Friday, August 13, 2010

Studio Stories XII: David Cronenberg, Self-Censorship, and The Decline of Western Cinemazation

For the unfamiliar, a "reveal" in screenwriting parlance is the placement of key, revelatory information in a story. Most times, the last reveal is the most important revelation of all.



A HAND knocks on a closed door. It is opened by the ASSISTANT to the HEAD OF DEVELOPMENT who sits behind a MONSTROUS DESK at the other end of the huge room.

A WRITER, the hand’s owner, approaches and takes a CHAIR.

                  DEVELOPMENT HEAD
             I’m told you have a horror script.

             Yes, it’s about a man who is able
             to create life that evolves one
             million times faster than normal.
             In a matter of months, it has gone
             from one-celled organism to human.
             Then it moves past humanity, and
             is able to do things we can’t even

                  DEVELOPMENT HEAD
             Cool! So what happens?

             It begins to look like the life-
             form will enslave humanity, that
             everyone is doomed. Every country
             in the world joins together and
             attacks the new life-form. But
             every time they try to mount an
             attack it’s brushed aside as we
             would a mosquito. Just when it
             seems all is lost, the life-form
             ascends to its next level of
             evolution. All aggression in the
             world suddenly stops.
             People begin to focus on progress,
             well-being, and knowledge, positive
             things. The life-form bids the world
             good-bye and literally disappears
             overnight, to where, no one ever
                  DEVELOPMENT HEAD
             What about the war? How much blood
             is shed? Do they have huge weapons
             and ships like in Independence Day
             or War of the Worlds?

             There’s no war, no weapons or blood.
             Just doom.

The Development Head looks over at his Assistant, unmoved.

                  DEVELOPMENT HEAD
             So... what else ya got? 

Today doom just doesn't cut it. Today they want doom... with extreme prejudice.

Are films more or less potent, more or less relevant, today? Are screenwriters, film directors, producers, and studios more or less willing to hold up that fabled mirror to the society they’re in?

In the 1960s and 1970s, horror films came of age. They took The lead of films like Psycho, The Haunting, and Rosemary’s Baby, and began to tell stories that played with reality rather than artifice or fantasy. Films like The Exorcist, the original version of The Wicker Man, The Sentinel, The Omen, Burnt Offerings, The Legend of Hell House, It’s Alive, To The Devil a Daughter, Carrie, Halloween, and The Shining dealt with people, situations, and issues that were not that far from our own. And in that group could be added the work of David Cronenberg. 

Almost 20 years ago, in Cronenberg on Cronenberg, Edited by Chris Rodley, Faber and Faber, 1992, p. 158-9, writer-director David Cronenberg said:

When I write, I must not censor my own imagery or connections. I must not worry about what critics will say, what leftists will say, what environmentalists will say. I must ignore all that. If I listen to all those 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 structures were imposed on it, and let it speak these terrible truths. By being irresponsible I will be responsible.

People ask me, “Don’t you feel you have a huge responsibility because of the films you make? How can you bear the weight of that responsibility?” To them I say, “I’m carrying the weight of that responsibility very well. I think these films are good for people. They’re not bad for people.”

Some people say that movies tend to support or encourage a certain philosophy. But the movie doesn’t do anything. It just sits in the can. So, are we talking about the writer, the director or the producer? Who possesses the will behind this hypothetical movie that is saying—for example, in Dead Ringers —that misogyny is good, that I approve of it, partake in it? Where does that come from?

If it’s to be a true art form, it’s conceivable that the author himself, and the people making the film themselves, do not, in the process of making the film know exactly what the film is saying. They don’t know what the film is supporting or expressing. It’s in the process of making that you start to come to some understanding of (the film). Therefore, you cannot have a group of people searching amongst the entrails of a movie at mere script stage for its meaning, social significance, political correctness, etc. Ultimately, that’s bullshit. In perspective you might be able to say something truthful about it. But who has the balance, the magisterial cosmic perspective that he or she can look at a script and say, “This is irresponsible and must be suppressed”? What you get are little committees of scared, timid people who are fumbling around. If there was this Godlike person we agreed could arbitrate, OK. If someone would say to me, “David, I know you don’t think Dead Ringers is going to enhance misogyny in society but I, God, tell you that in the light of the next 2000 years it will,” then maybe I could submit to that arbitration. But basically, I refuse to be suppressed.

Today’s horror films are closer to amusement park rides than they are to horror. In fact, they shouldn’t be called “Horror” at all. Shock would be a better word, as they are more concerned with the cause and effect than they are with what it means or says about the world and society. Consider the Saw franchise, for example. Is there something there? How much “there” is there? Or is there no “there” there… no “there,” there, at all? 

The real surprise for me, though, is that such films have become so superficial and preposterous when held to the light not because of rabid feminists working an agenda, or right-wing crusaders moralizing their flocks. No, they have become reduced to a kind of straight-jacketed, hyper-violent thrashing imposed solely by themselves.  #
Lee A. Matthias
Quote of the Post: 
It’s in the process of making that you start to come to some understanding of (the film; ditto as it pertains to writing the script).
---David Cronenberg

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