David Paul Cronenberg, OC, FRSC (born March 15, 1943) is a Canadian filmmaker, screenwriter and actor. He is one of the principal originators of what is commonly known as the body horror genre. This style of filmmaking explores people’s fears of bodily transformation and infection. In his films, the psychological is typically intertwined with the physical. In the first half of his career, he explored these themes mostly through horror and science fiction, although his work has since expanded beyond these genres. He has been called “the most audacious and challenging narrative director in the English-speaking world.”
Born in Toronto, Canada, Cronenberg was the son of Esther, a musician, and Milton Cronenberg, a writer and editor. He began writing as a child and wrote constantly. He attended high school at Harbord Collegiate Institute. A keen interest in science, especially botany and lepidopterology, led him to enter the Honours Science program the University of Toronto in 1963, but he switched to Honors English Language and Literature later in his first year. Cronenberg’s fascination with the film Winter Kept Us Warm (1966) by classmate David Secter sparked his interest in film. He began frequenting film camera rental houses, learning art of filmmaking and made two 16mm films (Transfer and From the Drain). Inspired by the New York underground film scene, he founded the Toronto Film Co-op with Iain Ewing and Ivan Reitman. After taking a year off to travel in Europe, he returned to Canada in 1967, graduating from University College at the top of his class.
After two short sketch films and two short art-house features (the black and white Stereo and the colour Crimes of the Future) Cronenberg went into partnership with Ivan Reitman. The Canadian government provided financing for his films through the 1970s. He alternated his signature “body horror” films such as Shivers (They Came From Within) with projects reflecting his interest in car racing and bike gangs (Fast Company). Rabid exploited the unexpected acting talents of pornographic actress Marilyn Chambers (Cronenberg’s first choice was a young, then-unknown Sissy Spacek). Rabid was a breakthrough with international distributors and his next two horror features gained stronger support.
Over the arc of his career, Cronenberg’s films follow a definite progression, a movement from the social world to the inner life. In his early films, scientists modify human bodies, which results in the breakdown of social order (e.g. Shivers, Rabid). In his middle period, the chaos wrought by the scientist is more personal, (e.g. The Brood, Scanners, Videodrome). In the later period, the scientist himself is altered by his experiment (e.g. his remake of The Fly). This trajectory culminates in Dead Ringers in which a twin pair of gynacologists spiral into codependency and drug addiction. His later films tend more to the psychological, often contrasting subjective and objective realities (eXistenZ, M. Butterfly, Spider).
Cronenberg has cited William S. Burroughs and Vladimir Nabokov as influences. Perhaps the best example of a film that straddles the line between his works of personal chaos and psychological confusion is Cronenberg’s “adaptation” of his literary hero William S. Burroughs’ most controversial book, Naked Lunch. The book was considered “unfilmable” and Cronenberg acknowledged that a straight translation into film would “cost 100 million dollars and be banned in every country in the world”. Instead, much like in his earlier film, Videodrome—he consistently blurred the lines between what appeared to be reality and what appeared to be hallucinations brought on by the main character’s drug addiction. Some of the book’s “moments” (as well as incidents loosely based upon Burroughs’ life) are presented in this manner within the film. Cronenberg stated that while writing the screenplay for Naked Lunch, he felt a moment of synergy with the writing style of Burroughs. He felt the connection between his screenwriting style and Burroughs’ prose style was so strong, that he jokingly remarked that should Burroughs pass on, “I’ll just write his next book.”
Cronenberg has said that his films should be seen “from the point of view of the disease”, and that, for example, he identifies with the characters in Shivers after they become infected with the anarchic parasites. Disease and disaster, in Cronenberg’s work, are less problems to be overcome than agents of personal transformation. Of his characters’ transformations, Cronenberg said, “But because of our necessity to impose our own structure of perception on things we look on ourselves as being relatively stable. But, in fact, when I look at a person I see this maelstrom of organic, chemical and electron chaos; volatility and instability, shimmering; and the ability to change and transform and transmute.” Similarly, in Crash (1996), people who have been injured in car crashes attempt to view their ordeal as “a fertilizing rather than a destructive event”.
The haunting leer of a demonically possessed girl in “The Exorcist” (1973) is one of the more terrifying examples of the work of makeup artist Dick Smith. Widely considered the 20th century’s maestro of movie makeup and affectionately called the Godfather of Makeup, Smith has influenced and inspired generations of artists. He has gladly shared his secrets with up-and-comers in the field as well as elevated the standards of the craft, both of which helped to establish makeup as a respected discipline of the cinematic arts.
Filmmakers have consistently turned to Smith for persuasive renderings of time’s effects on the human body. For artfully aging F. Murray Abraham from his forties to his eighties in “Amadeus” (1984), Smith shared the Academy Award® for Makeup with Paul LeBlanc. He earned his second Oscar® nomination for making a spry 65-year-old Jack Lemmon a persuasive octogenarian in “Dad” (1989), and created an iconic masterpiece with the jowly look of Marlon Brando in “The Godfather” (1972).
Though his fantastical creations for such films “Altered States” (1980), “Scanners” (1981) and “Starman” (1984) pack a punch, Smith steadfastly believes in making movie magic look natural. His artistry is often unnoticed – and that’s just the way he wants it. “A good makeup doesn’t look like makeup,” he has said.
After spending his early childhood in suburban Larchmont, New York, Smith was pre-med at Yale University, majoring in zoology. In his sophomore year, his life took a dramatic turn when he happened to pick up a textbook detailing makeup tricks used in Hollywood. Smith began doing makeup for the theater group at Yale and roamed the campus at night in comical monster makeup of his own design, giving the unwary a playful scare.
Smith got his professional start as the first staff makeup artist for the fledgling NBC television network, pioneering techniques using foam latex and plastic for what were initially live broadcasts. His tenure as makeup director spanned from 1945 to 1959 and he expanded from a staff of one to 25.
After 14 years, Smith moved on to movies. In short order he was sculpting the face of Anthony Quinn’s battered boxer in “Requiem for a Heavyweight” (1962), making a dozen stunt doubles resemble the stars of “It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World” (1963) and helping Peter Sellers become strikingly handsome for “The World of Henry Orient” (1964). Remarkably, for almost 40 years he would create all of his effects in his basement studio in Larchmont, flying to the set with the makeups whenever shooting began.
In 1965, Smith penned the seminal Do-It-Yourself Monster Make-up Handbook, which protégé Rick Baker credits as inspiration for his own illustrious career. By 1967, Smith had returned to television, working on such projects as Dan Curtis’s classic vampire series “Dark Shadows.”
Smith’s method of gluing on multiple foam latex appliances in overlapping pieces permits actors their full range of facial expressions. His technique was demonstrated to marvelous effect in “Little Big Man” (1970), which transformed Dustin Hoffman from a man in his early 30s to age 121. At that time, single-mold masks were still widely used and Smith became a Galileo of sorts, shunned within the insular community of professional makeup artists. Today, he is recognized as one of those rare artists who opened new avenues of expression for others.
Check out the Guardian interview.