Every month, Director Spotlight takes a look at an auteur, shines some light on a few items in the director’s body of work, points out what makes them an artist, and shows why some of their films work and some don’t. August’s director is body horror auteur David Cronenberg.
NOTE: Look, I’m tired of typing it out for pretty much every entry, so here it is in the opening: there’s going to be spoilers in this thing, and in almost every entry of Director Spotlight. There’s a lot more to a film than the basic plotting, which is only a small part of the enjoyment as far as I’m concerned. Still, if it’s going to bother you, I’d highly suggest not reading ahead until you’ve seen the movie in question.
Grade: 74 (B+)
David Cronenberg isn’t as known for his short films as his contemporary David Lynch, whose early work is the stuff of legend and who has done a number of worthwhile shorts in the years since his breakthrough. Cronenberg’s best known short, 2000’s Camera, was created as one of many preludes 25th annual Toronto Film Festival (where Cronenberg regularly debuts or screens his films). It’s an undeniably minor work, but it ties into Cronenberg’s interests in technology, art mediums, and their effect on the body.
The film is essentially a monologue by Leslie Carlson, who had a supporting role in Videodrome. A group of children enter the house with an old camera they found- actually a 35mm professional Panaflex. The children fix up the beaten up old machine and plan on filming Carlson. Carlson is less enamored- he views the camera as a device that infects, ages, and withers. Carlson recalls a dream where he saw a movie that gave him a disease and caused him to age rapidly. That dream has become a reality- he has grown sad and old, and the old camera mocks him and makes it worse. Yet he sympathizes with the camera- they’re growing old together.
The short mostly focuses on close-ups on Carlson, occasionally cutting to the children playing with the camera. At first, the whole thing feels pretty much like a joke, but it takes on the strange, cold, enigmatic tone that pervades Cronenberg’s films. The fact that Cronenberg has worked with Carlson before certainly helps highlight where he’s getting at- Carlson has gradually grown old on camera. Technology has showcased how he has changed, and is now intrinsically related to the way those on film are perceived. “You record a moment, you record the death of a moment”. It’s easy to be saddened by this idea. But then, technology changes all the time, and gradually this camera will be obsolete. In an age where celluloid is gradually giving way to digital photography, Camera seems prophetic in its own small way.