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Event Report: DAVID CRONENBERG: EVOLUTION at TIFF

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TIFF’s sprawling new exhibit and stem to stern screening series couldn’t be more appropriately christened, as maverick filmmaker David Cronenberg might be the only auteur to rise out of his era and actually progress and, yes, evolve his themes.

From his first short form films (STEREO and CRIMES OF THE FUTURE) to his debut feature SHIVERS and recently culminating in the complex and challenging COSMOPOLIS, Cronenberg has been forever fascinated with the idea of an individual or society allowing a viral “other” to infect its mind and/or body. Often that “other” is disease or a philosophy, one that sees weakness in its host, finding a chink in its armor before barreling its fist inside. And very often, that “other” – though obviously ugly and malevolent by our standards – is viewed by its creator as a hero, one that liberates for better or worse.

I’ve said it before. I’ll say it again. I don’t care if we’re talking about the austere period piece A DANGEROUS METHOD, every single David Cronenberg film is a horror movie, however hidden in whichever skin it inhabits.

Now, this exhibit…

Opening today and running until January at the sumptuous TIFF Bell Lightbox in Toronto (the home of the Toronto International Film Festival), DAVID CRONENBERG: EVOLUTION is an exhibit and installation like no other. Nestled in the gallery space of the building, the labyrinthine presentation takes you from the first days of David’s work, presenting stills from CRIMES and STEREO as well as the cape worn by DC vet Ron Mlodzik is CRIMES. Beneath that is the original rod puppet from SHIVERS; you know, that sickening fecal phallus sculpted by Joe Blasco? Yes, that one. Above it, monitors reveal in glorious HD how said parasite invaded poor Barbara Steele in the very same feature. A glance behind reveals more video as the anus in Marilyn Chambers armpit from RABID pushes out the bloodsucking probe, buffered by more rare plaqued stills and information on the films.

Moving down the corridors, you’ll find Louis Del Grande’s head exploding ad nauseum in SCANNERS (along with some Dick Smith props) and Rick Baker’s work from VIDEODROME, including the televisions pointing its flesh gun right at you and the Spectacular Optical helmet used to “Ludivico” James Woods in the same picture.

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Beside it sits one of the massive fiberglass and wood pods from THE FLY, as well as the kinky motorcycle motor that David used as the genetic aesthetic blueprint for the iconic machines. Further down the road under glass sits the leg-crossing hellish gynecological instruments used by Jeremy Irons upon his patients in DEAD RINGERS. It’s amazing to study these perversions as since we never actually see them invade any vaginal areas in the film, we can only shudder to fathom what exactly each twisted piece was assigned to accomplish.

In another room sits a faithful reconstruction of the bar in NAKED LUNCH, complete with life-size Mugwump. If you’re so inclined, you can get your picture taken with this noble, genital beast. Under glass sits every other prop from LUNCH including the rectal, roachy typewriter who so enjoys having bug powder rubbed on his puckered lips. Back in the main gallery, props from every other DC effort litter the walls and floor including the costumes from A DANGEROUS METHOD and a tutorial on the limo construction from COSMOPOLIS. EXISTENZ gets a huge installation, replicating its Chinatown and filling it with the virtual “things” from the movie. In the center of the web, is a “Spectacular Optical” room in which almost all documented video of DC on television and video appears, fading in and out around you.

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The problem I’m actually having articulating every inch that inhabits the DAVID CRONENBERG: EVOLUTION space is that you’re not technically allowed to take pictures. Of course, rules are made to be bent and I snapped a few, though I won’t share the more mind-bending ones here and betray the experience. You really, really have to be here. This is the entire life of David Cronenberg experience made into a deluxe, living breathing shrine. And the fact that after you wander through its decadence you can slip into one of the adjoining theatres to watch one of the films —at times with alumni from the pictures and even David himself —makes it a cinematic love-letter like no other.

If you’re a fan or even just a lover of the rich, enduring imprint that the art, craft and science of filmmaking leaves in its wake, you must check this thing out.

It’s worth the trip to Toronto.

Visit TIFF for more details.

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About the author
Chris Alexander
Author, film critic, teacher, musician and filmmaker (not to mention failed boxer) Chris Alexander is the editor-in-chief of FANGORIA Magazine. He got his first professional break as the “Schizoid Cinephile” in the pages of Canadian horror film magazine RUE MORGUE before making the move to FANGO in 2007. His words have appeared in The Toronto Star, Metro News, Wired, Montage, The Dark Side, Tenebre and many other notable publications and he appears regularly on international television and radio.
  • BODY/MIND/CHANGE

    4th Floor #PODLOVESYOU

  • Orlando Acosta

    Definitely worth the trip to Toronto. The term ‘visionary’ is thrown around too much. Very few artists deserve that title and Cronenberg is definitely one of them. Videodrome was light-years ahead of its time. No one can pathologically hold a mirror to face of society and its ills like Mr. Cronenberg can.

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