From the Drain
A change of management at the Disabled War Veterans Recreation Center.
Ken Russell’s satire of TV in Tommy gave a shock that resulted in critics lambasting him for “excess.” Cronenberg proceeds from Ann-Margret’s orgiastic beanfeast to James Woods’ lovemaking with his set (the virtual reality foretold in Nabokov’s poem, “Voluptates Tactionum”).
The idea (refined out of The Ipcress File and The Parallax View) is that television inculcates a hallucinatory “life of the mind,” or that it’s abominably pretentious. “The most powerful medium in the world,” Charlie Rose told Liz Smith.
The thematic strands are so various (WUSA, 1984, etc.) and well-woven that the dreamlike quality of the main part is not faked but structural, and resembles Arthur Miller’s surrealism in its instantaneity.
The Osterman Weekend is a kind of mirror, 52 Pick-Up picked up a certain aspect, Wag the Dog is a further refinement.
The Dead Zone
The joke is built throughout on a man put into a coma by a semi-trailer truck, who wakes up to find his girlfriend married and himself gifted with strange premonitions. He works with the police on a murder case, has various experiences with this gift, and finds that he can prevent the fulfillment of his visions.
The punchline comes when he shakes hands with a politician and sees the man as President madly embarking on WWIII. In a scene derived from The Manchurian Candidate, the politician is shot at from the balcony of a meeting hall (after a Hitchcockian interlude of a bullet dropped to the floor below and kicked under a chair) by the visionary, whose ex-girlfriend and her baby are on the same stage. She calls out, causing him to miss, but the politician grabs the baby to shield himself and is photographed doing so. The would-be assassin dies shot by a bodyguard, happy in his second sight of the politician blowing his own brains out.
Welles’ The Stranger is greatly developed by Cronenberg in a solid analysis based on one of its aspects, the Nabokovian precision of its New England views, and the cranework is a testimonial as well. The Stranger is a film only other directors have been able to value at its true worth, which Cronenberg does in color cinematography with a vast spectrum of lighting, from diffuse warm interiors to artful night exteriors to the first crack of wintry dawn light.
A picture full of aperçus like the little brass band warming up for the outdoor rally, the doctor out of Nabokov, the visible ceilings out of Welles, and the political campaign out of Frankenheimer and Ritchie and Scorsese.
The supreme irony is this remake, using the very same title. There is a careful gradation of thought from the initial premise, a computer geek closeted in his industrial makeover, to the final revelation of his larval character.
A baboon dies horribly, due to the imperfect tabulation. “The poetry of steak” (It Happened One Night) cannot be recaptured. Then a second baboon survives to recognize its keeper, the geek himself travels across his studio space, no strings attached, it can’t be done, what if? He is a god, a power that be, a law unto himself, the fly in the ointment.
The principal distinction is Cronenberg’s analysis by way of digital transfer. Heady moves illustrate the geek in orbit like the gymnast in If...., a special joke has reference to Fred Astaire in Royal Wedding. Another, much more obscure, has his nemesis in the editor of Particle magazine, a chip as you might say off the veritable block that is named above the door Monolith Publishing.
The immediate point of departure is likely Fellini’s City of Women. The simplicity of the reductive analysis will lend itself to different interpretations, one of which is a particularly amusing political satire with a very touching conclusion.
Just before this, Cronenberg pans on Irons as he crosses to a phone booth and back again, permitting an unobtrusive panorama of a beautiful modern city square with an old church set in it.
An effective demonstration of digital vs. film, on a conceit from Cocteau (“death at work”) as a MacGuffin.
The anxiety-ridden old actor, shot on video, sees children roll in a Panavision camera that films him, in the last shot, quite at home.