Saturday, May 29, 2004

Commonplaces: David Cronenberg on Sources

posted by Bruce Baugh

Courtesy of Ringwood Ragefuck, this excerpt from Inner View: Filmmakers in Conversation:

Q: Your works from Stereo in 1969 to Videodrome in 1983, with the small exception of Fast Company, were all from your original screenplays. But since Videodrome, all four films have been collaborations and adaptations, no original screenplays, and your next will be based on the play "M. Butterfly." Do you make any sense of this?

Cronenberg: Not really. I can't find anything in me that has any recognition response to this. In the Middle Ages, you know, you got no points for originality. In fact, it was just about proscribed. You always built from the past, and you elaborated that into your own unique version. When you're young, I suppose there's a great ego necessity to say, "Hey, it's all original, I did it all myself!" It might simply be that. Even then, I knew that where the material comes from is almost irrelevant. Does it matter that it's [from] a newspaper article?

Q: There's a kind of friction that comes with adaptation and collaboration, which you don't get from your own original work. [...] I don't mean friction in a negative sense, I mean friction in terms of heat -- your consciousness is up against the consciousness of someone else.

Cronenberg: Yeah. There's a Hollywood version of collaboration, which can also be positive.


But you run up against other things anyway, which is why I don't think it's that different from an original script. As soon as you start to introduce characters that fight back -- you want to get rid of them and they won't go! -- you're always collaborating with yourself, with projections of yourself. That's why I feel the metaphor of [Naked Lunch's] Bill Lee's typewriter -- giving him orders, pushing him around, telling him what to write -- is like normal writing to me. Whether there is another human being in the room or not, it feels the same.

I don't think I'm trying to rationalize anything here. As time goes on, it doesn't matter whether it's a dream I start with, or a newspaper article, or a story someone told me, or a story someone said actually happened, or a biographical incident, or somebody else's fictional work. It all seems like intake; it's narrative and conceptual intake and then you do something with it. Now, when you're starting out and you really have a lot to prove, and you have not yet necessarily found your cinema voice, and you are desperate not to dilute that, because it's so fragile, there might be a real pressure not to collaborate. "I'm the only guy who wrote this, I made it up, I didn't get it anywhere else." But what I'm doing now might be more pure and honest and straightforward than what I did then.