Starburst, No. 103, Volume 9, Number 7 (March 1987), p.38-41
Starburst interview by Alan Jones
David Cronenberg talks over a scene with the filmīs stars
This is a time to put oneīs cards on the table. So I have to say that in my estimation David Cronenberg is a genius. Whether it be Shivers, Rabid, The Brood, Scanners, The Dead Zone, Videodrome or even his earlier experimental attempts like Stereo and Crimes of the Future, Cronenbergīs influence on the genre has had an amazing impact across the board. He is more than comfortable in his chosen genre and it shows in the commitment he brings to his work. What people react to in his films isnīt so much the full frontal gore, itīs the disturbing sub-text of truth and intelligence he invests in all his films. And his remake of the rather stuffy and camp 1958 horror classic, The Fly, is no exception. The Fly is definitely vintage Cronenberg and while it isnīt his most brilliantly conceptual work - that honor is still reserved for Videodrome which is the only horror film of the last decade to truly speak for a generation - it is his technically adept and accomplished realisation of the themes which run through the entire spectrum of his output.
Screenwriter Charles Edward Pogue, whose most recent credit was Psycho III, originally approached producer Stuart Cornfeld with the idea of remaking and reconceptualising The Fly in 1984. It was subsequently put into pre-production in the UK in January 1985 by Mel Brooksī company Brooksfilms under advertising newcomer Bob Biermanīs direction with special effects work penciled in for Chris Tucker of The Company of Wolves fame. A personal tragedy meant Bierman had to bow out of the project so Cornfeld, a long time admirer of David Cronenbergīs films, offered him the project. Cronenberg agreed to do it on condition that he could extensively rewrite Pogueīs scipt and move the operation to Canada. In December the production started again in Toronto, Cronenbergīs home town, with Chris (Gremlins) Walas replacing Tucker on the creature design front. Starring Jeff Goldblum, Geena Davis and John Getz, The Fly has since become Cronenbergīs most successful film to date in box-office terms.
This interview took place at Twickenham studios where Cronenberg was supervising the scoring of The Fly with Howard Shoreīs music.
The Fly cost $11 million and according to Cronenberg, Fox were delighted to get it that cheap. He said, "Aliens cost over $20 million. My major expense was the make-up and the amount of time it required to shoot all the complex effects scenes. The sci-fi aspects were time-consuming too although it didnīt really involve a lot of optical work. All the props, like the computer console, had to be built to work up to a certain point. We are talking about 72 shooting days with a full crew and although Iīve had more time on other movies, it often isnīt the time which costs the most money. By shooting in Canada I estimate I saved about 30 percent of the projected budget."
The only time Cronenberg has ever disappointed me was with The Dead Zone. In common with that film The Fly is another adaptation of a screenplay which he didnīt originate. But as he explained, there is a big difference between the two artistically. "To begin with the material was a lot closer to my norm and also I did completely rewrite the script myself to make all the characters and dialogue my own which was not the case with The Dead Zone. I wanted to do The Dead Zone because it was different to anything I had done before. Sure it was connected thematically but different all the same. I see The Fly as a fusion between some of the elements of The Dead Zone and Videodrome. Videodrome was my first studio picture in the sense that the studio was involved right from the beginning, so The Dead Zone really didnīt feel that different in an odd way as I worked with my same crew and some actors I was very excited about. You can see some elements in The Dead Zone which are similar to Scanners or even Videodrome - the idea of someone changing physically and psychically and, as a result of this increased sensitivity to some aspects of life, being suddenly put on the outside of society which is the theme that often recurs in my work. The characters were rural, simple and naive and not that articulate which was the only real difference in the overview. But I wanted to do that - donīt ask me why because it wasnīt a conscious attempt to break into the mainstream as has been suggested. I went into it knowing Stephen King had been devalued due to the inferior stream of adaptations at the time so it wasnīt just an attempt to plug into a burgeoning trend. Working with Dino De Laurentiis, who is still the greatest independent eccentric in my opinion, wasnīt entering the mainstream anyway as his movies are still considered apart from it even though he has now his own studio in North Carolina. In terms of experience with film-making it was as different for me as you could imagine. The material was similar to what I normally do but with different detailing and I was interested to see how doing a simple, tragic love story with a Christ-like martyr figure would feel. And I enjoyed it. I wasnīt making something I didnīt understand or was doing solely for the money. The Fly is much closer to home because I purposely didnīt try to stamp The Dead Zone with my personality."
Even so, Cronenberg has said that what people will call Cronenbergian in The Fly are mainly Pogueīs original ideas. He elaborated. "All the horror, the visual imagery and the graphic stuff was in Pogueīs script and that is why we share a writing credit as there are things in the movie he invented and yet, when I read them for the first time, I though, 'God, this is just like what I would have done'. It wasnīt imitative, it was organic. What I didnīt like were the characters and as a result their dialogue and attitude which seemed very ī50s to me in the worst possible sense. The idea that the scientist, whose experiments have gone seriously wrong, must destroy what heīs invented because there are things we must not know was ludicrous. Even in 1958 that theory didnīt hold water but it was slightly more convincing then because of the relative naivety of the times. Why should this scientist feel he had to destroy a perfectly good teleportation device just because he was too stupid to realise he shouldnīt let a fly in the booth with him? There isnīt any invention which hasnīt had certain dangers attached to it in the past, from the automobile to nuclear power. Someone has to get hurt. Itīs a natural process."
According to Cronenberg his initial reaction to being offered The Fly was one of total surprise. He said "I heard there was a script and I was interested to know what approach it took because there is a lot of misguided remake - it is going on in Hollywood at the moment. I read it and I think Stuartīs story about what Mel said about it echoed my own feelings. Mel read 18 pages of the script and threw it across the room saying, 'I canīt read this, itīs awful'. But Stuart persevered it because it wasnīt that the script was terrible, it was just the beginning wasnīt exactly the best part. After I had read it I began to keeps tabs on the project and found myself asking people what was happening with it. Iīve told this story a million times now but as a youngster I saw the original film and at the time there was a $500 reward if oyu could prove the transference of heads between the man and the fly couldnīt happen. It bothered me that the change in size was never explained so I found an usher and asked him where all the extra molecules and atoms came from to make a big fly head as opposed to the normal-sized one. Needless to say I wasnīt made $500 richer but itīs an anecdote that has always stuck in my mind and made me very nostalgic about the film. When I read the script I was involved with Dino again on Total Recall but was rapidly reaching the conclusion that we had been talking about different movies all along. I had done thirteen rewrites of Dannon OīBannonīs original script, so when Mel came through with a serious offer on The Fly I found it a bit nerve-racking in one sense as I didnīt want the Total Recall situation happening again. But Mel agreed with me when I told him I couldnīt envisage filming the original script as written because it would have been just like the original - bad melodrama and camp horror. Both Mel and Stuart understood exactly that it would be more nightmarish and disturbing if it was done as a metamorphosis so the extent of this aspect was minimalised. In this way The Fly mirrors the situation I had with The Dead Zone, I was surprised by the offer but equally surprised that I really wanted to do it given the chance. What intrigued me most was how intimate the story really was. It was about a scientist and his inventive obsessiveness who meets a girl which completes him enough to make this giant creative leap possible."
In preparation for rewriting Pogueīs screenplay, Cronenberg decided to watch the original film again. He continued, "It turned out that Martin Scorsese had the last stereo Cinemascope print in existence as all the prints these days are the television cropped versions. He transferred it to videotape for me and I realised then that it wasnīt a B-movie in the truest sense. I looked at it not to be aware of the pitfalls so much as to understand the heritage and the ancestry I was taking on. It was an interesting exercise because I wanted to see how they dealt with the designs of the teleportation machines - telepods I term them - and the sound and visual effects when handling the experimental disappearances. Did they happen in a flash, or more slowly, or like an episode of Star Trek? I couldnīt remember because when you first see a movie you donīt focus on that, itīs only when you start dealing with it in pre-production do you turn to see what other peopleīs solutions were - to see why they worked and why they may not work for you. My version of The Fly youīve always wanted to see because the ī50s B-movie atmosphere of the original coupled with Vincent Price never gave you that although it was very effective on a minor pulp level. James Clavellīs elegant original script was very drawing room in structure as it was told mainly in two sets of flashbacks. You never saw the scientist get in the booth with the fly, you are only told about it after the fact which is why I feel we are extracting full juice from the orange for the first time. I am told that Bierman wanted Price for a cameo in his version but it would never have even occured to me to do that."