Thursday, January 09, 2014


Last week I went to Interzone. David Cronenberg: Evolution, an exhibition exploring the filmmaker's oeuvre, is on at TIFF until January 19.

Seeing as my brother's a film buff, and an enthusiast of Cronenberg in particular, this seemed like an appropriate event to make a present of over the holidays. My sister joined us (she drove).

While I wouldn't exactly call myself a fan of Cronenberg — I've seen his work from The Fly through Crash, and a smattering of more recent movies — Naked Lunch is one of my favourite films of all time (perhaps because it affirms that art is shit).

You don't need to be a film geek to appreciate this exhibit, though there were plenty on the premises. You don't need to know anything about Cronenberg going in; you will know plenty when you come out. It would help at least to like movies, and be open to exploring one of the twisted minds that creates them.

The minutiae of film-making
Multiple drafts, discarded drafts, deleted scenes. Promotional material. Comment cards from focus group screenings (of Videodrome, "awful").

The periodicals strewn across coffee tables. The letterhead notepads on desks. Those horrid surgical instruments from Dead Ringers. The Telepod. Labels on pill bottles, labels on bus spray. Storyboards, designs, mock-ups. Loads of props and costumes.

Film clips on monitors throughout the exhibit give context, as well as behind-the-scenes footage and commentary.

Here's a picture of my brother sidling up to a Mugwump.

One employee (at least, I think he was an employees) approached us to share anecdotes of Cronenberg's early days of filmmaking in Montreal. When he found a suitable apartment complex for his film location, he rewrote the characters of the neighbours to match the actual residents. The employee was brimming with enthusiasm for this method, as if he'd just learned of it and was dying to share.

Cronenberg on Cronenberg
Three short films were being screened on a loop just outside the main exhibition space. They are framed as being an autobiographical commentary.

Camera (2000), created as part of the celebration of the 25th anniversary of the Toronto Film Festival, features an older man being filmed by a group of kids who've found a camera, and sharing his internal monologue while he experiences it. He comments that we think of a camera as recording a moment, but rather it records the death of a moment.

At the Suicide of the Last Jew in the World in the Last Cinema in the World (2007), commissioned by Cannes Film Festival for its 60th anniversary, is hilarious, in a very dark way (as if that really needs to be qualified). Reality-TV style, the title character, played by Cronenberg, prepares to shoot himself, while the annoying commentators natter on about Jews and Hollywood.

The Nest was made expressly for this exhibition. It's weird in a way that's precariously balanced between funny and uncomfortable. This is a recording of a woman's presurgery consultation filmed from the perspective of the doctor, as if he has a camera strapped to his head. Her top is bare; she wants to have her left breast cut open in order to remove the nest of insects she hears rustling around in there. The "doctor" — who denies being a psychiatrist, she thought she'd be meeting a psychiatrist — is hesitant about the procedure and wonders about consulting with an entomologist, although he makes some pretty precise observations for someone who claims not to know anything about bugs. Also, the consultation takes place in what is obviously a dingy garage, complete with air pump, paint cans, gardening tools, and a pile of old fluorescent tubes.

Ongoing immersive narrative
Upon exiting the exhibition space, one is encouraged to visit "the lab." Serious stuff — 3D printers, walls of jars, embryonic pod structures in fluid. The narrative begins with the activities of BMC Labs, a fictional biotech firm that has partnered with David Cronenberg to develop biotech accessories inspired by the intellectual property found in his films.

(The white-coated lab technicians are remarkably straight-faced, but I managed to reduce one to laughter.)

The real adventure is online. Body/Mind/Change uses an "artificial intelligence recommendation engine" to custom-design a POD (Personal On-Demand), a biotech enhancement for implantation into your brain stem.

A series of unsettling questions is used to calibrate your personal pod with a psychological profile on scales of fear, anger, joy, sadness, regret. The experience unearths flashes of memories that you are asked to respond to and to interconnect. My pod's story has now been woven into that of other pods, and the narrative continues. The algorithm also offers suggestions for books to read, personal challenges to undertake, and career choices.

A wholly unique and clever exercise to undertake if you're at all interested in how we construct identity and tell stories:

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