Tuesday, March 14, 2000

Cronenberg doc crashes film fest


MONTREAL -- Paying homage to the so-called seventh art, cinema, Montreal's 18th annual Festival of Films on Art has a robust sidebar called Artificial Paradise: Behind the Camera. The 14 films spotlighted in this section range from Warren Beatty and Jean-Luc Godard to Sergei Eisenstein and Canadian David Cronenberg.

In "David Cronenberg: I Have To Make The Word Be Flesh", audiences are reminded once again how wonderful it is to listen to Cronenberg speak.

Cronenberg is so unlike his films. He's a warm, personable guy with nothing but interesting things to say about his work. His articulate musings on his films are as seductive as anything he has put on screen. In that regard, he is often likened to Atom Egoyan.

The Cronenberg documentary is the latest cinema profile by Andre S. Labarthe, who has made a career of writing books and directing excellent biographies on visionary artists. In collaboration with Janine Bazin, he has profiled John Cassavettes, Nanni Moretti, Scorsese, Pasolini, Eric Rohmer, Andre Techine, and Ken Loach, among many others.

Serge Grunberg is the interviewer in the Cronenberg film. Despite the artifice in the film's set -- Cronenberg's head is dramatically framed by a doorway and a red wall -- the discussion is smooth and casual. A few TV monitors sit in front of Cronenberg and his interviewer, and they occasionally stop talking to view footage of "The Fly", "Naked Lunch", "Shivers", or "Crash".

Cronenberg discusses why he never uses storyboards to make his films, and how he struggles to make shots unique. Filmmakers can become paralyzed by every shot, by recalling the different ways that each shot has been filmed by other directors in the past. He feels we suffer from a saturation of imagery that makes it increasingly difficult to make a visually interesting film.

Labarthe and Bazin provided Cronenberg with a red drinking glass, to match the crimson wall behind him. He stops to take a sip of water and the camera pauses to catch the glass. This kind of self-consciousness is annoying but can be forgiven in small doses.

No, Cronenberg says, he is not preoccupied with human birth. He's interested in transformation and transcendence. He wants to tap into the creativity we use to transform ourselves, as daily life requires.

"Everything but the body is abstraction," he says, "I turn to it for verification, for truth. 'Crash' touched a nerve. The form of the movie must have touched a nerve because the book was 25 years old. The movie somehow broke a code. But there's nothing in it that you couldn't find on TV every day."

Ultimately, Labarthe and Bazin's film makes a decent contribution to the body of work on Cronenberg's odd and wonderful films -- which is really saying something, since the body of work is extensive and not nearly as accessible as this documentary. Red glass aside.

"David Cronenberg: I Have To Make The Word Be Flesh" is screening at the Montreal Festival Of Films On Art this Thursday (the 16th) and Sunday (the 19th). For more information: visit http://www.artfifa.com/, or call 514- 874-1637.