lawsas they would as individuals. I connect this with the concept of ahuman body, in which the cells change regularly. They live and dietheir own lives, and yet the overall flow of the existence of the bodyas an individual seems to be consistent. How does that work? It's very mysterious.
People are fascinated by little sections of the CIA, which might be saidto develop independent of the body of the CIA. It's like a tumor ora liver or a spleen that decides it will have its own independentexistence. It still needs to share the common blood that flows throughall the organs, but the spleen wants to go off and do a few things. It'llcome back. It has to. But it wants to have its own adventures. That's fascinating to me. I don't think of it as a threat. It's only areal threat if all your organs decide to go off in different directions. At a certain point the chaos equals destruction. But at the same timethe potential for adventure and creative difference is exciting.
In Crimes of the Future I talk about a world in which there are nowomen. Men have to absorb the femaleness that is gone from theplanet. It can't just cease to exist because women aren't around. Itstarts to bring out their own femaleness more, because that dualityand balance is necessary. The ultimate version would be that a manshould die and re-emerge as a woman and be completely aware of hisformer life as a man. In a strange way this would be a very physicalfusion of those two halves of himself. That's what Crimes of theFuture i is about. Ivan Reitman once told me it could have been agreat commercial success if I'd done the movie straight.
William Burroughs doesn't just say that men and women are differentspecies, he says they're different species with different wills andpurposes. That's where you arrive at the struggle between the sexes. I think Burroughs really touches a nerve there. The attempt to makemen and women not different- little girls and boys are exactly thesame, it's only social pressure, influence and environmental factorsthat makes them go separate ways- just doesn't work. Anyone whohas kids knows that. There is a femaleness and a maleness. We eachpartake of both in different proportions. But Burroughs is talkingabout something else: will and purpose.
If you think of a female will, a universal will, and a male will andpurpose in life, that's beyond the bisexual question. A man can bebisexual, but he's still a man. The same for a woman. They still havedifferent wills that knock against each other, are perhaps in conflict. If we inhabited different planets, we would see the female planet goentirely one way and the male another. Maybe that's why we're onthe same planet, because either extreme might be worse. I thinkBurrough's comments are illuminating. Maybe they're a bit toocosmic to deal with in daily life, but you hear it reflected in all thehideous clichés of songs: 'you can't live with 'em, and you can't livewithout 'em.'
Burroughs was fascinated when I told him about a species of butterflywhere the male and female are so different it took forty years beforelepidopterists realized. They couldn't find the male of one species andthe female of another. But they were the same species. One was hugeand brightly coloured and the other was tiny and black. They didn'tlook like they belonged together. When Burroughs talks about menand women being different species, it does have some resonance inother forms of life. But there are also hermaphrodite versions of thisbutterfly. They are totally bizarre. One half is huge and bright andthe other half- split right sown the middle of the body- is small anddark. I can't imagine it being able to fly. There's no balancewhatsoever.
I don't think of my films as being radical. They're often received thatway, or are perceived with horror of a different kind by censors andby people who feel they must protect the common will. Because ofthat I look at them and say, 'I suppose if I were in their shoes, and myunderstanding of human endeavor were theirs, then these are radical.' But I don't think somebody in a country that banned one of my filmswould say it was because the film was politically dangerous. I don'tthink 'political' would be the right word in this context. I think it'sbecause of the imagery, not the philosophical suggestions behind theimagery. It's the imagery that strikes them first, and then the generaldisturbing quality of the films.
If it were just a question a mutilating bodies the way that hack-and-slash movies often do, I wouldn't find extreme imagery interesting. People often say to me, 'Why don't you do it the way Hitchcock didand just suggest things?' First of all I say, 'Have you seen Frenzy ?',which has a couple of very nasty scenes. The man did them- hewanted to, no one was forcing him. I think that Hitchcock's reticenceto show stuff had more to do with the temper and censorship of thetimes than it did his own demons. I have to show things because I'mshowing things that people could not imagine. If I had done them off-screen, they would not exist. If you're talking about shootingsomeone, or cutting throats, you could do that off-screen and theaudience would have some idea of what was going on. But if youimagine Max Renn in Videodrome and the slit in his stomach_If I'ddone that off-screen, what would the audience think was going on? It simply wouldn't work. I'm presenting audiences with imagery andwith possibilities that have to be shown. There is no other way to doit. It's not done for shock value. I haven't made a single film that hasn't surprised me in terms of audience response; they have beenmoved, shocked or touched by things that I thought wouldn't nudgethem one inch. For me, it's really a question of conceptual imagery. It's not just 'Let's show someone killing a pig on screen and we'll geta good reaction.' You would. So what?
I don't know where these extreme images come from. It seems verystraightforward and natural and obvious to me as it happens. Oftenthey come from the philosophical imperative of a narrative andtherefore lead me to certain things that are demanded by the film. Idon't impose them. The film or the script itself demands a certainimage, a certain moment in the film, dramatically. And it emerges. It's like the philosophy of Emergent Evolution, which says thatcertain unpredictable peaks emerge from the natural flow of thingsand carry you forward to another stage. I guess each film has its ownversion of Emergent Evolution. It's just like plugging into a wallsocket. You look around for the plug point and, when you find it, theelectricity is there- assuming that the powerhouse is still working. That's as close to describing the process as I can get.
The lead actress, Sue Helen Petrie, had been in a couple of the Cinepixporno films. In fact, she was in almost every Canadian film beingmade then. She was very voluptuous but very pretty, and not a badactress. Funny and very bright. We're on set and we're doing thisscene, and she has to cry. She really has to cry a lot in the moviebecause her husband is weird right from the start. She says, 'David,I've got a confession. I can't cry on screen. I've never been able to doit.' I said, 'You've got to!' She says, 'That's why I wanted to do thisrole- to show that i can cry. But I can't.' I said, 'Oh my God, whatare we going to do now?' So she says, 'I'm going to grate onions andput them in my eyes, and then you're going to slap me across the face,and then I'll go in front of the cameras and do it.' She wasn'tkidding; this was another kind of desperation I was having to deal with.
So I say to the crew, 'OK, you're going to roll and we're not going tobe on set, and then Sue's going to run in. So just keep rolling.' Wego around the corner of the kitchen (we were shooting in a very smallapartment), and she rubs the onions in her eyes. It doesn't look likeshe's crying. She said, 'Hit me,' so I gave her a little tap. 'That's nothard enough, you've really got to hit me.' So I hit her, really hard. then she said, 'OK, now do it ten more times.' So, five on each cheek. My hands were burning. She shrieks. Shriek, whack, whack, shriek. Then she ran out and we shot immediately. Then Barbara Steele arrives, and the first scene she has to do with Sueis when she gives her a parasite kiss. So it's pretty tricky; low-budgetstuff throws you into that because you have no time for niceties. SoBarbara is sitting there, and everybody on the crew is now completelyblasé about our technique for making Sue cry. The make-up ladycomes to me and says, 'She's on the verge of bruising now and I won'tbe able to cover it. You better take that into consideration.' But it'sbusiness as usual. We roll the camera. Barbara's all ready, but idon't say 'Action.' Sue and I go into the kitchen. Barbara'swondering what the fuck's going on. So it's smack, smack, smack;shriek, shriek, shriek. Sue comes out sobbing. Great. Barbara ishorrified; there's a look of total shock and anger on her face. I say,'Action, action. Do it, do it!'
When it's 'Cut', Barbara stands up (she's real big, and she was in highheels) and literally grabs me by the lapels and lifts me up. She says,'You bastard! I've worked with some of the best directors in theworld. I've worked with Fellini. I've never, in my life, seen a directortreat an actress like that. You bastard!' She was going to punch meout. I said, 'No, Barbara, don't hit me. She made me. I hate doingit. I'm afraid to do take two_' 'Really?' she says. 'Yes, really.' Barbara lets me go. 'How hard were you hitting her?' she asks, 'showme.' She holds out her forearm and i hit it hard. 'That hard?' 'Yes,'I say. 'Hmm,' says Barbara. A pause, and then her eyes fix on me. 'Do I have any scenes where I cry?' That was my introduction to theworld of actresses. People who see Shivers and think that I didn'tdeal with acting and actors are completely wrong. Each of my filmshas a little demon in the corner that you don't see, but it's there. The demon in Shivers is that people vicariously enjoy the scenes whereguys kick down doors and do whatever they want to the peopleinside. They love the scenes where people are running, screaming,naked through the halls. But they might just hate themselves forliking them. This is no new process; it's obvious that there is avicarious thrill involved in seeing the forbidden.
French critics really saw Shivers as being an attack on the bourgeoislife, and bourgeois ideas of morality and sexuality. They sensed theglee with which we were tearing them apart. Living on Nuns' Islandwe all wanted to rip that place apart and run, naked, screamingthrough the halls.
The standard way of looking at Shivers is as a tragedy, but there's aparadox in it that also extends to the way society looks at me. Here'sa man who walks around and is sweet: he likes people, he's warm,friendly, articulate and he makes these horrible, diseased, grotesque,disgusting movies. Now, what's real? Those two things are both realfor the person standing outside. For me, those two parts of myselfare inextricably bound together. The reason I'm secure is because I'mcrazy. The reason I'm stable is because I'm nuts. It's palpable to me.
At the beginning of my career I encouraged labels like 'the reigningking of schlock horror.' It was a defense. To say that what you dois in some way artistic leaves you vulnerable. Andy Warhol stood onthat defense himself. He said, 'Oh yeah, my stuff is trash. Noquestion about it.' It's very hard for people to attack you when yousay that. Plus the fact that my acceptance of that crown connectedme with AIP and Roger Corman, which wasn't such a bad thing.
Why should I be beaten over the head by what was written about mein The American Nightmare. What Robin Wood says is 'these aregood film-makers who are on the side of progressiveness, and theseare bad film-makers who are reactionary.' I don't think that is whatart's about, or what criticism is about. I don't think that films haveto be positive or uplifting to be valid experiences. A film can bedepressing and still be exhilarating. The critics I have admired themost are a lot less schematically inclined because i don't base my life'svalue and work's value in any ideology. There is a very strident moral imperative being broadcast from Robin's work that is really sayingthat, despite the fact this piece of film by Larry Cohen is awful, it isadmirable and should be seen because it proposes what I think it rightfor human beings to do in society. Now that is very twisted.
Why do actors love death scenes? Partly because they know thescene's going to get them some attention. But part of it is masteryover death; to be able to die, come back to life, and refine it. 'Let metry that again.' They're trying out what's aesthetically and philosophically pleasing. Same for me. 'Here's Martin Sheencommitting suicide in The Dead Zone. Should he put a gun in hismouth? No. Clichéd. How about under the chin? He's a guy whowould go out with his chin up.' You can't help thinking, when youhear the gun click, 'Would I have the guts to do that?' You'redeciding the moment and style of your death. I thought at the timeit was a defeat when Hemingway shot himself. Since then I've cometo feel it was a very courageous act. He said the only things thatmeant anything to him were fucking, fishing and writing, and hecouldn't do any of them worth a damn any more. He lived by hisword. This sounds very dreary and serious and very involved. Of course, it'snot like that at all. It's much more like play. That's really the way Ithink of film. It's the adult version of tigers' play.
I don't think that the flesh is necessarily treacherous, evil, bad. It iscantankerous, and it is independent. The idea of independence is thekey. It really is like colonialism. The colonies suddenly decide thatthey can and should exist with their own personality and shoulddetach from the control of the mother country. At first the colony isperceived as being treacherous. It's a betrayal. Ultimately, it can beseen as the separation of a partner that could be very valuable as anequal rather than as something you dominate. I think that the fleshin my films is like that. I notice that my characters talk about the fleshundergoing revolution at times. I think to myself: 'That's what it is:the independence of the body, relative to the mind, and the difficultyof the mind accepting what that revolution might entail.'
The most accessible version of the 'New Flesh' in Videodrome wouldbe that you can actually change what it means to be a human beingin a physical way. We've certainly changed in a psychological waysince the beginning of mankind. In fact, we have changed in aphysical way as well. We are physically different from our forefathers,partly because of what we take into our bodies, and partly because ofthings like glasses and surgery. But there is a further step that couldhappen, which would be that you could grow another arm, that youcould actually physically change the way you look- mutate.
Human beings could swap sexual organs, or do without sexual organsper se , for procreation. We're free to develop different kinds oforgans that would give pleasure, and that have nothing to do withsex. The distinction between male and female would diminish, andperhaps we would become less polarized and more integratedcreatures. I'm not talking about transsexual operations. I'm talkingabout the possibility that human beings would be able to physicallymutate at will, even if it took five years to complete that mutation. Sheer force of will would allow you to change your physical self.
To understand physical process on earth requires a revision of thetheory that we're all God's creatures- all that Victorian sentiment. Itshould certainly be extended to encompass disease, virus and bacteria. Why not? A virus is only doing its job. It's trying to live its life. Thefact that it's destroying you by doing so is not its fault. It's abouttrying to understand interrelationships among organisms, even thosewe perceive as disease. To understand it from the disease's point ofview, it's just a matter of life. It has nothing to do with disease. Ithink most diseases would be very shocked to be considered diseasesat all. It's a very negative connotation. For them, it's very positivewhen they take over your body and destroy you. It's a triumph. It'sall part of trying to reverse the normal understanding of what goes onphysically, psychologically and biologically to us. The characters inShivers experience horror because they are still standard,straightforward members of the middle-class high-rise generation. Iidentify with them after they're infected. I identify with the parasites,basically. Of course they're going to react with horror on a consciouslevel. They're bound to resist. They're going to be dragged kicking and screaming into this new experience. But, underneath, there issomething else, and that's what we see at the end of the film. Theylook beautiful at the end. They don't look diseased or awful.
Why not look at the process of ageing and dying, for example, as atransformation? This is what I did in The Fly. It's necessary to betough though. You look at it and it's ugly, it's nasty , it's not pretty. It's very hard to alter our aesthetic sense to accommodate ageing, never mind disease. We say, 'That's a fine-looking old man; sure hesmells a bit, and he's got funny patches on his face.' But we do that. There is an impulse to try and accommodate ageing into ouraesthetic. You might do the same for disease: 'That's a fine, cancer-ridden young man.' It's hard, and you might say 'why bother?' Well, because the man still exists. He has to look at himself.
That's why it seems very natural for me to be sympathetic to disease. It doesn't mean that I want to get any. But that's one of the reasonsI try to deal with that, because I know that it's inevitable that I willget some. We could talk about the tobacco mosaic virus but that wouldn't interest us much, not being tobacco plants ourselves. Naturally we're interested in human diseases. But how does thedisease perceive us? That illuminates what we are.
It was an odd movie. The crew was really freaked out by it; most ofthem people I'd worked with many times. We had some ladies comein and take their clothes off, then we'd chain them to the Videodromewall and beat them- not for real. One of two of them quite loved it. Most of them were extras, and had never had this kind of attention. But the weirdness of it actually excited a couple of them. One keptreappearing on set, very made-up, very dressed, and just floatedaround. It was strange; she was someone who'd been strangled andbeaten in the scene. So it was undeniably freaky being on that set. Itmakes sense that it was; it was supposed to be.
I had to make speeches to the crew every once in a while, because ata certain point we were in disarray. I was indecisive at certainjunctures as we got closer to the end. We would set up in a place toshoot and then I'd take it apart and go somewhere else. I was feelingmy way through a difficult film. Despite the fact that I talk aboutliking to have a script together, it's not because i think that meansyou've solved every problem or understand your film. I wasbeginning to understand more of what was going on in the movie, andthat what i originally thought would work wasn't going to. At onepoint on the Videodrome chamber set, I actually told the crew whatwas going on and what i was thinking, to reassure them things werein hand. They were wondering if i was falling apart, or underpressure because of something they didn't know about. I suppose theimmediate thing crews think of is 'Is this picture going to be cancelledtomorrow? Am I going to be out of work?'
A film like Videodrome , which deals specifically with sadomasochism,violence and torture, is naturally going to have a lot of nervoussystems on edge. There was a woman politician in Canada who hadpickets out on the streets of Ottawa. They finally got the pictureremoved from a theatre there because the owner just didn't want thehassle. That's fine. That's his right. But this woman was a politician,connected with a certain party in Canada, and had many particularaxes to grind.
I've talked about admiring Naked Lunch. One of the barriers to mybeing totally 100 percent with William Burroughs is that Burroughs'sgeneral sexuality is homosexual. It's very obvious in what he writesthat his dark fantasies happen to be sodomizing young boys as they'rehanging. I can actually relate to that to quite an extent. I reallyunderstand what's going on. But if I were to fantasize somethingsimilar, it would be more like the parasite coming up the drain, andit would be attacking a woman, not a man. To say that's sexist ispoliticizing something that is not political. It's sexual, not sexist-that's just my sexual orientation. I have no reason to think that Ihave to give equal time to all sexual fantasies whether they're my ownor not. Let those people make their own movies- leave me alone tomake mine. I feel censored in a strange way. I feel that meanings arebeing twisted and imposed on me. And more than meanings- valuejudgements.
As a creator of characters, I believe I have the freedom to create acharacter who is not meant to represent all characters. I can createa woman as a character who does not represent all women. If I depicta character as a middle-class dumbo, why does this have to mean thatI think all women are middle-class dumbos? There are some womenout there who are. Why can they not be characters in my film? If Ishow Debby Harry as a character who burns her breast with acigarette, does that mean that I'm suggesting that all women want toburn their breasts with cigarettes? That's juvenile. To give guidelinesto the kind of characters you can create, and the kind of acts they cando_that's obscene, a Kafka hell.
It's very difficult to divine what's unconscious and what's conscious,but if you were to find by analyzing my films, for example, that I'mafraid of women, unconsciously that is, I would say, 'OK, so what? What's wrong with that?' If I am an example of the North Americanmale, and my films are showing that I'm afraid of women, then that'ssomething which could perhaps be discussed, perhaps even decried. But where do you really go from there?
I would never censor myself. To censor myself, to censor myfantasies, to censor my unconscious would devalue myself as a film-maker. It's like telling a surrealist not to dream. The way I portraywomen is much more complex than any ideological approach is goingto uncover. The advertisement says that the image of a woman sittingon top of the car in a bathing suit is what a woman should aspire to. This is more insidious. A twelve-year-old girl who sees Videodromemight be very disturbed because she is attracted and repelled by thesexuality- an image of a woman burning herself springs to mind- andby the imagery. But that's different. There's no clear message in thefilm that a twelve-year-old would absorb about how she is to behavewhen she is mature. that's not the purpose of art- to tell us how weshould live.
To me politics does not mean sexual politics. Politics has to do withpower struggles, and parties and revolutions. People use the termsexual revolution in a metaphorical way. It's a semantic thing.
I remember being shocked to see black ladies coming with their two-year-old kids, because it was a free movie and they didn't have ababysitter. One baby screamed all the way through. I realized thatI was in trouble. They saw the movie; it had no music and no temporary track- I didn't know about temporary tracks. So therewere all these audio holes in the movie, which is disturbing to peoplewho don't know how movies are made. Complete disaster. I don'tknow if there was one card that said anything nice. Basically it was'You're fucked.' But everyone was very sweet. It was 'How can wehelp you make this better? Let's figure out what went wrong.' TomMount was very blunt: 'This is terrible and bad.' But he never saidthe picture was lost. And with all these cards on the floor: 'Listen tothis one- "I hated your fucking film."' It was excruciating. In a way,what you're asking for is the judgement of strangers when you makeart of any kind. You're asking them to relate and respond to it. Butthe cards are brutal.
When I had to deal with the Toronto Censor Board over The Broad, the experience was so unexpectedly personal and intimate, it reallyshocked me; pain, anguish, the sense of humiliation, degradation,violation. Now I do have a conditioned reflex! I can only explain thefeeling by analogy. You send your beautiful kid to school and hecomes back with one hand missing. Just a bandaged stump. Youphone the school and they say that they really thought, all thingsconsidered, the child would be more socially acceptable without that hand, which was a rather naughty hand. Everyone was better off withit removed. It was for everyone's good. That's exactly how it felt tome.
Censors tend to do what only psychotics do: they confuse reality withillusion. People worry about the effects on children of two thousandacts of murder on TV every half hour. You have to point out thatthey have seen a representation of murder. They have not seen murder. It's the real stumbling-block.
Charles Manson found a message in a Beatles song that told him whathe must do and why he must kill. Suppressing everything one mightthink of as potentially dangerous, explosive or provocative would notprevent a true psychotic from finding something that will trigger hisown particular psychosis. For those of us who are normal, and whounderstand the difference between reality and fantasy, play, illusion-as most children most readily do- there is enough distance andbalance. It's innate.
Censors don't understand how human beings work, and they don'tunderstand the creative process. They don't even understand thesocial function of art and expression through art. You might say theydon't have to and you could be right. If you believe that censorshipis a noble office, then you don't have to understand anything. Youjust have to understand censorship.
It becomes complex when it gets mixed up with the women'smovement. You find great splits there between those who thinkcensorship is necessary and those who still believe in total freeexpression. An image of a man whipping a woman, for instance. Itmust come out of a film, whether the movie is set up in such a waythat the audience understands this is just play between two lovers been together for forty years and have twenty kids. That wouldn'tmatter. The image has to go. So censors become image police: theydon't care what the context of the image is; it's only the image itself.
The belief is that an image can kill. Literally. It's like Scanners: ifthoughts can kill, images can kill. So the very suggestion ofsadomasochism, for instance, will somehow trigger off masses ofpsychotics out there to do things they would never have done had they not been exposed to that image. That's why film classification,as opposed to censorship, is legitimate; when it's a suggestion ratherthan a law. But then, no one is particularly more qualified to be aclassifier than anyone else, which is the problem with censorship. How can someone who is my age, my contemporary, see a film andsay that i cannot see the film? I don't understand that.
What I love about guys like Max Renn (Videodrome ) and SethBrundle (The Fly) is that they cannot turn the mind off; and the mindundercuts, interprets, puts into context. To allow themselves to gototally into the emotional reality of what's happening to them is to bedestroyed completely. They're still trying to salvage something out ofthe situation: 'Maybe this isn't a disease at all. Maybe it's atransformation.' So I have my reasons for having my charactersarticulate a lot. It seems real to me. Characters who will not allow themselves to get bathetic. Seth Brundle has built his whole career, lifeand understanding of the world on cerebration and the thoughtprocess. He cannot totally let go of it. He has to get drunk to getjealous, to talk to the ape.
A mainstream movie is on that isn't going to rattle too many cages, isnot going to shake people up, push them too far or muscle themaround. It's not going to depress them. That's why I don't think thatThe Fly is mainstream. No horror film is truly mainstream. Whenpeople say, "Great, another Cronenberg movie! Let's take everybodyand have popcorn'- then I'll know I'm mainstream.
One of our touchstones for reality is our bodies. And yet they too areby definition ephemeral. So to whatever degree we center our reality-and our understanding of reality- in our bodies, we are surrenderingthat sense of reality to our bodies' ephemerality. That's maybe aconnection between Naked Lunch, Dead Ringers and Videodrome. By affecting the body- whether it's with TV, drugs (invented orotherwise)- you alter your reality. Maybe that's an advance. I don'tknow if I'm evolving at all in terms of the struggle.
Gynecologic is such a beautiful metaphor for the mind/body split. Here it is: the mind of men- or women- trying to understand sexualorgans. I make my twins as kids extremely cerebral and analytical. They want to understand femaleness in a clinical way by dissection and analysis, not by experience, emotion or intuition. 'Can we dissectout the essence of femaleness? We're afraid of the emotionalimmediacy of womanness, but we're drawn to it. How can we cometo terms with it? Let's dissect it.'
People who find gynecologic icky say, 'I don't find sex icky.' They'venever gone into why. Men who put their fingers up their girlfriendscan turn around and say the concept of gynecology is disgusting. What are they talking about? That's one of the things I wanted tolook at. What makes gynecology icky for people is the formality of it. The clinical sterility, the fact that it's a stranger. The woman ispaying the gynecologist let's say it's a man- ann allowing him to haveintimate knowledge of her sexual organs, which are normally reservedfor lovers and husbands. Everyone agrees to suppress any element of eroticism, emotion, passion, intimacy. There's not a gynecologist inthe world who would tell you he's been intimate with eight hundredthousand women.
The other reason gynecology weirds men out is that they are jealous. Their wife is known better, not just physically because, yes, you couldlook up there yourself with a flashlight. The gynecologistsunderstanding of what it all does and how it all works is greater than yours. And he does it all the time. He can compare your wife withother women: structure- does it look pre-cancerous?- all this stuff. It's his knowing stuff that you can never know. I don't want todiscuss whether I've looked up my wife with a flashlight or not, butabsolutely I wouldn't be afraid if I needed to. Neither would she. Butit's something else. It's a very potent metaphor, such a perfect coreto discuss all this stuff.
In a crude sense, it's certainly the least macho movie I've done: thereare no guns, no cars. Scanners was very masculine by comparison. Even The Fly was machinery-dominated. In Dead Ringers themachinery is the gynecological instruments. They're very menacing on screen, but actually rather effete. The Dead Zone had a lot offemaleness in it, and not just because it's more emotional. But it's toosimplistic to say that when a movie's emotionally right out there it'sfemale and when it's repressed it's male.
In Dead Ringers the truth, anticipated by Beverly's parents- orwhoever named him- was that he was the female part of the yin/yangwhole. Elliot and Beverly are a couple, not complete in themselves. Both the characters have a femaleness in them. The idea that Beverlyis the wife of the couple is unacceptable to him. He can't accept thatthey are a couple. Elliot has fucked more women, has a greaterfacility with the superficialities of everything, with the superficialitiesof sex. But in terms of ever establishing an emotional rapport withwomen, Elliot is totally unsuccessful. Beverly is successful, but hedoesn't see this success as a positive thing. He sees that as anotherpart of his weakness. He's a part of his brother's view of society andhas great difficulty accepting his own version. He's been colonized;he's bought the imperialist's line about what is beautiful, proper and correct. He has a lot of trouble hearing his own voice.
Venereal disease is very pro-sex, because no sex, no venereal disease. I know that some people think this is disgusting stuff, but in Shivers I was saying, 'I love sex, but I love sex as a venereal disease. I amsyphilis. I am enthusiastic about it in a very different way from you,and I'm going to make a movie about it.' It's trying to turn thingsupside down. Critics often think I'm disapproving of every possiblekind of sex. Not at all. With Shivers I'm a venereal disease havingthe greatest time of my life, and encouraging everybody to get into it. To take a venereal disease's point of view might be considereddemonic, depending on who you are. In a way, Robert Fulford'sattack on me at the time is more understandable; he was a goodbourgeois, responding with horror to everything I did. He would nottake the disease's point of view, not even for ninety minutes.
As an artist, one is not a citizen of society. An artist is bound toexplore every aspect of human experience, the darkest corners- notnecessarily-- but if that is where one is led, that's where one must go. You cannot worry about what the structure of your own particularsegment of society considers bad behavior, good behavior; goodexploration, bad exploration. So, at the time you're being an artist,you're not a citizen. You have, in fact, no social responsibilitywhatsoever.
If someone says, 'Now you must be the citizen and step back to seewhat happens, examine why you have an impulse to create and showthese things,' that puts me in a different position. I'm no longer beingan artist; I'm being an analyst of the act itself. There are many artistswho don't feel the need to examine the process, or who fear that if they do, it will go away or change.
Nabokov said that and nobody threw rocks at him. I could say in thesame breath that I am a citizen and I do have social responsibilities,and I do take that seriously. But as an artist the responsibility is toallow yourself complete freedom. That's your function, what you're there for. Society and art exist uneasily together; that's always beenthe case. If art is anti-repression, then art and civilization were notmeant for each other. You don't have to be a Freudian to see that. The pressure in the unconscious, the voltage, is to be heard, to express. It's irrepressible. It will come out some way.
When I write, I must not censor my own imagery or connections. Imust not worry about what critics will say, what leftists will say, whatenvironmentalists will say. I must ignore all that. If I listen to allthese voices I will be paralyzed, because none of this can be resolved. I have to go back to the voice that spoke before all these structureswere imposed on it, and let it speak these terrible truths. By beingirresponsible I will be responsible.
There are two main problems. One is the scope of it. It really is quiteepic. It's the mother of all epics. It would cost $400-$500 million ifyou were to film it literally, and of course it would be banned in everycountry in the world. There would be no culture that could withstandthat film. That