David Cronenberg arrived on the world’s cinema screens with a viscous splash. His unmistakable Cartesian horror films Shivers, Rabid, The Brood, Scanners, Videodrome, and Existenz were extraordinary meditations on making the mental physical, and made Cronenberg one of the most admired auteurs of the late seventies and early eighties.
But since 1983’s The Dead Zone, most of Cronenberg’s films — like The Fly, Dead Ringers, M. Butterfly, Naked Lunch, Crash, Spider, A History of Violence, A Dangerous Method, and the upcoming Cosmopolis — have not been made from his original scripts, but have been adaptations from the works of others.
Curious about his hero’s transition from originator to adapter, Los Angeles Review of Books Film Editor Jonathan Penner recently sat down with David Cronenberg to discuss the artist’s life and work.
It’s Dangerous to Be an Artist
As a young upstart filmmaker I felt that you were not a real filmmaker if you didn’t write your own stuff and it should be original. And that was beyond the French version of the auteur theory which was really meant to rehabilitate the artistic credibility of guys like Howard Hawks and John Ford. The French were saying a director could work within the studio system and still be an artist and that those guys were, even though they didn’t normally write their own stuff. And for years I said, no, no you have to write your own stuff. But then I got involved with Stephen King’s The Dead Zone, and it was more of a studio project, and there were five scripts that had been written, one of them by Stephen King himself, and frankly I didn’t think his script was the best of the five. In fact, I thought that if I did his script people would kill me for betraying his novel. I think what happened is that he just wanted to try something else. He wasn’t interested in just doing the novels, so he changed it quite a lot to the point where it was less like the novel than Jeffrey Boam’s script, which was actually more faithful. So I started to work with Jeffrey Boam, and I started to really enjoy the process of working with other people and on the script, and I thought, well this is interesting ‘cause what it means is, if you mix your blood with other people’s, then you will create something that you wouldn’t have done on your own, but is enough of you that it’s exciting and feels like you. It’s kind of like making children.