Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Director Spotlight #9.2: David Cronenberg's Crimes of the Future

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.

Grade: 35 (C-)

Alright, this is going to be an abbreviated entry, because 1970’s Crimes of the Future fits right alongside Cronenberg’s debut film Stereo in the “fascinating in theory, dull in practice” category (I probably should have put the two together in one entry). That’s actually the label that writer Kim Newman attached to them: “interesting and boring at the same time” and “more fun to read about in synopsis than actually watch”. He isn’t wrong: like Stereo, the film has interesting ideas and shows a man with great talent behind the camera, but it fails on basic storytelling levels.

Tripod (Ronald Mlodzik, star of Stereo) is the director of the House of Skin, a dermatological clinic, whose mentor, Antoine Rouge, has disappeared. Rouge’s disappearance coincides with a cosmetic product-induced plague that has killed every adult woman on the planet. Tripod and other scientists experiment on themselves and others while trying to adjust to a world without women.

Crimes of the Future displays most of the strengths of Stereo- a hypnotic clinical detachment in style, fascinating ideas about sexuality and psychology, and the sense that a real artist is at work. It also shares Stereo’s impenetrable, jargon-filled narration, incompetent storytelling, and glacial pacing. The film’s only greater strength is an increase in ambition- this is Cronenberg’s first apparent interest in disease and its effect on the body, something which he would explore to much greater effect in his subsequent film Shivers.

Bigger problems: Cronenberg plays with sound for the first time, but it’s mostly distracting as none of the sounds go with much of what’s happening on screen. Stereo was also stronger in concept: sure, the narration bit didn’t work, but it at least all felt connected and purposeful. Crimes of the Future’s narration isn’t even particularly interesting in theory, and nothing seems even vaguely connected to what’s going on onscreen. It doesn’t help that where Stereo’s narration was detached to a purpose, Mlodzik’s narration here is downright comatose.  All in all, it leads to a shapeless, tedious film that’s worth watching for Cronenberg fanatics and completists only. It’s an awfully good thing that Cronenberg learned how to tell a story in the five years between Crimes of the Future and Shivers. Otherwise I’d be all but ready to abandon this project.

But don't take my word for it. You can watch Crimes of the Future for free on Google Video.

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