|casts: Ron Mlodzik, Jack Messinger, Paul Mulholland, Iain Ewing, and Arlene Mlodzik
writer, producer, director: David Cronenberg
122 minutes (12) 1971-2
David Cronenberg is not particularly happy with his first two feature-length films, self-critical of his lack of technical skills, dependent on himself for the camerawork and editing, he had little in the way of crew at the time. Likely is it now that he could look back and approve in the one film, Stereo, of the meditative quality of the images, a winningly static standard throughout. It doesn’t matter how many people in advance tell you how rotten Stereo and Crimes Of The Future are, if you are a Cronenberg follower you will have to see them.
Stereo is the better of the two (both presented under Cronenberg’s Emergent Films pennant), innovatively presented as visual documentation, the record of an experiment, subtitled ‘Tile 3B of a CAEE Educational Mosaic’. CAEE is the Canadian Academy of Erotic Enquiry, which could also serve as a nom de cine for the director. The academy’s motto is “Amor Vincit Omnia” which translates as ‘love conquers all’. The documentary tile comes with a warning: “All CAEE Educational Audiovisual Tiles designate SAVC field: OT are expanse restricted in accordance with the provisions of the Canadian Plastics Act.” Shot in black and white, it records and reports on an experiment conducted on eight ‘Category A’ subjects. The objective is to develop the telepathic capabilities of man. Telepathic dependency emerges as an extreme form of addiction and the experiment is stepped up to a level. Two of the volunteers agree to have a portion of their larynx removed to prevent speech. They agree also to brain surgery during which large portions of the speech centre are obliterated so that knowledge of speech itself is impaired. Psychic dominants were the result. The guinea pigs continue to experience further related phenomenon entering, what is dubbed, the sanatorium phase.
Schizophrenic partition is the next stage, the telepathic non-verbal self-separating from the verbal self, with the detrimental crash of the true self under the dominant false self. The subjects are by this point insane. If the succession of flat, stultifying narrative voices have de-emphasised their horrendous state and tragic fate, it is horrifically reinforced when we are told that their psychopathia is subdued by dreams of decay, transgression and necrophilia. The conclusion is ironically underwhelming. ‘The Stringfellow hypothesis’ is proven, taking “the form of the following equation: the rate of telepathic flow between two minds is directly proportional to the intensity of the relationship of the two minds.” It’s a correlation that I, and many others, have experienced without submittal to extreme surgical, cerebral and bodily modifications. Familial proximity does merge dreams, propel thoughts to others, download them into the heads of loved ones, and receive their thoughts too. There is a twist, god bless him, but the viewer has been so hammered by the format that it can be lost as the viewers mind tries to be elsewhere by the closing minutes. None of the footage is chronological to the experiment but are pick-ups on the five surviving subjects of the experiment. There are nods to the future, a spoken of self-administered trepanning will be revisited in Scanners.
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The black and white photography gives the film a genuinely dream like quality, and there is a fascination for the modernist architecture of contemporary Canada. Throughout the film, Cronenberg frames geometric patterns superbly, and each individual frame builds to a genuine and pertinent record of this in itself.
Crimes Of The Future is more difficult. Cronenberg’s second feature film is a semi-surreal, sci-fi farce. His pseudo-hero is Adrian Tripod, a typically stupid name invented by Cronenberg, a director whose weird sense of humour commonly errs on the unfunny. Unrealistic names are of a commonality to his work. See also Barry Convex, Darryl Revok and Allegra Geller. Tripod (Ron Mlodzik) is a director at the House of Skin and a follower of Anton Rouge, who is more idiot than savant. Rouge falls victim to a malady, a severe psychopathological skin condition caused by contemporary cosmetics. The whitish, amorphous effluvium spilling from his ears is dubbed “Rouge’s foam.” The secreting and haemorrhaging spreads and most fatally prone to it are “post-puberty human females” until womankind is decimated. Upon the death of Rouge, Tripod engages in collaborative work with the Institute for Neo-Venereal Disease but diagnosing himself with a creative ‘cancer’ that restricts his thought processes he abandons it thrashing wildly elsewhere for involvement and answers. This takes him to the Oceanic Podiatry Group, where the solution might be but isn’t between the toes. By now, Tripod is a courier, delivering fetish objects, quite ordinary items that have become increasingly important in a world minus women. The future is out completely if no procreative outlet is devised or the disease stopped. Tripod is invited to join a group of conspirators made up of paedophiles whose purpose is as yet ‘opaque’ to him. That head is in a funk, isn’t it? The conspirators are led by Jonkin, and Tripod is drawn into the “provocative sphere of his aquaria.” Their objective is to prematurely induce puberty in a girl abducted and smuggled over several state lines by a notorious Gun Man, who they murder. The conspirators capture the girl and in a disturbing sequence they dither on their intentions, cut short by retreat or the reappearance of Rouge’s foam contaminating the men and the girl.
What the fuck were you thinking, Cronenberg? Unhappy with his black and white mock doc, Cronenberg wanted to go at it differently, though again the unavailability of sound equipment and a sound recordist drove him to stick Crimes Of The Future with a narration. The film loses by the addition of brash colour, attractive but uglifying and incurring on the modernist locations that had been so beautiful and dream-worldly in Stereo. Embarrassed by the rigid camerawork he also insists on more movement, but it too is unwelcome. Cronenberg throws himself into the anything goes side ward of sci-fi. Mad details flourish but fail to amuse. Running out of things preposterous enough to say, there would have been periods of silent observation but Cronenberg inserts into those audio spaces interfering noises, bleats and squawks and scrapes and clanks. The overall impression of Crimes Of The Future is one of someone getting carried away on a diet of Pink Floyd, Edmund Cooper and Michael Moorcock, trying to realise the lot on film and simply getting it so very, terribly wrong. There is nothing that can be said in its favour, impossible rubbish is impossible rubbish.