Book Review: Children Of The New Flesh: The Early Work And Pervasive Influence Of David Cronenberg.


In their panoptical new vivisection of Ballard's, Nabokov's and Burroughs' cinematic heir, contributing editors Chris Kelso and David Leo Rice adopt an editorial approach simpatico with the leanness of their subject's films: there is exactly enough there, and what's there is a bounty of provocation and insight. In a sense, by predominantly covering the early works and a smattering of very recent outliers such as Maps To The Stars (2014) (courtesy of a charismatic showstopper of an interview with source author/screenwriter Bruce Wagner) they're providing a comprehensive purview of Cronenberg's oeuvre by the very omission of the works that the whole goddamn world knows by heart: this omission frees up room to focus on the stem cells from which these latter organs sprouted, and how richer we are for this investigation. For instance, who knew that David Cronenberg were a gearhead? A consummate death-drive sprocket-wrangler. One might have so surmised given the seam of fetishised biomechanics that runs through his works but to actually get the full report in Graham Rae's piece Artrev's And Cokeheads feels as affirmatively humanising as seeing David Lynch tweet a video of him constructing a cardboard farmhouse with his daughter when he should have been premiering a new thing at Cannes. Learning that David Cronenberg once totaled a “1952 Ferrari short-wheelbase Berlinetta, running it into a wall” in a piece which dually serves to emphasize his mercurial but very present sense of humour feels like vital content in terms of arriving at even a vague understanding of Our Father. The piece is themed around The Italian Machine from 1976, whose protagonist Lionel writhes in psychosexual rapture over a mis-purposed Ducati – the Sophia Loren of motorbikes (Cronenberg's take on Kenneth Anger's Scorpio Rising (1963), perhaps) and draws a through-line from this to the use of a bike tank as the model for the Telepod in The Fly (1986).



The volume vigourously overflows with similarly satellite transmissions that combine in creating a vivid portrait of the body around which they orbit, in a way that I would love to see applied to, say, Lynch or Herzog. Who wouldn't want an entire interview with Jack Fisk on the making of Lynch's The Grandmother (1970), for instance? Or with Herzog's film school professor and his thoughts on Werner's mythic theft of the movie camera (“it isn't theft if it's necessity”). In “Oh Shit Here Comes The Fucking Writer” author Patrick McGrath offers us Notes On The Making Of Spider, professing that “I expected Cronenberg to inject a lot of body horror, as the character, Spider, has a great many somatic delusions. To my surprise, David did no body horror at all.” Kelso and Rice's choice of interviewees is gold dust: the McGrath piece ends with him quoting Cronenberg ““He said to me “You make an independent movie, the work is a joy and the money is hell. You work in Hollywood, it's the other way round.”” Not to slight actors (well, maybe a little), but you tend to only enjoy this level of insight from crew members – actors tend to be too ergonomically conditioned by their public-facing positions; too slick and prefabricated in their answers.


In Bruce Wagner's aforementioned interview, the author again defends Cronenberg's oft-overlooked sense of humour - “ He's so funny that your head explodes. The Jews just can't escape that sense of humour. David and Leonard Cohen have the same radically mordant sense of humour... it's the punchline in the void.” Having been privy to this year's Crimes Of The Future and nearly choked to death laughing at a line about a talent contest, whose details will here remain unspoiled, I'm in full accord with Wagner's pithy assertion.


In addition to myriad surgical analyses of Cronenberg's Big Themes via the editors' brilliant prologues and epilogues, Joseph Vogl's excellent treatise on Videodrome (1983), and the aforesaid interviews, the true children of the new flesh are represented via a set of commissioned new creative works drawing freely from Our Father's DNA. Blake Butler's Communication reads like if Dennis Cooper had made a sixth book in the George Miles-cycle and deconstructed Period into an even more fleshless rarefication. And Andrew Farkas' We Can Remake It For You Wholesale, in which Farkas spools off a performatively psychotic rumination/wish-piece on the unmade Cronenberg adaptation of Total Recall – deploying the central narrative device of the source work to suddenly position Farkas within the golden corridors of Hollywood/Rekal with a twinkified Sharon Stone hologram as his wife, arguing for Cronenberg's creative monopoly over the film (while acknowledging the campy delight of Verhoeven's version). It's a delight, and extremely funny - ““You're drunk” said Sharon “or worse””. He also argues, not unconvincingly, that Ridley Scott may have been replaced by an extraterrestrial after making Alien (1979) and Blade Runner (1982) (“since the rest of his films are dreck.” You go, girl.


The book is structured so as to present an overview of each of the early works (colourised inverse with white text on black page), often introduced by Kelso, Rice or both, opening out into responses, creative or otherwise: it really works, and with its typographic and illustrative incursions, makes for a very handsome volume indeed. Children Of The New Flesh offers a thoroughly novel addition to the voluminous canon of Cronenberg literature by ecstatically metastasizing its reach beyond purely academic responses to his work. The interviews, the literary “fan fiction”, the motorbike obsession, the deeply-probing analyses and the anecdotal asides cumulatively serve to colour in parts of the Cronenberg consciousness that would remain sadly nebulous in a less ambitious volume. This catholic, compendious approach seems entirely fitting an honorific to a creator who while obsessing over a handful of key themes (the unignorable ones) refuses to sit still when it comes to genre, form or tonal colour. Truly we are thankful.

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