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Listen: 70-Minute David Cronenberg Talk About ‘History Of Violence,’ His Unmade Formula One Racing Movie & More

Listen: 70-Minute David Cronenberg Talk About ‘History Of Violence,’ His Unmade Formula One Racing Movie & More

There’s a fascinating, if kind of depressing, look at bygone film economics in this recently reposted 2005 conversation with David Cronenberg by the Film Society Of Lincoln Center talking about “A History Of Violence.” The filmmaker, whose latest film, “Maps To The Stars,” hits theaters and VOD this weekend, says that earlier film, distributed by Focus Features, cost $32 million to make and another $30 million to market. Remember those days of prestige-y, mid-sized studio movies? That era has mostly vanished, and pictures like “A History Of Violence” would likely have to settle for “Nightcrawler” money these days (it was made for $7 million).

It’s an interesting hour-and-ten-minute conversation that touches upon myriad Cronenberg cinematic touchstones, like the critical backlash to “Crash” (the critic who was the most venomous to it is now dead), the way “Spider” seemed to die on the vine immediately (Martin Scorsese sent him a note a year after it was released congratulating him on it, clearly not having seen it during its small theatrical run), “Naked Lunch” (Cronenberg received William S. Burroughs‘ blessing to weave the author’s biography into the quasi-adaptation), and much more.

With “Maps To The Stars” hitting theaters and VOD this weekend, The Film Society’s Close-Up podcast decided to repost the 2005 conversation. It’s a great listen, and you can check it out below. Here are a few interesting highlights, bon mots, and pieces of wisdom.

Cronenberg, The Comedian?
“I’ve never made a movie that’s not funny,” the filmmaker said. He recounted the story of an unnamed Austrian film critic who yelled at a few New York Times critics laughing during “A History of Violence.” The Austrian stood up during the screening and yelled, “Shut up, you fucking piece of shit critics. Don’t you know that this is not funny? It’s serious.” Unfortunately for said critic, Cronenberg said the Times folks has a better read on the movie, which is violent, tragic, and yes, occasionally twistedly funny. “The movie does ask the audience to twist and turn in terms of tone,” Cronenberg said. “It’s funny and then it’s immediately shocking and then immediately scary and then funny again and then sad and emotional — it does all that. It’s a dangerous thing to do and it can backfire.”

“They’re all funny,” Cronenberg said of his films, with one exception. “Maybe ‘The Brood,’ isn’t funny. I was in a really bad mood when I made that movie. And it’s about the only one that doesn’t have genuine laughs in it.”

The Unmade Cronenberg Formula 1 Movie You Didn’t Know About
Peg Cronenberg as someone who almost majored in science and had a budding interest in botany, entomology, and lepidopterology, and you’d be right. But you’d probably never guess that Cronenberg is apparently really into Formula One racing. His dream project at the time? A screenplay called “Red Cars” about American auto champion and Formula One Hall Of Famer Phil Hill — the only American-born driver to ever win the Formula One World Championship (keeners will know that in 2009 Tobey Maguire was set to play Hill in an similar, but alternate project about the same period, but it never happened). Hardcore Cronenberg-ites may already know that a book of the script exists. It’s also called “Red Cars” and was made by Italian publishers and released in 2007.

“It’s something I’m very passionate about,” Cronenberg said of F1. “My idea was to [make a movie] about car racing that you could enjoy even if you hated car racing or were completely uninterested in it and it’s about Phil Hill winning the championship in 1961 racing for Ferrari.” It’s been 10 years since this interview, and Cronenberg may have amassed other dream projects, but at the time asked if there were any other “dream” projects he’d love to get made he said this was the only one [though to be fair, he did make “Fast Company” in 1979].

The “Scanners” and “Dead Ringers” The TV Shows That Never Were
You may have forgotten, but Cronenberg could have been ahead of the curve of auteurs going into TV. In 2005 it was announced that HBO was making a series out of his 1988 cult thriller “Dead Ringers.” Wesley Strick (“Cape Fear”), who pitched the idea to Cronenberg, was set to write the show. It obviously never came to pass, but it is fascinating to hear what Cronenberg thought of it and his initial reluctance. The director said the success of “Nip/Tuck” spawned the idea and one of his producers on “Dead Ringers” pitched the idea to him. “I wasn’t going to be interested if it was going to be a tacky, exploitive — exploitive being a relative term when talking about television — but nonetheless, [the pitch] was very emotional, very touching and very true. And [Strick’s writer’s pitch] and understanding of where it could go was very interesting.”

Cronenberg didn’t reveal too many details, but did agree to do the show, became an executive producer, and was weighing the possibility of directing the pilot. Obviously HBO didn’t even green light that, so it never got very far. Cronenberg also said he flirted with the idea of television for many years and at one point network execs wanted to do a series based on “Scanners” (he doesn’t name the network). “It started very well,” he said. “Then they started subtracting things, ‘no exploding heads of course,’ ‘maybe it’s not a telepathic war, maybe it’s more of a struggle…’ They just castrated it left and right.” Pretty soon, he pulled the plug and it was dead.

Cronenberg disciples will remember that Dimension announced intentions to develop a series based on “Scanners” in 2011 with Alexandre Aja at the creative helm, but that never happened. Aja gave a little update last year that seemed sort of promising, but don’t hold your breath.

Cronenberg On Adaptation  Words To Live By
“I learned from my first adaptation, ‘The Dead Zone, that in order to be faithful to the book, you have to betray the book. A literal transliteration is doomed to fail. A reverent faithful kind of thing will [fail] because the two media are completely different. And there are strengths and weaknesses are not complimentary. So you have to reinvent — even if it’s as something as relatively straightforward as ‘The Dead Zone’ — for the screen. It becomes something else. And then somehow if the magic works then it reminds people of the original work and it seems faithful when in fact if you look at the movie of ‘The Dead Zone’ it is completely not faithful to the book, but the tone somehow feels right to people and so they accept it as being a legitimate version.” 

“Maps To The Stars” is in theaters and on VOD this weekend, you can read our review here. More Film-Linc podcasts here.

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