David Cronenberg

b. March 15, 1943, Toronto, Ontario, Canada.

articles in Senses
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Keeping his Body of Work in Mind: A Chronology of David Cronenberg’s Success as Canadian Auteur and Industry Pillar

There is certainly nothing comic, by our standards, in seeing an animal emptied of its visceral contents, but if the animal instead of doing something tragic, that is, dignified, gallops in a stiff old-maidish fashion around a ring…it is…comic. (1)

After graduating from North Toronto Collegiate Institute an Ontario Scholar, (2) David Cronenberg enrolled in the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Science, attempting to answer the question not of what things do, but of how they work. Raised by academics, David was quick to objectify the dualism that exists in both science and literature between self-identification with animals and those who identify themselves as human beings, a delicate balance between the entities of the mind and the body. His conclusions appear to riddle his sensibilities: a Canadian Cartesian whose learnedness worked in conjunction with his timing of breaking into the Canadian industry to elevate his status as one of Canada’s most prominent filmmakers, a pillar to the foundation and revision of Canadian film policy, and an example of Canadian subtext reveling in international arenas.

The overriding entity within the maturity of feature film policy in Canada was the foundation of the Canadian Film Development Corporation (CFDC). What is now know as Telefilm Canada, the CFDC established a production method that was much less expensive that it had been in the past, and saw to it that more transportable equipment was allocated for Canadian filmmakers, fostering the potential, in theory, of economic and artistic fasticulation, previously enveloped by the quagmire of legislation and capitol deficiency. “The CFDC’s mandate was to provide financing, initially through a revolving loan fund for the production of feature films in Canada, and can be explained less as a response to the Massey Commission’s call for cultural development than as an illustration of what states ‘do’ which is to establish sovereignty over their territory.” (3)

Realizing that the CFDC’s mandate actually threatened the ability to generate revenue from a distinctly Canadian cinematic culture, Trudeau’s Liberals bilaterally ramified continental legislation as a means of widening viewing audiences, saturating the United States market with palpable feature films, a Canadian cinema.

A film is a particular product, manufactured within a given system of economic relations, and involving labour to produce-a condition to which even ‘independent’ filmmakers are subject-assembling a certain number of workers…transforming into a commodity, possessing exchange value, which are realized by the sale of tickets and contracts, and governed by the laws of the market.(4)

Cronenbergian reference regarding the foundation for a national film policy is warranted as Shivers (1975) was the first CFDC film to show any sort of return. Produced for 380,000 Canadian dollars, it grossed close to five million Canadian dollars. Prior to Shivers, Cinepix (a production house run by Ivan Reitman, John Dunning and Andre Link) had only made soft-core sex films, which had catered solely to Canadian and European markets. Desperate to break into the American market meant culling convention, working in tandem with the fresh developments in Can-AM cinematic compromise. Ironically, horror was thought to be the genre best received. (5)

From the Drain
(1967) was a backlash to Vietnam. Stereo (1969) and Crimes of The Future (1970) documented science as ‘amuck’, failing to legitimize its function. In1971 and 1972 there were ten contributions to Canadian television. These early works began the assemblance of the Cronenbergian body, foundations for the recurring themes that plague his feature films, the first of which was to surface in 1975. Stemming from a treatment originally named Orgy of the Blood Parasites, the story of Shivers meanders from the corporate video of a utopian semi-rural high rise that houses some of Canada’s most sedulous sexual parasites, only to be unleashed onto Montreal. The intimations that riddle the Shivers subtext are truly Canadian. The perception of Cronenberg’s ‘North Americanism’ monadically orients the viewer with a site-specific location. Mr and Mrs Sweden, a metaphor for foreign investment, drawn to the corporate location presumably by its compelling marketing scheme, suggest that the slide show was a success (despite the economic climate of stagflation), even if “tennis wasn’t their game”.

The isolation of Starliner Island works as an in-group metaphor for Quebec itself, an entity of self-supporting otherness, isolated from the omnipresence Anglo-corporatism. Young professionals must make their daily urban-exodus whilst elders attempt to maintain their language within their self-contained cubicle. This Habitant insistence for autonomy facilitates Starliner’s amenities; an iconic pillar of repressed sexual tension was becoming ‘anti-retro’ post-De Gualle’s tenure. Long live the New France!


The macabreness of visceral abjection (a body without stable boundaries (6)) works to categorize Shivers within the arena of the horror or comedy genres depending on ones reception to imagery. Cronenberg himself intimates that the film is from the point of view of the parasite. The masculine protrusion that torments its ‘habitants’, not only makes up for the impetus of powerful men (namely failed saint Roger St. Luc), but also works to amass notions of the stripling libido in terms of reaffirming Franco-political turmoil, cultural malaise and continental stagflation. Starliner Island then, exemplifies the demographic shift in rural sensibilities, whereby the sanguinity to exude to the urban center could only occur after a complete transcendence of phenomenology.

Cronenberg admits to Shivers concluding as a ‘happy ending’, prowess and regression released onto the urban landscape, brought to fruition with his next effort Rabid (1976). The wordplay of Toronto based Robert Fulford concluded, to his loyal Saturday Night readers and a national audience alike, that Shivers did not warrant attention due to the numerous failures with its conventions. Fulford’s credibility as social critic, combined with the onscreen sensationalism the film presented, was reason enough to cut funding for future Cronenberg projects. Fulford penalized the director for working within (and subsequently reforming) the horror genre that had a lifetime of interest and fascination. (7) As such, Rabid was pitched and subsequently funded through another Cinepix production as Cronenberg, although viable financially, was regarded as a high risk.

Consecutive cinematic representation of Canada’s urban/rural phenomenon, Rabid transcends language barriers with notions that encompass the young French Canadian’s backlash to the banality of life in towns with long French names. The opening sequence establishes the omnipresence of car culture, existing as entities that envelop the frame, the low angle shots depicting the potentiality for exodus as larger than life. Both vehicles function by causing violent crashes by which the human body is augmented and then reconstructed thanks to the progress of science. Here the workingman has failed to ‘load the Econoline van’, a point hammered home by the nagging wife, Francis McDormand’s French Canadian twin no doubt. Highlighting both the freedom and subsequent limitations of the young French Canadian and the problematic family unit, the film’s introduction coincides with the climate of stagflation, and the subsequent oil crisis. Deconstructing car culture ensures that jogging does kill!

Producer Ivan Reitman came up with the idea of casting Marylin Chambers as a cost effective way of solidifying box office draw. Marilyn’s previous ‘experience’ worked with the Cinepix rapport of soft-core sex flicks. This taboo star-system was a compromise of cumfort zones. Coinciding with the AIDS outbreak, Chambers, walking virus, is an apologetic martyr of “very experimental surgery” going wrong, her mutated body protruding a blood-sucking phallus concealed in a vaginal orifice, common to the left armpit. What warrants explanation here however is if science was able to create a body with a taste for blood, why did mind not develop its rabidity after the barnyard romp with the cow? Blocking as oversight, her journey from the rural medical clinic to urban Montreal is littered with the usual inebriated native, horny truck drivers and ‘arguably’ the best diner food on the Trans Canada. And after quarantining all of Montreal, not even Santa Claus can escape Chambers’ rabid wrath. Good thing the Montreal garbage men weren’t on strike.

The film grossed seven million, despite production costs of under 700,000 Canadian dollars. Consecutive financial successes can only intimate that Cronenberg’s crew must have received payment in rashers of back bacon. The financial climate of the late 1970s obviated tax incentives to be administered to cinematic investors. By putting money into Canadian projects, subsequently boosting the trajectory of Canadian production and content, the investor could write off all investment and even the notion of future contributions for tax purposes, despite obliviousness to notions of industry protocol.

Fast Company

Fast Company (1979) is truly great B-cinema despite the tendencies of scholastic indifference. Whether its lack of reception has been due to lack of availability, its straight-to-Beta stigma or, most probable, an audience’s disregard for anything differing from the Cronenbergian macabre is open for debate. What is certain is that this effort, his first with a budget exceeding the million-dollar mark, was a precursor to the personal trajectory of The Brood (1979). Divorce proceedings underway, David changed focus to his consuming passion of the automobile. The final product was a decent drag strip movie, “a good B-Movie” he admits. The good versus evil tension included in most racing films is combined with some point of view shots from the car racers proper, in itself, well worth the price of the rental. Spending most of the film arguing with John Saxon, his greasy sponsor from Fast Company Motor Oil, William Smith plays Lonnie ‘Lucky Man’ Johnson, whose iconic status as drag strip guru is tested race after race. His real stroke of luck however comes through his onscreen squeeze, November Playmate 1969 Claudia Jennings. This marked consecutive attempts at casting notables from the adult industry. Attempting to recreate the similar appeal and subsequent audience draw that worked for him in Rabid, Ms Jennings’ luck ran out in an ironic off-screen car-accident, taking her young life shortly after the film was completed.

Nola (Samantha Eggar) in The Brood

The Brood was written in spite of his divorce and subsequent custody battle. Its success can be related to the “well organized advertising campaign in many foreign markets and, most importantly, in the United States…re-released…in late 1981…on a double-bill with George Romero’s Dawn of the Dead.” (8) Here the womb has been developed externally through psychoplasmics, working in tandem with the conditioning of the Dr Hal Raglan doctrine The Shape of Rage. The newborn become an extension of pent-up rage, maternal mind acting as remote control for the actions of these doll-like bodies, rebirth metaphor for this new-found relationship. Cronenberg intimates that “The Brood is the most classic horror film I have done: the circular structure, generation unto generation; the idea that you think it’s over and then suddenly you realize it is starting all over again.” (9) The Brood uses the orthodoxy of the generic horror structure as a catalyst for self-interest, big budget puppeteering exceeding $1.5 million Canadian, cast with risk reducing notables Art Hindle, Oliver Reed and Samantha Eggar.

The notion of the money shot is malleable, marred further by the outlets Cronenberg has succumbed to in order to fund his projects. Scanners (1980) includes one that actually works to demarcate subtext. Here, the mind actually leaves the body, violently. Scanners‘ “…transitional edits serve as direct, amplifying links where the last moment of the first scene builds a question or expectation that is immediately answered or fulfilled in the next shot…” (10) Filmplan International financed the production, budgeting more than $4 million toward the project. Originally called The Sensitives and then Telepathy 2000, Scanners had been in revision since the early 1970s, trumped by the personal vigor behind both Fast Company and The Brood. Like Crimes of the Future, Cronenberg institutionalizes the Cartesian, Consec housing the balance. The opening sequence, whereby a Scanner is hunted down, is guerilla filmmaking urban mall style, and is a reprise of Michael Anderson’s Logan’s Run (1976). The final shootout sequence whereby Darryl Revok (Michael Ironside) and Cameron Vale (Stephen Lack) scan themselves to death happens to be the first film since Crimes of the Future to have a distinct notion of closure, the means to an end, culminating with an optimistic destruction of a character. Scanners is an attempt to make thought visible, the ramifications of which are stronger than the external. Our money shot, a proverbial augmentation: mind out of matter. Subsequence solidified Scanners as Cronenberg’s first film to top the Variety box-office chart.

“Why would anyone watch a scum show like Videodrome?” Because it’s on and is certainly more entertaining than The Beachcombers, Magnum P.E.I. or any other Canadian television programming circa 1982. Riding on the wave of his previous box-office success, Videodrome (1982) marks the first time that Cronenberg creates a story revolving around a single character. Like Donleavy’s Singular Man (1964), introduction to conflict appears in the first person, point of view narrative acting as the catalyst within which Max Renn (James Woods) is to exist. There is a distinct break between what is supposed to be reality and that of hallucination (revisited later in Naked Lunch [1991]), the point to which is open for debate, a trajectory to which the film never resurfaces from. Certainly, the audience sees what Woods perceives, first person.

Establishing Max Renn as head of Channel 83, the opportunist runs a Toronto-based television station geared at projecting the sensational. After picking up a renegade channel from the otherness of the third world, Max becomes the product of McLuhanesque experimentation, pulses from television signals controlling his thought processes and subsequent actions. The character of Max Renn, it is said, was modeled on Moses Znaimer, head of CITY TV, Toronto’s equivalent to Channel 83: Brian Oblivion’s monologues a la Speakers Corner. Max’s “long live the new flesh” exit from his perception of existence, is an alleged poke at Znaimer, backlash to the pre-Shivers dissuasion to making Canadian features, as “everyone knew that they were a waste of time.” (11)

Like Rabid, our hero’s artillery consists of a phallic-like extension housed in a vaginal opening. Nikki Brand (Deborah Harry) represents the desirable introduction to a product that he himself markets, perhaps an obviation that until this point was unattainable? Max’s transgressive tendencies are projected through the videodrome, liberating him from the stigmatic purveyor of physical explicitness.

In a sense, Cronenberg has created his notion of Videodrome both as way of weeding out and destroying cells aroused by such activity, and as a way of gauging public sentiment toward this subject matter. The film itself was exposed to the judgmental ardor: its text encompassed, picketed by female members of parliament and removed from public screening, the subtext of subtext. Cut into three versions, the television cut is laughable; the VHS version appears as mise en scène in Atom Egoyan’s Speaking Parts (1989), and the DVD best bet contains an original theatrical trailer that is a fitting pre-curser to this masterpiece.

Videodrome marked the end of a Cronenbergian era. With the tax shelter exposed as an egregious rift in policy and subsequently revised, it appeared time for Cronenberg to move toward lower risk projects. The response was a number of literary adaptations to work in tandem with his previous success to make a “decisive move into the mainstream.” (12) They were a culmination of big budget and big name actors, solidifying Cronenberg’s position as a viable filmmaker who was to now remove himself from the distinctiveness of Canadian parameters to adapt a popular piece of pulp fiction, Stephen King’s Dead Zone, his first adaptation since Fast Company.

Christopher Walken in The Dead Zone

To loyal followers, Christopher Walken’s performance in The Dead Zone (1983) was clearly indicative of Cronenberg legitimizing his role as a viable director, for the incremental bettering of quality and costly actors seemed to be progressing. What worked for Cronenberg in this instance was that ‘breaking the ice’ south of the boarder with the Regan-era story, market, setting, casting, etc. legitimized to viewers the potentiality of this onscreen experience, for within the quagmire of the American demographic, almost anything is believable, for there is probably someone who has experienced a similar occurrence amongst the 300 million. To juxtapose the ‘limitations’ then of the Canadian ethos would see to it that unbelievable stories are left for the movie screen, the normality of Federalism tending to supersede sensational story telling. This ‘believable’ story of lost love marked a distinct brake from his previous auteuristic tendencies. Settling into adapting screenplays from literary sources, Cronenberg understates King’s story, and, except for one spectacular suicide scene, refrains from his usual visceral horror approach to storytelling. This did not, however, insure a successful box-office draw, although the film was certainly one of cinema’s more successful Stephen King adaptations.

The post Dead Zone period was a successful one. Budgets topping the ten million dollar mark became commonplace after The Fly. This 1986 adaptation marks the first time Cronenberg allowed an accident to establish the trajectory for bodily metamorphosis. Doing so accounts for the maintenance of Seth Brundle’s (Jeff Goldblum) temporal coherence throughout his ghastly transformation and is, perhaps, a more astute metaphor than Rabid was for the ramifications of the AIDS virus:

A virus can’t exist in a vacuum-it has to have a host; it has to embed itself in something. I mean viral film making sounds like film making as a disease, art as a disease, but also as something that embeds itself in your genetic structure, your chromosomal structure, and in that strange way becomes part of you even though it’s not. (13)

Using technology as the agent that will quell Seth’s yearning to conceptualize the desires of the mind and the body, Cronenberg manages to capture a most human of performances, pitting revelations of normalcy against a physical transformation of otherness, void of any cohesive rift in cognition. The subsequent tenderness that exudes from the film has to do with a palpable narration emanating from an ‘exterior’ that is non-human. Had science not run amuck here, the trilateral merger of mind, body and science could have nullified its unattainable stigma. However, the Cronenberg in-group knows these affiliations (bi, tri…) will never be balanced but, rather, revisited, the next installment internalized to the womb. His mind’s fine but his body feels weak, somebody call for the doctor ’cause I think he’s sick. (14)

Dead Ringers

Dead Ringers (1988) was adapted from the true crime novella Twins, a documentation of the Mendle twins, New York City gynecologists who committed suicide to exude malpractice. Casting for the role proved to be a most ominous pre-production obstacle (for obvious reasons), the final product leaving it almost impossible to conceptualize the performance coming from anyone other than Jeremy Irons. Cronenberg’s loyalty granted the original title, Twins, to be used by colleague Ivan Reitman on his project that same year.

Toronto 1988: the first time Cronenberg specifies location, destigmatizing prior notions of North American miscellany. Here, the male mind and the female body are explored in the most literal of senses, avoiding middle class sensibilities as a way of accentuating a Rorty-like demarcation of the public (Eliot Mendle) and private (Beverley Mendle). Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous is actually switched off, an onscreen precursor to the finalization of the actor’s journey. The English drawl of Irons is juxtaposed with Genevieve Bujold’s (as Claire) Franco-blasé, orchestrating a linguistic subtext that worked to accentuate the climate of federal referendum.

Elliot and Beverly are a couple, not complete in themselves. Both the characters have femaleness in them. The idea that Beverly is the wife of the couple is unacceptable to him. He cannot accept that they are, a couple. Elliot has fucked more women, has a greater facility with the superficialities if everything, with the superficialities of sex. But in terms of ever establishing emotional rapport with women, Elliot is totally unsuccessful. Beverly on the other hand is successful, but he doesn’t see this success as a positive thing. Instead he sees that as another part of his weakness. (15)

Success for the squeamish, eh? Whether this had to with do the fear associated with going to the hospital, the stigma involved with gynecology, the pro-misogynistic fervor commonplace in 1988, or the outright nervousness induced by the sight of men in blood red suits using “tools for operating on mutant women” whilst inebriated, Dead Ringers struck a chord with the psyche of an audience that collaborated to praise the film as Cronenberg’s most mature to date. The laser disc is the best print to view or review, containing numerous Easter eggs including a featurette on “tools of operating on mutant women”, the 1970 silent feature Crimes of the Future in its entirety and, of course, a director’s commentary that brings coherence out of the red.

Why would one attempt to cinematically recreate literary incoherence? William Burroughs’ Naked Lunch (published in 1959) was a landmark beat generation novel that set precedent for classification laws after winning a court case on literary censorship. Cronenberg had shown interest in adapting a screenplay based on the work as early as 1981. His transformation was completed some ten years later, a cinematic revision to the “biography of beat writer William Burroughs, recast as a heterosexual literary outlaw.” (16)

Differentiation of plot and story aside, basically our Burroughs metaphor, played by Peter Weller, becomes addicted to an insecticide called pyrethrum, the ramifications sequester his mind into a literary videodrome (“Interzone”) where hallucinations govern his sensibilities and subsequent decision-making processes. After taking advice from one of his hallucinations, he shoots his wife between the eyes, (Burroughs killed his wife in an ode to William Tell), and flees to Tangiers to find out that that place too is an Interzone induced hallucination, and he has never actually left 1953 New York City.

One conclusion that can be drawn is that Cronenberg adapted a screenplay from the Burroughs mystique, not directly from his text, as many argue, a snuff pastiche enveloped within Cronenberg’s 13 years of adaptation.

Cronenberg’s adaptation of M. Butterfly (1993) cast Jeremy Irons in a risqué journey though repressed homosexual tendencies, made palatable by metaphor. Cronenberg saw it as:

the story of two people composing the opera of their lives. They’re not only creating their romance, they’re creating their own version of China and ultimately they’re creating their own sexuality. Sexuality is an invention; it’s a creative thing. We’ve long ago separated ourselves from whatever biological imperative there was and it’s been that way for thousands of years. This story is an extreme version of this inventing but the extreme illuminates the ordinary versions of what each of us does. (17)

M. Butterfly marks a departure for the director in other ways. It was filmed in China, Budapest, Paris, and Toronto, and the sheer presence of landscape, architecture, and costume lends the images an opulence that goes beyond anything in Cronenberg’s previous films. (18) Despite recognition of gracefully adapting Hwang’s novel, the film’s reception was half-hearted, symptomatic of Fast Company, due to its abrupt change in direction from the director’s previous work, despite addressing much of the dualistic agency of previous subtext, albeit in a less visceral form.


Adapted from J.G. Ballard’s 1973 novel, Cronenberg documents in Crash, (1996) the nature of human tendency, an accentuation of the limits to which the individual will endeavor to scratch what itches. Television commercial director James Ballard (James Spader) is established as having an “open” relationship with his wife, Catherine (Deborah Unger). When hedonistic ritual no longer legitimizes its function, the dichotomy between physical bodies and governable apparatus is explored, consequence working to arbitrate fulfillment. Juxtaposed with the notion of the “rubber-necker” (the seemingly natural fascination we as humans have with the spectacle of the car crash, hence slowing our car down to take a look), a combination occurs by which the body is manipulated and permanently altered (see Lacanian jouissance) as a result of technological instrumentation; a ramification of self induced extension. In Crash, Cronenberg revisits his passion for the automobile. The subsequent thematics of suggestion: social, political, sexual, are open for debate, and are synthesized best, perhaps, by Ian Sinclair’s Crash in the BFI film reader series.

The addition of pain/violence to the sexual act, although privately common, is encapsulated here so frankly, its demeanor is certainly untypical of public representations. Cronenberg appears to cinematically intimate Ballard’s suggestion of obviating the potentiality of prowess as a means to self-realization both publicly and privately.

It is through sex…any imaginary point determined by the deployment of sexuality that each individual has to pass in order to have access to his own intelligibility (seeing that it is both the hidden aspect and the generative principal of meaning) to the whole of his body…(and) to his history. (19)

The final product attempts to “film the unfilmable”, balancing the fulfillment of sexual desire the realization of violence. Crash equals orgasm. “Maybe next time”, James and Catherine console to each other as the outro.

Next time? Is attempting to make cinema more populist an achievement? Plugging a video game into your spine in order to achieve exaltation in Being that transcends what is possible? Yet audience’s found a palpability here that rendered eXistenZ, (1999) a success; a warm reception emanating from the point and click generation. To deconstruct Ted Pikul’s (Jude Law) “I don’t want to be here, we’re just stumbling around in this unformed world not knowing what the rules and objectives are – or if there even are any – and we’re being attacked by unknown forces that we don’t understand,” is a popularization of Heideggerian subtext applied in a fashion that fasticulates to support the Derrida camp, whereby the hermeneutics of language, although supposed to represent a larger body, are specific only to their author. Cronenberg himself admits that the eXistenZ subtext

refers to [Ted’s] description of what life is, being thrown into the world. I’d like to be making a philosophical cinema, but I’m looking for metaphors and imagery that will express some of these things. When you’re dealing with the body and the way it’s being transformed, it seems very logical to end up with the kind of movies that I make. (20)

Certainly a pastiche of earlier works, this contribution to his body suggests a trajectory that is moving further into the “mainstream”, for eXistenZ is his first work whereby a specific market is targeted, supported by a plethora of stars, means of ensuring return.

Cronenberg’s most recent feature, Spider (2002), has, to this point, worked the festival circuit, debuting in Cannes followed by its warm Toronto reception. An adaptation of Patrick McGrath’s 1991 novel The Grotesque, the story meanders through the life of Dennis “Spider” Cleg (Ralph Finnes). Set dually in early 1970s East London, and the East London of today, the narrative uses private flashback to establish Spider’s public adult life. After watching his father murder his mother and ‘replace’ her with a prostitute, Spider fears his own life. Plotting revenge finds him going to jail, to be released to a halfway house some time later. Failure to take his medication sends Spider into yet another Cronenbergian world of hallucination, governing over narration in a non-visceral drama that intimates “the only thing worse than losing your mind is finding it again.” Co-starring Gabriel Byrne and Miranda Richardson, its public release looks to be early in the new year of 2003.

The attention that Cronenberg warrants transcends generic deconstruction. The in-group that labor over his representations has probably stopped reading this some time ago. However, to holistically demystify what it is that makes him warrant such research is necessary as “few spectators are conditioned to perceive in individual works the organic unity of a director’s career.” (21) Despite his mandate to once use generic models as means of ensuring project development, it appears to be the fact that Cronenberg has emerged from a Canadian climate of stagflation and social malaise into spheres of international prominence that merits attention. “Cronenberg’s mise en scène is such that its application helps to create a new sub-genre in the process, where the viral and the virtual go hand in hand, reflecting the fact that Canadians have exhausted all means of self-transcendence: aesthetic, sexual, political, religious, and have substituted an inertial and endless proliferation of ourselves.” (22)

His contribution to the Canadian film industry has worked to revise policy, found and fund production teams and companies, and deal with sensibilities that are not indigenous to Canada itself, but rather to the cinematic rhetoric of the county’s first auteur. His trajectory has moved from original features masked by convention to revisions of literary adaptations accentuated with personal zeal, culminating into a body of works that are “body-centric”. For him:

…the first fact of human existence is the body and the further we move away from the human body the less real things become and have to be invented by us. Maybe the body is the only fact of human existence that we can cling to. And yet it seems to be much ignored in movie making, although maybe not in art generally. (23)


As director:

Transfer (1966) 7 mins, color, 16mm (Also screenplay, cinematography, editor)

From the Drain (1967) 14 mins, color, 16mm (Also screenplay, cinematography, editor)

Stereo (1969) 65 mins, B&W, 35mm

Crimes of the Future (1970) 65m, color, 35mm (Also producer, screenwriter, director of photography, editor)

Shivers (also known as They Came from Within, The Parasite Murders, Frissons, Orgy of the Blood Parasites) (1975) 87 mins, color, 35mm (Also screenwriter)

Rabid (1976) 91 mins, color, 35mm (Also screenwriter)

Fast Company (1979) 91 mins, color, 35mm (Also screenwriter)

The Brood (1979) 91 mins, color, 35mm (Also screenwriter)

Scanners (1980) 103 mins, color, 35mm (Also screenwriter)

Videodrome (1982) 87 mins, color, 35mm (Also screenwriter)

The Dead Zone (1983) 100 mins, color, 35mm

The Fly (1986) 92 mins, color, 35mm (Also screenwriter, actor)

Dead Ringers (1988) 115 mins, color, 35mm (Also producer, screenwriter)

Naked Lunch (1991) 115 mins, color, 35mm (Also screenplay)

M. Butterfly (1993) 102 mins, color, 35mm

Crash (1996) 110 mins, color, 35mm (Also screenplay)

eXistenZ (1999) 96 mins, color, 35mm (Also producer, screenwriter)

Spider (2002) 98 mins, color, 35mm (Also producer)

A History of Violence (2005)

Television work (for Canadian Television, unless otherwise noted):

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)

Programme X: Secret Weapons (1972) 27 mins, color, 16mm

Peep Show: The Victim (1975) 27 mins, color, 2” VTR

Peep Show: The Lie Chair (1975) 27 mins, color, 2” VTR

The Italian Machine (1976) 28 mins, color, 16mm [teleplay for Canadian TV]

Friday the 13th: Episode 12 – Faith Healer (1987) 26 mins, color [for Paramount TV]

Scales of Justice: Regina Versus Horvath (1990) 48 mins, color, betacam

Scales of Justice: Regina Versus Logan (1990) 44 mins, color, betacam

Maniac Mansion: Idella’s Breakdown (1991)

Camera, (2002) Short for the Toronto Film Festival, and The Movie Network.

Spider (2002)

A History of Violence (2005)

To Each His Own Cinema (Segment: “At the Suicide of the Last Jew in the World in the Last Cinema in the World”, 2007)

Eastern Promises (2007)

A Dangerous Method (2011)

Cosmopolis (2012)

The Nest (Short, 2013)

Maps To the Stars (2014)

Consumed (2014)


David Cronenberg and James Woods on the set of Videodrome


Hot Showers (Commercial for Ontario Hydro, 1989)

Laundry (Commercial for Ontario Hydro, 1989)

Cleaners (Commercial for Ontario Hydro, 1989)

Timers (Commercial for Ontario Hydro, 1989)

Bistro (Commercial for Cadbury Caramilk, 1990)

Surveillance (Commercial for Cadbury Caramilk, 1990)

Transformation #1 (Commercial for Nike, 1990)

Transformation #2 (Commercial for Nike, 1990)

Transformation #3 (Commercial for Nike, 1990)

Transformation #4 (Commercial for Nike, 1990)

Transformation #5 (Commercial for Nike, 1990)

Acting credits:

Black Zero (1967) Dir:

Into the Night (1985) Dir: John Landis

Nightbreed (1989) Dir: Clive Barker

Blue (1992) Dir: Don McKellar

Trial by Jury (1994) Dir: Heywood Gould

Henry and Verlin (1994) Dir: Gary Ledbetter

Boozecan (1994) Dir: Nicholas Campbell

Blood and Donuts (1995) Dir: Holly Dale

To Die For (1995) Dir: Gus Van Sant

The Stupids (1996) Dir: John Landis

Extreme Measures (1996) Dir: Michael Apted

Moonshine Highway (1996) Dir: Andy Armstrong

Grace Of God (1997) Dir: Gérald L’Ecuyer

Last Night (1998) Dir: Don McKellar

Resurrection (1999) Dir: Russell Mulcahy

Dead by Monday (2000) Dir: Curt Trininger

About Cronenberg:

The Films of David Cronenberg (2000) Dir: Robert J. Emery

Naked Making Lunch (1992) Dir: Chris Rodley

Select Bibliography

Works Cited:

Adrian, M., “So Close to the State/s: The Emergence of Canadian Feature Film Policy (Review)” Labour/Le Travail, Spring 2001

Barr, L., “Long Live The New Flesh”, KGB Magazine, 1995, p.23

Beard, W., “The Canadianess of Cronenberg” Mosaic: A Journal of the Interdisciplinary Study of Literature, Vol, 27. Issue 2 (June 1994)

_______, The Artist as Monster: The Cinema of David Cronenberg, University of Toronto Press, Toronto, 2001

Cale, J.J., Call The Doctor, Mercury Records, 1970

Comolli, J.L. and Narboni, J., “Cinema/Ideology/Criticism.” 1969, in Film Theory: Introductory Readings, 4th Ed. Mast, Cohen, Braudy, New York, 1992

Conrich, I., “An Aesthetic Sense: Cronenberg and neo-horror film culture”, in Grant, M. (ed.) The Modern Fantastic: The Films of David Cronenberg, 2000, pp.35-49

Crane, J., “A Body Apart: Cronenberg and Genre, in Grant, M. (ed.) The Modern Fantastic: The Films of David Cronenberg, 2000, pp.50-68

Creed, B., “The Naked Crunch: Cronenberg’s Homoerotic Bodies”, in Grant, M. (ed.) The Modern Fantastic: The Films of David Cronenberg, 2000, pp.84-101

Emery, R.J., The Films of David Cronenberg. Videorecording. New York: Fox Lorber, CentreStage: WinStar TV & Video, produced in cooperation with the American Film Institute, 2000

Foucault, M., History of Sexuality, Vintage Books, 1980

Hemingway, E., Death In The Afternoon, Penguin Books, Victoria, 1966

Johnson, B.D., “Directing on the edge (Profile of Canadian film director David Cronenberg)”, World Press Review, Vol 40, No. 11 (November 1993)

Morris, P., David Cronenberg: A Delicate Balance, ECW Press, Toronto, 1994

Porton, R.,The Film Director as Philosopher: An Interview with David Cronenberg” (Interview), Cineaste Vol 24, No. 4 (Fall 1999)

Rodley, C., Cronenberg on Cronenberg, Faber and Faber, Toronto, 1992

Sarris, A., “Notes on the Auteur Theory in 1962.” Cahiers du Cinéma, No 27, Winter 1962-63, in Stiney P.A. (ed.), Film Culture Reader, Cooper Square Press, New York, 2000

Seguin, D., Sex With Dave: David Cronenberg on the Making of M. Butterfly. Interview, 1993

Further Reading:

Beard, Bill, “David Cronenberg’s Fast Company”, Cinema Canada, 58 (September 1979) pp.32-33

Breskin, David, “Cronenberg: The Rolling Stone Interview”, Rolling Stone, 6 (February 1992), pp.66-70

Creed, Barbara, “Woman as Monstrous Womb: The Brood”, in The Monstrous Feminine: Film, feminism, psychoanalysis, Routledge, London, New York, 1993, pp.43-58

Delaney, Marshall, “You Should Know How Bad This Film Is. After All You Paid For It”, Saturday Night, (January 1975), pp.83-85

Doran, Anne, “John Waters on David Cronenberg” (Discussion of Cronenberg film Shivers), Grand Street, Spring 1997, p.58

Handling, Piers (ed.), The Shape of Rage: The Films of David Cronenberg, Geberal Publishing Co, Toronto, 1983

Irving, Joan, “David Cronenberg’s Rabid”, Cinema Canada, 37 (April/May 1977), p.57

Jaehen, Karen, “David Cronenberg on William Burroughs: Dead Ringers To Naked Lunch”, Film Quarterly, 45:3 (Spring 1992), pp.2-6

Pizello, Stephen, “Driver’s Side”, American Cinematographer, 78:4 (April 1997), pp.43-47

Sinclair, Iain, Crash: David Cronenberg’s Post-mortem on J.G. Ballard’s “Trajectory of Fate”, BFI, 1999

Scorsese, Martin (as told to Jay Cocks), “Scorsese on Cronenberg”, Fangoria, 32 (January 1984), pp.46-47

Testa, Bart, “Panic Pornography: Videodrome: From Production to Seduction”, Canadian Journal of Political and Social Theory, 13: 1-2 (1989), pp.56-72

Yacowar, M., “You Shiver Because It’s Good”, Cinema Canada, 34/35 (February 1977), pp.54-55

Articles in Senses of Cinema

Excess and Resistance in Feminised Bodies: David Cronenberg’s Videodrome and Jean Baudrillard’s Seduction by Martin Ham

From the Drain (David Cronenberg, 1967) by Emma Westwood

I Like Your Early, Scary Films: Consumed: A Novel, by David Cronenberg review by Dan Erdman

“I Reach Out My Hand and What Do I Feel?”: Thematising Digitisation in Cronenberg’s Cosmopolis by James Slaymaker

Web Resources

Compiled by the author and Albert Fung

David Cronenberg and Jeremy Irons on the set of Dead Ringers

David Cronenberg www Links and Resources
Self explanatory link.

David Cronenberg
A collection of news articles on Cronenberg.

A dedicated fan site with a large image archive.

The Films and Writings of David Cronenberg

Eviscerating David Cronenberg
Critical piece on evisceration in Cronenberg’s films.

Other Voices
Critical piece on Crash

An exposition into the film with some sound clips.

Technology’s Body: Cronenberg, Genre, and the Canadian Ethos
Critical piece on this University of Toronto site.

Film Directors: Articles on the Internet
Plenty more articles can be found here. Just scroll down.

Piece titled, Body Mutation and Dualism in the Films of David Cronenberg.

Fine Line Features’ Crash Site.

Cronenberg Interview
Interview about eXistenZ.


  1. Hemingway, E., Death In The Afternoon, Penguin Books, Victoria, 1966, p.10
  2. 80% grade point average or higher, his name forever walled at the high school.
  3. Adria, M., “So Close to the State/s: The Emergence of Canadian Feature Film Policy (Review)”, Labour/Le Travail, Spring 2001, p.236
  4. Comolli, J.L. and Narboni. J., “Cinema/Ideology/Criticism”, 1969, in Film Theory: Introductory Readings, 4th Ed. Mast, Cohen, Braudy, New York, 1992, pp.683-684
  5. Emery, R.J., The Films of David Cronenberg, Videorecording, New York: Fox Lorber, CentreStage: WinStar TV & Video, produced in cooperation with the American Film Institute, 2000
  6. Creed, B., “The Naked Crunch: Cronenberg’s Homoerotic Bodies”, in Grant, M (ed.), The Modern Fantastic: The Films of David Cronenberg, Praeger, 2000, p.85
  7. Morris, P., David Cronenberg: A Delicate Balance, ECW Press, Toronto, 1994, p.71
  8. Conrich, I., “An Aesthetic Sense: Cronenberg and neo-horror film culture”, in Grant, M. (ed.) The Modern Fantastic: The Films of David Cronenberg, Praeger, 2000, p.40
  9. Rodley, C., Cronenberg on Cronenberg, Faber and Faber, London, 1992, p.78
  10. Beard, W., The Artist as Monster: The Cinema of David Cronenberg, University of Toronto Press, 2001, p.97
  11. Morris, 1994, p.62
  12. Beard, 2001, p.165
  13. Barr, Lucas, “Long Live The New Flesh”, KGB Magazine, 1995, p.23
  14. I quote J.J. Cale, Call The Doctor, Mercury Records, 1970
  15. Rodley, C., Cronenberg on Cronenberg, Faber & Faber, Toronto, 1992, p.147
  16. Crane, J., “A Body Apart: Cronenberg and Genre, in Grant, M. (ed.) The Modern Fantastic: The Films of David Cronenberg, Praeger, 2000, p.50
  17. Seguin, D., Sex With Dave: David Cronenberg on the Making of M. Butterfly. Interview, 1993. Posted on the net. http://www.cronenberg.freeserve.co.uk/cron_mbu.htm
  18. Johnson, B.D., “Directing on the Edge: Profile of Canadian Film Director David Cronenberg”, World Press Review, Vol 40, No. 11 (November 1993), p.49
  19. Foucault, M., History of Sexuality, Vintage Books, 1980, pp.155-156
  20. Porton, R., The Film Director as Philosopher: An Interview with David Cronenberg” (Interview), Cineaste, Vol 24, No. 4 (Fall 1999), p.4
  21. Sarris, A., “Notes on the Auteur Theory in 1962”, Cahiers du Cinéma, No 27, (Winter 1962-63), in Stiney, P.A. (ed.), Film Culture Reader, Cooper Square Press, New York, 2000, p.131
  22. Beard, W., “The Canadianess of Cronenberg”, Mosaic: A Journal of the Interdisciplinary Study of Literature, Vol, 27. Iss 2 (June 1994), Winnipeg, p.114
  23. Johnson, 1993, p.49

About The Author

Ashley Allinson is a teacher and writer from Toronto, Ontario. He currently lives in Toronto where he writes independently.

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