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Three directors: David Cronenberg.

Director and writer. Born: Toronto, 1943. If David Cronenberg did not exist, would we invent him? Could we invent him? Perhaps no Canadian film-maker has had such a singular career path, navigating his way from the independent university filmmaking scene in the 1960s, to critically reviled commercial excrescences of the "tax shelter" era, to, more recently, the well-heeled approval of international art house and festival circuits. Lauded as a late 20th century taboo-bashing genius by some, and loathed as a puritanical body-fearing reactionary by others, Cronenberg's emergence is without parallel in this country. Moreover, his decidedly idiosyncratic oeuvre also represents a challenge to the very critical paradigms and terms used to define Canadian film. Faced with phallic underarm growths spreading fatal diseases, exploding heads, videos slurped into human abdomens, men transformed into insects and talking typewriters, the critical problem persists: just how do we talk about the work of David Cronenberg?

Born in Toronto, Cronenberg attended the University of Toronto, earning a B.A. in literature. An enthusiastic reader of science fiction, Cronenberg the budding film-maker eschewed the documentary realist tradition of his contemporaries, introducing unprecedented levels of fantasy into Canadian film. From his late 1960s experimental, austere sci-fi shorts, Stereo and Crimes of the Future, Cronenberg plunged deep into bloody biological Babylon in a series of 1970s horror films. Fusing the genre's ample and flexible narrative conventions with his own ideas about desire and repression, the body and technology, Cronenberg developed a reputation, with Shivers, Rabid, and The Brood, as perhaps the most original, unflinching, no-holds-barred practitioner of the modern horror film. Along with confounding "tasteful" critical opinion in Canada, he also found himself to be a bankable genre auteur who could muster impressive budgets and still maintain a degree of artistic control.

From 1980 onwards, Cronenberg's distinctive and influential vision (can we imagine Atom Egoyan without David Cronenberg?) has explored, with increasing precision and restraint, themes of the paranormal, Scanners and The Dead Zone; the pervasiveness of visual media systems, Videodrome; the unsettling intersections of biology, technology and identity, The Fly and Dead Ringers; and most recently and most Canadian of all, the tortured psychologies of delusion, Dead Ringers, Naked Lunch and M. Butterfly. In addition to his remarkable cinematic career, Cronenberg has directed for television, several commercial spots for Ontario Hydro and Nike, and acted in his own films and others.

These days, Cronenberg no longer draws outrage from the middlebrow arbiters of "good taste." His films are equally disturbing but seldom as viscerally off-putting as his earlier work, or perhaps we've all been jaded by the mediated, image-saturated culture his work presaged. As its increasingly chilling best, however, Cronenberg's more recent work still tests the limits of critical and audience response in contemporary Canadian film culture.

His latest film, Crash, based on a novel by J.G. Ballard, was the controversial winner of a Special Jury Prize at this year's Cannes festival.
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Copyright 1996, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Author:Tom McSorley
Publication:Take One
Date:Jun 22, 1996
Words:486
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