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Rage Magazine (Mark Dery Interviews Crash Director David Cronenberg

Rage Magazine (Mark Dery Interviews Crash Director David Cronenberg

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Published by markdery
Cultural critic Mark Dery interviews Canadian body horror/SF director David Cronenberg for RAGE magazine on the occasion of the release of Cronenberg's movie CRASH, based on J.G. Ballard's novel of the same name.
Cultural critic Mark Dery interviews Canadian body horror/SF director David Cronenberg for RAGE magazine on the occasion of the release of Cronenberg's movie CRASH, based on J.G. Ballard's novel of the same name.

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Published by: markdery on Feb 20, 2009
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01/02/2013

 
"
1i
DavidCronenberg,ourforemosttheoreticianofviralhorror,polymorphousperversity,andlIuncontroliable
flesh,
I
hasbroughtJ.G.Ballard'swhiplashingsci-finovel,
Crash,
tothescreen.Thereis,asBallardwould
say,acertainnightmaregeometrytotheconjunction.'
Crash
isabouttheposthumanpsychologyandpathologicalsexualityofcharactersseducedbywhatBallardcallsIIthatbrutal,eroticandoverlitrealmthatbeckonsmoreandmorepersuasivelytousfromthemarginsofthetechnologicallandscape.
II
ItisagenreuntoitselLautoeroticismintheliteralsense,writteninastylethatisasobsessivelyrepetitiveasthethrumoftiresonconcreteandasantisepticasatextbookdescriptionofcraniofacialtraumainhead-oncollisions.Inmanyways,it'saboutourincreasingalienationfromourownbodiesandotherpeopleatatimewhenourinteractionwiththeworldaroundusconsists,increasingly,ofheadfirstimmersioninmachineswithscreensorhumancontactsqueezedthroughwires,whetherthey'reconnectedtophones,faxmachines,ornetworkedcomputers.
Crash's
terminallynumbnarrator,autobiographicallynamedJamesBallard,isjolted
outofhispostmodernautismbyacollision,litheonlyrealexperienceIhadbeenthroughforyears.
I
Vaughan,acar-crashfetishisthemeetsthroughhisaccident,embodiesthesped-up,out-oF-controlpsychologyofthelate20thcentury.RepresentingtheFinal,fatefulcollisionofautonomoustechnologyandthehumanpsyche,VaughanmasturbatestocarefullyorchestratedcrashesattheRoadResearchlaboratory,savorsslow:m.otionfilmsoftestcollisionsasoneiricpornography,anddreamsofdying,atthemomentoforgasm,inaspectacularaccidentwithElizabethTaylor'slimousine.likewise,Cronenberg'sperverselybrilliantbio-horrorconstitutesanextendedmeditationonthemind/body
0...1
I
r
.0.1.I1111_..
I
II
II.I..
II
I.1
.,
A
mind/body/machine,
II
asScottBukatmanpointsoutintheessaycollection
AlienZone.
Thefilmmaker,whohaswon-deredifIIwearejustbeginningaveryimportantphaseofourevolutionll-asortofunnaturalselectioncatalyzedbytechnol-ogy-islIalwaystalkingaboutMcluhan,
II
accordingtoMartinScorseseinChrisRodley's1986documentaryonCronenberg,
LongLivetheNewFlesh.
Inasense,CronenbergisMcluhan'sdarktwin,theorizingelectronicmediaandmechan-icaldeviceslessasMcluhanesquelIextensionsofmanllthanasagentsofamorphogenesisthatisnotalwaysprettytolookat.Innearlyallofhisfilms,thedichotomybetweenmindandbody-theage-oldconundrumattheheartofthehumancondi-tion-isexacerbatedbytheever-more-technologicallandscapewelivein.AstheroboticistHansMoravecnotesin
MindChildren:TheFutureofRobotandHumanIntelligence,
IIlnthepresentconditionweareuncomfortablehalfbreeds,partbiolo-
n
J
gy,partculture,withmanyofourbiologicaltraitsoutofstepithth",
inv",ntinnnf
nllrmindsII
Often,Cronenberguseshumansexuality,morphedand.mutatedbyourincreasinglycyberneticpsychology,asamag-nifyingglasstoexamineBukatman'smind/body/machinetrichotomy.Hislittle-knownearlymovie,
CrimesoftheFuture
11970,
nowavailableonvideo),imaginesanear-futureplagueculturestraightoutof
BeautyMyth
authorNaomiWolf'sworstnightmares:postpubertalwomenaredyingfromadiseaseinducedbycosmetics;menaresproutingbizarreneworgansinanevolutionaryresponsetothedisappearanceofpotentialmates;andpedophiliaisbeginningtolooklikethelast,besthopefor$-p-eciessurvival.
In
The
Brood
11979),themutagenictechnologyinquestionisacultishformofpsy-chotherapycalledPsychoplasmics,atongue-in-cheeksendupofPrimalScreamthera-pyinwhichaDr.Raglanteacheshispatientstobringtheirneurosesandpsychosestothesurface-literally,intheformofgut-wrenchingstigmata.Theresultsarenotalwayspromising,asadis-
traughtgraduateoftheprogramreveals.lilt'saformofcancerofthelymphaticsystem,
II
heexplains,expos-inggrotesquetumorsonhischest.IIRaglanencouragedmybodytorevoltagainstmeanditdid.NowIhave
asmallrevolutiononmyhandsandI'mnotputtingitdownverysuccessfully.
I
In
Videodrome
11982),
thefilmmaker'smasterpiece,'theagentofevolutionarymutationisthewelterofdisem-bodiedelectronicfictionsthatconstitutesourmediareality.TheIImediaprophetllProfessorBrianO'Blivionspeakstoallofuswhenhetellsthemovie'sprotagonist,MaxRenn,IIYourrealityisalreadyhalfvideohalluci-nation;ifyou'renotcareful,itwillbecometotalhallucination.You'llhavetolearntoliveinaverystrangeIrl~
ConvincedthatIIpubliclifeontelevisionwasmorerealthanprivatelifeintheflesh,
IIO'BliviondesignedamutagenicTVsignal.CovertlytransmittedinasadomasochisticsnuffprogramcalledVideodrome,thesignalstimulatestheproductionoflIanewoutgrowthofthehumanbrainwhichwillproduceandcontrolhallucinationtothepointthatitwillchangehumanrealityllIO'Blivion).TheprofessorbelievesthatthetumorsinducedbytheVideodromesignalwilltriggerthenextstageinthecoevolutionofhumanityandtechnology.Meanwhile,Renn-thejadedownerofapornchannelwhoisattemptingtotrackdownthesourceofthemys-terioussignal-hasalreadybeenmutatedbyVideodrome,andissufferingfrombizarre,techno-sexualhalluci-nationsVaughanwouldenvy:avaginalslitgapesinhisbelly,moistlyawaitingtheinsertionofavideocas-
nIA
tiervews
extadath
eihePAh
eo9ma
 
sette;hisTVheavesandmoansinconcupiscentecstacy,itsscreenbulgingtowardhiswaitinglips.SurrenderingtothepostmodernmadnessofaworldinwhichdistinctionsbetweenthisandthatsideoftheTVscreenarenolongermeaningful,Rennkillshimself-or,asthetechnophilicHeaven'sGatecultistswhorecentlycommittedsuicidewouldhaveit,abandonedhis"vehicle."Hishandmorphsintoagunmadeofmolten,marbledfleshIreality?videohallucination?both?1andheblowshisheadoffwiththeposthumanistrallyingcry,"Longlivethenewflesh!"InaneeriepremonitionoftheflyingsaucertheologyoftheHeaven'sGatecultists,Renntakeshisownlifesothathemaybebornagainasdisembodiedsimulacrum-whatO'Blivion'sdaughtercalls"thevideowordmadeflesh."Watching
Videodrome,
wecannothelpbutthinkofBallard'schillingobservation,inhisintroductionto
Crash,
thatwearewitnessingthe
"demise
offeelingandemotion."Truetohername,NickiBrand,thedeadpan,affectlessmediapersonalityin
Videodrome,
derivessadomasochisticpleasurefromsear-ingherbarefleshwithacigarette."Weliveinoverstimulat-edtimes,"sheasserts;like
Crash's
narrator,shehasbeendeadenedbythenonstopshocktreatmentofpostmoderncul-ture,distancedbythemultiplyinglayersofelectronicmedia-
r9
tionbetweenherselfandembodiedexperience.Onlyextremepaincanbringherbacktoherphysicalbody;cellbycell,sheisbeingreplacedbythenewflesh,thevideoflesh-asareweall,incyberculture.Obviously,CronenbergandBallardtravelthesamepsycho-geography,and.
Crash
Ithescreenversionlisthepredictablesiteoftheirhead-oncollision.LongtimeBallardianswillmisstheastringentwitofthenovel'sdeadpannarration,itsapho-risticone-linersI"TheworldwasbeginningtoflowerintoIwounds"!,thedeviantbeautyofitssurrealimageryI"Thepas-sengercompartmentencloseduslikeamachinegeneratingfromoursexualactanhomunculusofblood,semen,andenginecoolant"l.LongtimeCronenbergianswillmiss
Scanners'
tangledwebofconspiracy,
DeadRingers'
psychot-icbreakwithreality,
TheFly's
mutagenictechnologiesanduncontrollableflesh.Strangely,themovielacksthebook's
sexual
frisson,exudingalunarcoolthatdetractorswilllikentoJoop!cologneadsanddevoteeswillcomparetothemoon-littableauxoftheSurrealistpainterlandBallardpassionlPaulDelvaux.Evenso,it'safilmthatmustbeseenlatleasttwice,accordingtoCronenberg!,anindispensableroadmaptothelate-nighthighwaysofthemillennialmind.
RAGESEPTEMBER997.
 
MARKDERY:INHISINTRODUCTIONTOTHEFRENCHEDITIONOF
Crash,
BALLARDCALLSTHENOVEL"ANEXTREMEMETAPHORFORANEXTREMESITUATION,AKITOFDESPERATEMEASURESONLYFORUSEINEXTREMECRISES."Is
Crash
ANAPPROPRIATEMETAPHORFOROURAGEOFAERIALDISASTERS,ALIENABDUCTIONS,ANDMADBOMBINGS?
DavidCronenberg:
Well,it'stemptingtolookatwhatevertimesonelivesinasbeingincrisis,butIthinkwe'realwaysinextremetimes;Ihaveabuilt-inresistancetoseeingthesethingsasleadingussomewhere.Iseeawonderful,inbuiltneedinthehumanmindtoanalyzeandextrapolatethemsothatwecanantici-patefuturedevelopments,butIhavethistendencytosay,
"Well,myhistoricalreadingsuggeststhatNietzschewasbasicallytalkingaboutthesamethingin
(
ferentguise,"andsoon.
MD:
SOMEONELIKEYOURSELFWHOCLEARLYHASASENSEOFHISTORICALCONTEXTISLESSLIKELYTOWA
"UPEVERYMORNINGFEELINGTHATTHEMILLENNIUMISUPONUS.
DC:
Yeah.
ButIdosensethatsomeofthethingsthatIdealwithin
Crash,
ata25-yearremovefr<whenBallardwaswritingthenovel,aresignificantlydifferentfromwhathasgonebefore,andonethesethingsisthenatureofsexuality,whichIreallythinkischanging-changinginawaythatweI
notseenbefore.Thefactthatwecannowreproducewithoutsexisahugemomentinhuman
histor
MD:YouMEANTHROUGHCLONING,IN-VITROFERTILIZATION?
DC:
Right.
Onecananticipateatime
i
maybenottoofarinthefuture,whenyouwonttneedhumansataltoreproducehumans,wheretheDNAcouldbereproducedsyntheticallyandyoutllhavesyntheticspern
andeggs.
Thequestionthenbecomes,"Whatissex?"Ithasnever,forhumans,beenasimpleterofreproduction.Infact,therehavebeenculturesthatdidn'tevenconnectsexwithreproductionNow,we'reatapointwhereweconsciouslyseesexbeingcutfreefromitsbiologicalimperatives,demandingtoberedefined,reinvented-averyexistentialdevelopmentthatforcesustotakerespobilityfordecidingwhatsexwillbe.It'saverypowerfulforce,stillverymuchinbuiltinus,butitnolongerhasthepurposethatithadbefore.Andwhereassexhasalwaysbeenusedinvariousways,fromweaponrytoperformanceart,it'snowdemandingtobeprofoundlyredefined,andit'stechnocaldevelopmentswhichhavecausedthis.Idon'tthinkit'sjustaconceptualchange;Ithinkeventu(it'llbeaveryfunctionaldifference.
MD:WHAT,EXACTLY,DOYOUMEANBYTHAT?
DC:
Well,Ithinkthatmoreandmorepeoplewillusesexlessandlessforreproduction.Thisisn't
Brave
NewWorld
warningthatsexwillbecontrolledforgeneticbreedingpurposes;Ijustthinkthathenaturalcourseofthingstherewillbelesshaphazard,naturalchild-creatingandmorecontrolled
child-creating,whichwillmakeitmoreobviousthatsexhasbecomeanewthing.
MD:SHOULDWEBESOQUICKTODISMISSHUXLEY'SWARNING?FOLLOWING
TheBellCurve,
THERESEEMBEASTEALTHOPERATIONUNDERWAYTOREHABILITATEEUGENICSANDSOCIALDARWINISM:CHRISTOPHERBR.
ASELF-STYLED"SCIENTIFICRACIST"WHOLECTURESATEDINBURGHUNIVERSITY,RECENTLYSUGGESTEDTHAT
GLEMOTHERSSHOULDMATEWITHHIGH-IQMALESTOIMPROVETHEGPOOL.SOrr'sNOTENTIRELYALARMIST...
DC:
Oh,Iwouldneversuggestthattherewon'tbelargemassenergydevotedtothatcraziness;I'mjustsayingthatit'snotinevitablethatonethingleadstotheother.WhatI'msayingisnowthatwehaveseizedcontroloverourownevolution,natur<selectioninthedefinitiveDarwiniansensedoesnotexistwithhumanbeings.Imean,isittheguywhomakesenoughmoney
j
I
i
~
t
.
.
..'"
..
,
~-.,~CDRAGESEPTEMBER1997
T
;!.I'J
,
I
t
.
J
...
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