David Cronenberg

David Cronenberg
David Cronenberg

David Cronenberg at Cannes, 2002
Born David Paul Cronenberg
March 15, 1943 (1943-03-15) (age 68)
Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Alma mater University of Toronto
Occupation Director, producer, screenwriter
Years active 1966–present
Spouse Margaret Hindson (1970–1977)
Carolyn Zeifman (1979–)

David Paul Cronenberg, OC, FRSC (born March 15, 1943)[1] is a Canadian filmmaker, screenwriter and actor. He is one of the principal originators of what is commonly known as the body horror or venereal horror genre. This style of filmmaking explores people's fears of bodily transformation and infection. In his films, the psychological is typically intertwined with the physical. In the first half of his career, he explored these themes mostly through horror and science fiction, although his work has since expanded beyond these genres. He has been called "the most audacious and challenging narrative director in the English-speaking world."[2]



After two short sketch films and two short art-house features (the black and white Stereo and the colour Crimes of the Future) Cronenberg went into partnership with Ivan Reitman. The Canadian government provided financing for his films through the 1970s. He alternated his signature "body horror" films such as Shivers with projects reflecting his interest in car racing and bike gangs. Rabid exploited the unexpected acting talents of pornographic actress Marilyn Chambers (Cronenberg's first choice was a young, then-unknown Sissy Spacek). Rabid was a breakthrough with international distributors and his next two horror features gained stronger support.

Over the arc of his career, Cronenberg's films follow a definite progression, a movement from the social world to the inner life. In his early films, scientists modify human bodies, which results in the breakdown of social order (e.g. Shivers, Rabid). In his middle period, the chaos wrought by the scientist is more personal, (e.g. The Brood, Scanners, Videodrome). In the later period, the scientist himself is altered by his experiment (e.g. his remake of The Fly). This trajectory culminates in Dead Ringers in which a twin pair of gynecologists spiral into codependency and drug addiction. His later films tend more to the psychological, often contrasting subjective and objective realities (eXistenZ, M. Butterfly, Spider).

Perhaps the best example of a film that straddles the line between his works of personal chaos and psychological confusion is Cronenberg's "adaptation" of his literary hero William S. Burroughs' most controversial book, Naked Lunch. The book was considered "unfilmable" and Cronenberg acknowledged that a straight translation into film would "cost 100 million dollars and be banned in every country in the world". Instead—much like in his earlier film, Videodrome—he consistently blurred the lines between what appeared to be reality and what appeared to be hallucinations brought on by the main character's drug addiction. Some of the book's "moments" (as well as incidents loosely based upon Burroughs' life) are presented in this manner within the film. Cronenberg stated that while writing the screenplay for Naked Lunch, he felt a moment of synergy with the writing style of Burroughs. He felt the connection between his screenwriting style and Burroughs' prose style was so strong, that he jokingly remarked that should Burroughs pass on, "I'll just write his next book."

Cronenberg has said that his films should be seen "from the point of view of the disease", and that, for example, he identifies with the characters in Shivers after they become infected with the anarchic parasites. Disease and disaster, in Cronenberg's work, are less problems to be overcome than agents of personal transformation. Of his characters' transformations, Cronenberg said, "But because of our necessity to impose our own structure of perception on things we look on ourselves as being relatively stable. But, in fact, when I look at a person I see this maelstrom of organic, chemical and electron chaos; volatility and instability, shimmering; and the ability to change and transform and transmute."[3] Similarly, in Crash (1996), people who have been injured in car crashes attempt to view their ordeal as "a fertilizing rather than a destructive event". In 2005, Cronenberg would say that he was upset that Paul Haggis had chosen the same name for his Academy Award winning film Crash, feeling it was "stupid" and "very disrespectful."[4]

Aside from The Dead Zone (1983) and The Fly, Cronenberg has not generally worked within the world of big-budget, mainstream Hollywood filmmaking, although he has had occasional near misses. At one stage he was considered by George Lucas as a possible director for Return of the Jedi but was passed. Cronenberg also worked for nearly a year on a version of Total Recall but experienced "creative differences" with producers Dino De Laurentiis and Ronald Shusett. A different version of the film was eventually made by Paul Verhoeven. A fan of Philip K. Dick, author of "We Can Remember it For You Wholesale," the short story upon which the film was based, Cronenberg related (in the biography/overview of his work, Cronenberg on Cronenberg) that his dissatisfaction with what he envisioned the film to be and what it ended up being pained him so greatly that for a time, he suffered a migraine just thinking about it, akin to a needle piercing his eye.

In the late 1990s, Cronenberg was announced as director of a sequel to another Verhoeven film, Basic Instinct, but this also fell through. His recent work, the thriller A History of Violence (2005), is one of his highest budgeted and most accessible to date. He has said that the decision to direct it was influenced by his having had to defer some of his salary on the low-budgeted Spider, but it is one of his most critically acclaimed films to date, along with Eastern Promises (2007) a film about the struggle of one man to gain power in the Russian Mafia.

Cronenberg has collaborated with composer Howard Shore on all of his films since The Brood (1979), (see List of noted film director and composer collaborations) with the exception of The Dead Zone (1983), which was scored by Michael Kamen. Other regular collaborators include actor Robert Silverman, art director Carol Spier, sound editor Bryan Day, film editor Ronald Sanders, his sister, costume designer Denise Cronenberg, and, from 1979 until 1988, cinematographer Mark Irwin. In 2008, Cronenberg directed Howard Shore's first opera, The Fly.

Since 1988's Dead Ringers, Cronenberg has worked with cinematographer Peter Suschitzky on each of his films (see List of noted film director and cinematographer collaborations). Suschitzky was the director of photography for The Empire Strikes Back, and Cronenberg remarked that Suschitzky's work in that film "was the only one of those movies that actually looked good",[5] which was a motivating factor to work with him on Dead Ringers.

Having worked with many Hollywood stars, Cronenberg says that he did not get to make a film with an actor he wanted to work with for a long time, Burt Reynolds. Cronenberg remains a staunchly Canadian filmmaker, with nearly all of his films (including major studio vehicles The Dead Zone and The Fly) having been filmed in his home province Ontario. Notable exceptions include M. Butterfly and Spider, most of which were shot in China and England, respectively. Rabid and Shivers were shot in and around Montreal. Most of his films have been at least partially financed by Telefilm Canada, and Cronenberg is a vocal supporter of government-backed film projects, saying "Every country needs [a system of government grants] in order to have a national cinema in the face of Hollywood".[6]

Cronenberg has also appeared as an actor in other directors' films. Most of his roles are cameo appearances, as in Into The Night, Jason X, To Die For, and Alias, but on occasion he has played major roles, as in Nightbreed or Last Night. He has not played major roles in any of his own films, but he did put in a brief appearance as a gynecologist in The Fly; he can also be glimpsed among the sex-crazed hordes in Shivers; he can be heard as an unseen car-pound attendant in Crash; his hands can be glimpsed in eXistenZ; and he appeared as a stand-in for James Woods in Videodrome for shots in which Woods' character wore a helmet that covered his head.

In 2008 Cronenberg realized two extra-cinematographic projects: the exhibition Chromosomes at the Rome Film Fest and the opera The Fly at the LaOpera in Los Angeles and Theatre Châtelet in Paris.

Future projects

In July 2010, Cronenberg completed production on A Dangerous Method, an adaptation of Christopher Hampton's play The Talking Cure, starring Keira Knightley, Michael Fassbender, and frequent collaborator Viggo Mortensen. The film was produced by independent British producer Jeremy Thomas.[7][8]

He also plans to write and direct an adaptation of Don Delillo's Cosmopolis.[9]

In the October 2011 edition of Rue Morgue, Cronenberg stated that he has written a companion piece to his 1986 remake of The Fly, which he would like to direct if given the chance. He has stated that it is not a traditional sequel, but rather a "parallel story".

Awards and recognition

He received the Special Jury Prize at the 1996 Cannes Film Festival for Crash.[10]

In 1999, Cronenberg was inducted onto Canada's Walk of Fame.[11] In 2002, he was made an Officer of the Order of Canada, and in 2006 he was awarded the Cannes Film Festival's lifetime achievement award, the Carrosse d'Or.[12]

Cronenberg has appeared on various "Greatest Director" lists. In 2004, Science Fiction magazine Strange Horizons named him the 2nd greatest director in the history of the genre, ahead of better known directors such as Steven Spielberg, James Cameron, Jean-Luc Godard and Ridley Scott.[13] In the same year, The Guardian listed him 9th on their list of "The world's 40 best directors".[14] In addition, in 2007, Total Film named him as the 17th greatest director of all-time.[15]

In 2006, he was made a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada, the senior national body of distinguished Canadian scientists and scholars.[16]

In 2009 Cronenberg received the Légion d'honneur from the government of France.[17] The following year Cronenberg was named an honorary patron of the University Philosophical Society, Trinity College, Dublin.[citation needed]

Personal life

Cronenberg was born in Toronto, Ontario, where he currently lives.[1] He is the son of Esther (née Sumberg), a musician, and Milton Cronenberg, a writer and editor.[18] He was raised in a middle-class progressive Jewish family.[19] Cronenberg attended Harbord Collegiate Institute, later graduating from University College, University of Toronto with a degree in literature, having switched from science. He has cited William S. Burroughs and Vladimir Nabokov as influences. He is an atheist and does not believe in an afterlife.[20][21]

In the 1992 book Cronenberg on Cronenberg, he revealed that The Brood was inspired by events that occurred during the unraveling of his first marriage, which caused both Cronenberg and his daughter Cassandra a great deal of turmoil. The character Nola Carveth, mother of the brood, is based on Cassandra's mother. Cronenberg said that he found the shooting of the climactic scene, in which Nola was strangled by her husband, to be "very satisfying".[22]


As director

Feature films
Short films
Television series
  • Programme X
    • episode: * Secret Weapons (1972)
  • Peep Show
    • episodes: The Victim (1975) & The Lie Chair [1975]
  • Teleplay
  • Friday the 13th: The Series
    • episode: 1.12 Faith Healer (1987)
  • Scales of Justice
    • episodes: Regina vs Horvath (1990) & Regina vs Logan (1990)
Television spots
  • Jim Ritchie Sculptor (1971)
  • Letter from Michelangelo (1971)
  • Tourettes (1971)
  • Don Valley (1972)
  • Fort York (1972)
  • Lakeshore (1972)
  • Winter Garden (1972)
  • Scarborough Bluffs (1972)
  • In the Dirt (1972)
  • Hydro
    • Client: Ontario Hydro
    • Product: Energy conservation
    • Agency: Burghardt Wolowich Crunkhorn
    • Production company: The Partners' Film Company Ltd.
    • Format: 4 x 30-second commercials
    • Titles: Hot Showers, Laundry, Cleaners, Timers
  • Caramilk
    • Client: William Neilson Ltd.
    • Product: Cadbury Caramilk
    • Agency: Scali McCabe, Sloves (Canada) Ltd.
    • Production company: The Partners' Film Company Ltd.
    • Format: 2 x 30-second commercials
    • Titles: Bistro, Surveillance
  • Nike
    • Client: Nike International
    • Product: Nike Air 180
    • Agency: Wieden and Kennedy
    • Production company: The Partners' Film Company Ltd.
    • Format: 1 x 15-second/4 x 30-second commercials
    • Title: Transformation

As producer

As actor


  1. ^ a b Cronenberg 1992, p. 1.
  2. ^ J. Hoberman (May 17, 2005). "Historical Oversight". The Village Voice. http://www.villagevoice.com/2005-05-17/film/historical-oversight/. Retrieved May 18, 2011. 
  3. ^ Gordon, Bette. "David Cronenberg", "BOMB Magazine", Winter, 1989. Retrieved July 25, 2011.
  4. ^ "Double Trouble". Slate Magazine. May 12, 2005. http://www.slate.com/id/2118602/fr/nl/. Retrieved December 13, 2009. 
  5. ^ "David Cronenberg Re-Examines David Cronenberg". Film Freak Central. March 9, 2003. http://www.filmfreakcentral.net/notes/dcronenbergretrointerview.htm. Retrieved March 9, 2003. 
  6. ^ Phipps, Keith. "David Cronenberg". The A.V. Club. http://www.avclub.com/content/node/22500. Retrieved May 18, 2011. 
  7. ^ "Viggo Mortensen Replaces Christoph Waltz As Sigmund Freud In David Cronenberg's 'The Talking Cure'". The Playlist. March 9, 2010. http://theplaylist.blogspot.com/2010/03/viggo-mortensen-replaces-christoph.html. Retrieved May 18, 2011. 
  8. ^ "Keira Knightley Takes The Talking Cure". Empire. December 23, 2009. http://www.empireonline.com/News/story.asp?nid=26588. Retrieved May 18, 2011. 
  9. ^ Ben Child (July 27, 2009). "Cronenberg to enter DeLillo's Cosmopolis". The Guardian. http://www.guardian.co.uk/film/2009/jul/27/david-cronenberg-don-delillo-cosmopolis. Retrieved May 18, 2011. 
  10. ^ "Festival de Cannes: Crash". festival-cannes.com. http://www.festival-cannes.com/en/archives/ficheFilm/id/4682/year/1996.html. Retrieved September 15, 2009. 
  11. ^ Canada's Walk of Fame: David Cronenberg, film director, Cannes Film Festival winner Archived August 26, 2006 at the Wayback Machine
  12. ^ Dupont, Joan (May 19, 2006). "Cronenberg: An intellectual with ominous powers". The New York Times. http://www.nytimes.com/2006/05/19/arts/19iht-dupont.html. Retrieved April 30, 2011. 
  13. ^ Jeremy Adam Smith (April 19, 2004). "The Ten Best Science Fiction Film Directors". strangehorizons.com. http://www.strangehorizons.com/2004/20040419/directors.shtml. Retrieved May 18, 2011. 
  14. ^ "The world's 40 best directors". The Guardian. http://film.guardian.co.uk/features/page/0,11456,1082823,00.html. Retrieved May 18, 2011. 
  15. ^ "Greatest Directors Ever". Total Film. August 20, 2007. http://www.totalfilm.com/features/the_greatest_directors_ever_-_part_2. Retrieved May 18, 2011. 
  16. ^ "2006 New Fellow Citations" (PDF). Royal Society of Canada. January 9, 2007. http://www.rsc.ca/files/media/newfellows/new_fellows_2006_citations.pdf. Retrieved May 18, 2011. 
  17. ^ "Cronenberg to receive France's Légion d'honneur". CBC. March 12, 2009. http://www.cbc.ca/arts/film/story/2009/03/12/cronenberg-france.html. Retrieved January 25, 2010. 
  18. ^ "David Cronenberg Biography (1943–)". Filmreference.com. http://www.filmreference.com/film/84/David-Cronenberg.html. Retrieved May 18, 2011. 
  19. ^ Eisner, Ken (2003). "David Cronenberg". Georgia Straight 37 (February 27–March 6): 23. http://www.davidcronenberg.de/georgiastraight.html. 
  20. ^ Guttsman, Janet, Reuters.com (September 10, 2007). Cronenberg gets down and dirty with Russian mob
  21. ^ "I'm simply a nonbeliever and have been forever. ... I'm interested in saying, 'Let us discuss the existential question. We are all going to die, that is the end of all consciousness. There is no afterlife. There is no God. Now what do we do.' That's the point where it starts getting interesting to me." — Interview, Esquire, February 1992.
  22. ^ Cronenberg 1992, p. 84.

Further reading

  • Cronenberg, David (1992). Rodley, Chris. ed. Cronenberg on Cronenberg (1st ed.). Faber & Faber. ISBN 978-0-571-14436-5. 
  • Mark Browning (2007): David Cronenberg: Author or Filmmaker? (ISBN 978-1-84150-173-4)
  • Thomas J. Dreibrodt (2000): Lang lebe das neue Fleisch. Die Filme von David Cronenberg — von 'Shivers' bis 'eXistenZ'. (academic; in German) (ISBN 978-3-932872-05-1)
  • Serge Grünberg, ed. (2006): David Cronenberg (interviews) (ISBN 978-0-85965-376-3)
  • Piers Handling (1983): The Shape of Rage: The Films of David Cronenberg (ISBN 978-0-7736-1137-5)
  • Kim Newman (1989): Nightmare Movies: A Critical History of the Horror Film 1968–1988 (ISBN 978-0-517-57366-2)
  • Drehli Robnik, Michael Palm, eds. (1992): Und das Wort ist Fleisch geworden. Texte über Filme von David Cronenberg. Vienna, PVS: 1992. ISBN 978-3-901196-02-7

External links

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