Did I ever share with you what prompted me to start studying Swedish? It happened at Hotel Sea Front. After Bookalast 2016 (annual book festival for Swedish-Finns) after Julfest (Christmas season) of that same year, winter was indeed establishing itself and while I thought brave of myself to be enduring the Finnish winter blast, I was warned that 2016 was a “warm” winter for Finland. Finns cautioned me to not think I had seen the worse winters they. Still no one took pangs to warn me of the winter of language skills that would set in. For someone such as I, engaging in cultural events as a photographer In all fairness Bitte Westerlund (wife of a prominent Finn Jörn Donner) did urge me to consider finding a course of study. She had been very instrumental in introducing me to cultural administrators. It was at such an administrative gathering that I finally had had enough of languishing in the cold of exclusion. Never had I, with my background in English and public speaking, been forced to enduring being ignorant of the subjects being discussed.
Thus it was at this open meeting called by the Tourist Bureau of Ekenäs ( small town in the southwest of Finland) that I decided I could no longer afford the embarrassment of not being able to comprehend. Indeed as most colleagues and acquaintances know the path toward acquiring languages skills beyond one’s mother tongue is made easier here. In my homeland, the United States, I feel regret that immigrants would find the same. In this social-political climate made intolerant by wars and climate change, the movements of masses is closing what opening the Obama administration might have signaled. Here in Finland the TE bureau’s first prescription for receiving aid was to choose the study of Swedish or Finnish. My astute American friends would marvel at the historical implications that are similar to our own home-based racial conflicts, that is, the choice I had to make immersed me into a long standing internal conflict among Finns. However, I am sure to prove victories in my choice. At Lärkkula (private Lutheran school in Karjaa, Finland) where I study with many immigrants and refugees from the African and Middle East choose to study Finnish. They have lives to chance. I am merely an interloper, finding Finland as my way into the European scene. Swedish is within my language family and comprehending common words will help as I plan to visit Germany and Norway.
LANGUAGE & CULTURE
Speaking of Lärkkula, the study of a foreign language in a Foreign land at this time in the world offers one an opportunity to engage in cultural exchange. My classmates represent 13 nations and all 7 continents. Both positive and negative. Being American I am neither excusing the insults I must endure due to the charges of CULTURAL IMPERIALISM leveled against my home; nor do I deny they exist. Finns, and I assume all of Europe feels it must fight for the maintenance of national identities. While I abhor nationalism, I find it odd that this fun and joking is done under the guise of teaching me Swedish. Nonetheless, I marvel at wondering how Finns and other developing nations balance their reliance upon western influence with their perceived heritage.
Within my language classes I see grown men laughing and sharing happily homework full of positive sentences. Simply words. But the world is not simply. I am too old for this. My hard hotheadedness says, be quiet. I sit thinking about Finland. All its history of reliance on equality is now being stretched outside its boarders. This is yet another reason I must continue my studies. I wish to find within Swedish language words suitable for the current crisis. I find little as a novice. Yet my background in political knowledge avails me to see dynamic that forces Finland’s reliance on the west, and this reliance, this shared cultural trait is one that serves to undermine the cohesiveness Nordic nations have heretofore held within its society. It is that of Christianity. As Finland’s maintains its “wait” policy on NATO the current war on terrorism reminds of me how the Old South (United States) and perhaps all of western world once villanized Negroes. Upon the shoulders of the Iraqi War rests the villanization of Islam. Can Sweden and Finland avoid this trap? The media has seized upon it. Once the spokesperson for the TRUE FINNS party addressed it. “we are not anti Islam, we are anti radicalization”. New words in THE NEW WORLD. The Black Panther Party was executed out of existence. Now there is a movie bearing its name. We marvel.
My Middle Eastern brothers need to start developing channels to vent their frustrations for the onslaught against their own identities. I share aspects of Jim Crow and other aspects such as the parallels between the FUGITIVE SLAVE ACT and the Dublin Regulation. I wish to point these out to those seeking an analytical tool. A language and a customs parallel. In the meantime I relish what progress I am able to make by way of my English. I continue to use my sisu to build upon what I have established. Yet as I have suggested before, Finns in Västra Finland (new west) have never encountered a marginalized person from America. Local communist teach me the language of what would be dismissed at radicalism in America. Yet here in Finland, their words have made vital contributions to this society.
EGO VS. AUTHORITY
Recently I received a private message from a person whose words might at one time pierced a soft spot in my identity. The words read, “my you are so full of yourself on Facebook…” My family history is such that out individualistic characteristics stem from the duality of fragmented family and the pressures of racism. While any one who knows my past will not tolerate me relishing excuses for my own shortcoming. Indeed, I have been ‘hard-headed’ and my sisters Letha Tripp and Augustine Stewart would be the first to correct me if I failed to take into account. Nonetheless, while I am a product of my own misfortunes both self made and systemic along Darwinian lines, I have come to apologize for my aggressive character less and less. I take Finland not so much as Americans proclaimed Manifest Destiny but as Finn once told me, ‘you are the only JKSTEWART (JKSTEWARTCREATIVE) here’. Still, I enjoy what advice I get from other Finns who caution me to bear cultural differences in mind. Those cultural differences stem from diverse influences: Swedish and Russian. I am embracing my study of the Swedish language and the Finnish culture.
Facebook is a free tool to use to promote my services. At times I fail to distinguish self from services. This is how one excels as an entrepreneur. Some of my languages teachers display the same kind of authoritative indifference and determinism that I learned under the capitalism doctrine. If their authoritative backgrounds served them, then I rest assured I am not stepping to too many toes in being an aggressive American.
Corrections on Corrections
The history of jails hold a special meaning for me. Naturally how mankind has been held is endearing to anyone who has had to visit someone being detained. On a recent visit to Tallinn, Estonia I felt fortunate to have found an apartment building housing former KGB holding cells. While it was a ghostly place; it, nonetheless filled an exciting visit as an American behind the former IRON CURTAIN. \Now… FAST FORWARD and just two days ago while roaming around Katajanokka in Helsinki, I stumbled upon the Hotel Katajanokka. This massive structure beckoned me from afar. Its redbrick courtyard excited me. Inside I found a justification. One can appreciate such renovations.
I saw this lady the other day her face was so angular and the two orbs stuck in her head, a piercing blue.
I had to drop the spatula and ignore the meat was burning..
the curse of photography was in me
no doctor ever diagnosed me but there was no need,
this girl had a beauty only a photographer could see
I could excuse the clothes she was wearing and that her chest-plate beneath her skin protruded out and still looked sunken in
Sure her movements were erratic as she placed her order
and I could see my co-worker struggle to be nice to her
and I could tell she might rather call me a nigger than call me a man but still I wanted to ask her
hey, you ever modeled?
I asked my co-worker who helped serve the her, did she know who that undiscovered girl might be..
My coworker tilted her head and politely stared at me. I felt ignorant. knowing what a fool I must have seemed
… “she’s a meth head…… and stay away from her”.
Damn, that disease again.
The one that makes me see ugly for beauty.
The one that makes a war torn soul more interesting than most
What was she thinking?
She came to the edge of where her world collided with that giant beyond.
Her skin began to dry at his touch and air burned her lungs when she sucked.
His kiss under her tongue
She graduated closer to a sky so unkind. He stomped her and threw her away….. she swam into the deep where she could be washed ashore…. Fools gold and all told, she figured she might as well lie there and become none. Continue reading →
What if we were allowed to define ourselves rather than come into this world already labeled? What would the world be like? Miles Davis never favored the term jazz. He considered his music to be more akin to social statements and preferred using the term, ‘social music’. Imagine if he had his way of defining and labeling his music. What if we were all able to add to dictionaries? Sort of open source-like. Dictionaries would certainly be incomprehensible yet our individualized perceptions, not to mention our ‘shared definitions ‘ of the world would be very different. Then too, in particular realms of life such as the arts, literature and film would authors of books , painters, illustrators and filmmakers have new categories to plug their own creations into?
What of film makers? Filmmakers have become our writers of the post modern world. Mankind is increasingly replacing words with images. As time goes on will filmmakers always ascribe themselves to the same labels used by critics and reviewers of film? All these questions matter greatly when we seek to condense a persons works into an article for immediate consumption. When it comes to defining movies and in particular those from outside America, what is considered universal can become a foreign language to creatives not conditioned on our national diet of words and meanings. In this paper I will focus on not film makers in general but one in particular. David Cronenberg.
This paper will deal with the conflicting definitions that emerge during face to face interviews with Cronenberg. The definitions often used to define the body of works by this Canadian film maker give reason for pause. This papers takes the position that in their haste to belittle or to compartmentalize Cronenberg, is to slice his oeuvre into disputable terms. Intentional or not, often film critics themselves create Frankenstein-like words and deceptions. These words, while helpful to some audiences, may not fit the intent of the film maker nor fit the stereotypes that come with them and become directly attached to the director’s person-hood.
Often reduced to being a cult leader from horror who had segued into mainstream, here we share what many know to be more the truth – that Cronenberg is in fact a cultural hero. While this daunting task has consumed many an hour and taken the mind of this writer into millstreams of thoughts, what becomes evident is that this papers is but an assemblage of evidence that critics who position themselves as the guardians of the gates of mass consumption, differ on Cronenberg’s importance. The differ from scholars who treat film as more than entertainment but as ‘message is the medium”. The latter renders film the equivalent as important to the exchange of ideas were with the novel during its arrival at the close of the 19th century. Finally, we find herein that the gulf streams of terms used to define films instead of remaining shallow, open into a vast world of words and specialized disciplines . Overall, Cronenberg is an auteur who possess intelligence, wit and skills capable of unraveling the definitions ascribed him.
In 2015 Cronenbeg turned 73 years old. During his longevity, he has given a plethora of interviews, has had essays and books written about him, hosted seminars and talks and appears in numerous youtube videos. As referenced -above, his recently published novel ,“CONSUMED” has been gestating with him for over 12 years. He is as much a master of word play as he is of the techniques used in film making. By the late 20th century, it is a known fact that the HORROR genre itself offers new film makers a way to break into the film making industry. Financing a film based on fears can draw attention for an unknown film maker. Film festivals are the still the swap shops where these sellers meet and seek to impress studio and investors. Cronenberg has himself availed himself at film festivals. There he is sure to sit and chat awhile with those stimulated by his unique style.
Yet Cronenberg seems to have labored so long in the pastures of Horror that he became labeled as a founding father. From the dawning of one of his first feature length movies, SHIVERS, to the critically acclaimed VIDEODROME, he manged to plant such new approaches to horror per se that it grew into a sub-genre all its own: BODY HORROR. Still when it comes to the asking him about his time spent making BODY HORROR films, the term itself, seems to make his blood boil. Many who have interviewed him fall into this trap by posing questions using the both the term BODY HORROR and GENRE despite the fact that he seems to reject them all. Since the late 1970’s Cronenberg’s subject matters have diversified from depicting the body as the central focus of a movie to perhaps the mental trials of his protagonist, yet critics and interrogators alike seems to remain unable to step away from the trapping dropped by previous writers.
Fore the sake of argument: If it is safe to argue that Cronenberg wishes to deny most of the adjectives used to define he himself (and by extensions his movies) as much as he bothers to explain what his intentions are, then it is best to allow this man the space and time to define himself. One could pick any interview and see how Cronenberg speaks. Like a basketball player, he tends to dribble his words… he turns, swivels, looses his pursuer… then fades… begins to suggests other definitions (luring we listeners into an alternate universe: preferably his own) he falls back, shoots and often scores on challenging our previous notions. Often Cronenbeg is faced with a person who holds him in high regard, if one is intimidated by his intellect, he manages shake the foundations the interviewer stands on. He is a skilled debater and oftentimes buttresses interviewers with his self serving terminology. Read and see if you don’t agree, its always his word play that dominates any conversations. Indeed what this paper consists of are fragments of conversations, interviews and clips from critiques on David Cronenberg and his body of work. In this manner, we allow ourselves to juxtapose how Cronenberg defines himself against how others have tied yet failed to define him. Every effort is made to respect the authorship of the publishers and the interviewees from whom the excerpts are taken.
Excerpts from a interview with
Andrew Parker October 30, 2014 You also just published your first novel, Consumed, which a lot of people have been terming a return to “body horror” for you. Would you consider going back to horror at some point?
First of all, as you know, “body horror” is not my term. That just stuck and now I’m the creator of the “body horror” genre, even though I’m not sure what it is. (laughs) I don’t think it’s horror with the body at all, but a fascination with the body. Anyway, that’s a whole other conversation.
But I never really felt like I turned my back on any genre at all. Horror, let’s say, or [science-fiction]. I just feel like I’ve done it. Most of the projects I get offered in those genres these days are often just remakes of my own movies. They’ve been so influenced by the films that I’ve done that people seem to think I would like doing them again. For me, that’s just boring. And I have many other interests.
Now read what transpired with one interview on the concept of GENRE
O: Do genres interest you at all? Is there a genre you’d like to work in?
DC: I absolutely don’t think in terms of genre. I could imagine thinking, “That’s a great film I’d like to do,” and recognize that it’s a horror film. But I don’t think in those terms at all. It’s another way of putting your mind in a box. For example, when I’m doing Naked Lunch, do I worry about whether it’s a horror film, just because it has special effects? Or Dead Ringers–which category is that? To me, genre is a marketing problem. Or it might be a critical question, but it’s not a creative issue at all
IN THIS CORNER: THE AUTEUR
…”Perhaps artists can only hope to be slightly out of sync with their times so that they may develop images of the world from a slightly skewed perspective…” ROBERT HOBBS.
Cronenberg has shared that he himself has no Christian values that limit his films. His characters are not positioned to represent good nor evil. Croeneberg is an self ascribed ‘atheist existentialist’ who wants to make films that, while using the medium of the screen, uses the motifs of a genre where he can creates new viewing experiences. Often disguised in disgust, a disgust he him shares with some, when confronted with playing devil’s advocate, he recoils at the suggestions. He could be hiding behind walls erected via satire, ridicule or lacking resolve because he knows the terms used to flush him out are imbued with false premises. He knows many of our traditions in defining are faulty. Thus, all interaction with outsiders (those who do not share is observations) are treated as idiots incapable of making him confess to what they perceive as a short coming in any particular film. From behind this voided space, a space where Christian dare not tread, is Croeneberg’s play ground, Here he can present objectives that challenge.
For those who can lay aside their preconceived notions of traditions, their Christian values that resolve good and evil; only on this side of logic, where the open minded audience is still mixed, can Cronenberg be addressed. As scholars demonstrate, mainstream film critics in America, have build their own sand boxes and trapped themselves in it? Audiences who love dark cinema and subject matters like Cronenberg come to rely on the dismissive reviews of some critics to relish more in the anticipation of seeing rather than sharing in the movies dismissed. Horror of the modern era relied on the Cold War fears generated not only from outside the United States but from within. As those fears abated, Directors like Cronenberg sought new terrain. he delved into technology and the medicalization of illness. These subjects became the horror (commonly termed BODY HORROR) and often failed to appeal to mainstream audience. For those more conditioned on block busters and formulaic narratives, Cornenberg’s depictions of mind bewitching, self mutilating anti heroes positioned in and with ending not likely to resolve the fears aroused, just don’t satisfy. Those who tend to enjoy more creative independent cinema know that critics tend to feed on manifestation of their own skewed views.
Upon reading the reviews of MAPS TO THE STARS ( see below) one can get the impression that while reverend as a master of Horror, Cronenberg is simultaneously belittled as as a director with a mere cultist following. He is more the master worthy of making pointed social observations about the time period of the setting. His critics fail to expand from what they see as satire on Hollywood into a worldview that could be found in many locations on the map. Yet before we turn to that peep this:
After [Hitchcock’s] Psycho 1960 the horror film would shift to focus on ‘ourselves’ as monstrous: the threat in the modern horror film might be said to come from within, rather than from outside. In Cronenberg’s films the fear comes from the fact that we are, or may become, the monster. The status quo itself can be seen as the monster, not just the self, and anxieties around who has control over technology and the body are at the forefront of Cronenberg’s narratives. For example, Cronenberg’s 1996 film Crash does not draw a clear division between monster and hero(es), rather, it depicts a society overwhelmed by its technology, though it cannot be said that the technology itself is monstrous.
While all of the following excerpts focus on the movie MAPS TO THE STARS, do not forget that this is not a post dedicated only to that movie. MAPS…’ is merely Cronenberg’s most recent movie. Cronenberg has been offering audiences insight into the reexamination of our trusted views of the world. In this film his script is based on yet another writer’s book. While the nihilism found in his earlier horror films remains, an exposition of our more lurid pleasures, takes center stage. Yet he remain s creative genius who enjoys tinkering around in the laboratory of grotesqueness. In this vein, Cronenberg exudes an often overlooked similarity to a scientist undertaking experiments. Be they character-psychoanalyst A DAGEROUS METHOD working within the confines of a closed system of offices or a applied scientist working in his laboratory THE FLY, Cronenberg holds magnifying glasses up to the human condition.
EXCERPTS ABOUT MAPS TO THE STARS
The Canadian horror maestro scrapes away the surface of Hollywood to discover a magnificently Cronenbergian outbreak of tortured families, reprehensible [behavior] and extreme violence.
The New York Times critic Michiko Kakutani, who has often praised Wagner’s [Bruce Wagner] work, panned “Dead Stars,” saying: “Aside from a few bravura scenes here and there, this self-conscious, tricked-up volume consists largely of gruesome anecdotes — which feel contrived for maximum gross-out value — desultorily strung together like ugly beads on a filthy string…. This novel feels more like a weary wallow in Hollywood scum than the sort of savage satire this gifted author is capable of writing.”
FROM Rolling Stone Magazine
The great Cronenberg, with the help of gifted cinematographer Peter Suschitzky, keeps us locked to reality even as the film hurtles into the absurd.
Sam Sacks in the Wall Street Journal
“… [Bruce Wagner’s ] If the book were just this — virtuoso screed and unsparing parodies of frauds and fame-whores — it would be enjoyable as a piece of provocation and nothing else. But Mr. Wagner’s showstopping trick is to introduce his repellent cast of characters warts and all (often warts and nothing else) and then, subtly and convincingly, make you care about them.”
from THE OBSERVER
Cronenberg: I consider myself a junior existentialist. When I started to read Sartre and by association Heidegger I thought, “Oh wow, this is what I’ve been thinking.” There’s a great lecture Sartre gave called “Existentialism is a Humanism”. He basically said, “Look, we humans are really all we’ve got, forget about the afterlife, it doesn’t exist. Forget about God, there is no God. We should accept that and if we did and realized that compassion and humanistic empathy were valuable – more than valuable but crucial – then the world would be a better place.” So that’s really my approach to life.”
In closing this section first look at what Croneberg had to say about MAPS TO THE STAR
“…The movie is obviously a work of fiction, it’s not a documentary on how Hollywood works; it uses compression, exaggeration, all those techniques,” says Cronenberg. “But both Bruce [Bruce Wagner] and I would resist calling it a satire. Jonathan Swift’s A Modest Proposal is a satire, but this movie is too realistic to be a satire. In fact, Bruce has said that every line of dialogue in the movie he has heard spoken by someone. He could probably tell you who.
CRONENBERG: TO BE UNIVERSAL YOU HAVE TO BE SPECIFIC. YOU HAVE TO SET YOUR STORY SOMEWHERE THIS IS AN AMERICAN SETTING BUT…
OPPORTUNISM OR NOT
What does an artist do when his audience expands? Does he become a producer of works that continue to sell or does he ignore is own popularity? Indeed while Cronenberg has amassed a massive following, he seems to be a needle in the side of some old guardians of film-making. Perhaps some of his queries threaten as some refuse to concede to his mastery. Cronenberg is skilled at more than making movies. As one well read in philosophy, the history of psycho-analysis, literature and applied science, he knows how to use visual technique to entertain audiences while simultaneously building a dialogue that comments on the calamitous times and events they are released around. Yet there always seems to be an undercurrent to discredit him. Because of his intellect, he manages to elucidate and expose weaknesses in our shared beliefs. It is best to allow him to define himself. In doing so, critics allow audiences to reexamine their viewing experience. In photography an aperture on camera regulates the amount of light that comes in. Cronenberg working in the tradition of an autuer, expand the language of cinema.
Its frightening as he is an atheist and one wonders what what motivates him, now that is he interested in delving (deviling) away from Horror and toward irony?
“Irony is useful…since it represents a layering of useful strategy…since it represents a layering of meaning, one almost transparently superimposed over another so that gaps and fissures in the apparently seamless web of an accepted ideological construct are revealed” Robert Hobbs
In a interview Croeneberg answers a question about the movie SPIDER. The question was on schizophrenia. His answer is more telling about his thoughts on Identity.
Croenberg: All art is dangerous. We are seeking to recreate reality. What we want is DANGEROUS for us. But schizophrenia is a disease of identity. Who is the you that wants to do or does not want to do something and where is the you that controls it.
Can a man so keen NOT be the Nostradamus of movie making. Perhaps! One wonders if he is the equal to the Salvador Dali in Dali’s later years? His insights in horrors of technology have proven to be the sign of our times. Yet all the while he remains adamant that he does not follow the trails of our cultural fears in hopes of creating a winner of a film.
The Timing of his 1980 films such as THE FLY and DEAD RINGERS (based on two real life suicide pac- gynecologist) suggest he was not above mining the fields of popular culture for subject matter. And while we are in this terrain of popular text being made into popular cinematic experiences, perhaps COSMOPILOS 2012 (based on the novel by Dillo) which was seen as a comment on the recent Wall Street 2008 debacle was just that. Yet he refuted such reading of his films. David Cronenberg was surprised when The Fly was seen by some critics as a cultural metaphor for AIDS, since he originally intended the film to be a more general analogy for disease itself, terminal conditions like cancer and, more specifically, the aging process. In his own words…
“If you, or your lover, has AIDS, you watch that film and of course you’ll see AIDS in it, but you don’t have to have that experience to respond emotionally to the movie and I think that’s really its power; This is not to say that AIDS didn’t have an incredible impact on everyone and of course after a certain point people were seeing AIDS stories everywhere so I don’t take any offense that people see that in my movie. For me, though, there was something about The Fly story that was much more universal to me: aging and death—something all of us have to deal with”. Cronenberg.
Still one can come away from a Cronenberg film not sure if he had been complicit in such opportunism. His intellectual pursuits and dept skill in plowing up fears while burying meaning has positioned him where the doors of research are open from Vienna (A DANGEROUS METHOD) to Hollywood (MAPS TO THE STARS). His adeptness at tingling meanings from Victoria literature on up to the time period of writers whose works have become the bases for many of his films, renders him a forced to be reckoned with in both the socio-political and entertainment worlds.
Croeneberg: “I’m a Canadian, what can I say? Of course! Yes, I’m actually in general a very happy-go-lucky guy and that’s the thing that surprises people because of the movies. You worry about the environment, you worry about the future of the planet, you think as an existentialist, when you die that’s the end, it’s oblivion. People might think, “My God, that’s a horrible way to live.” But no, I’m actually quite optimistic and happy…”
Excerpts from the interview with Keith Phillips for the AV Club
O: Do you think developments in technology have justified the visions of your earlier films?
DC: Well, see, I was never looking for that kind of justification, so I haven’t noticed. When people say, “Videodrome is obviously very prophetic,” I say, “Being a prophet is not my job. Being an artist is.” In sci-fi, there are people like Arthur C. Clarke who love to be able to say, “I predicted satellite systems 40 years before they were invented.” And, if you’re a hardcore sci-fi techno writer, that would be a triumph. But for me, it’s nothing. It’s just a little sidebar. In Rabid, I invented something that’s coming true now. The whole stem-cell stuff is exactly what I talked about in Rabid, this sort of neutral human tissue that would read the context of where it was placed and become that kind of tissue. That was 26 years ago. But I don’t feel like I need recognition from that to… I don’t feel that I have to justify myself at all.
This writer does not favor equating ticket sales with evidence of a must see movie. Seriously good cinema is not always well marketed nor is it necessarily received with popularity. Yet in the pages of many reviews, the emphasis is placed on monitory gain. If Cronenberg, using his name, news and fears of the day wanted to fast track a production and cash in on a popular film, I wonder if such behavior placed on his creative vision might not contradicts his analytical-arch with Moloch. Cronenberg most recent films examines the production of if not the outgrowth of fears and anxieties in post the post modern era. Would his interest in propaganda and bombastic telemarketing reduce his standing as social observant/critic?
As stated by Douglas Kroner, “While Cronenberg’s films are negative and pessimistic, they deal with real anxieties and phobias. His horror films combine projections of the universal fears of death, and the bodily mutations, invasions, and disintegration which nourish the classical horror film, with fears of contemporary viral, carcinogenic, and telematic body invaders. The horrors often mutate into phantasmagoric nightmares of catastrophe and apocalypse…” He provides the needed packaging of our common fears into nearly indigestible entertainment. In Cronenberg’s films both mind and body, in mysterious interaction, disintegrate or mutate out of control and wreak havoc in a hyperfunctionalized and hygenic social order unable to deal with frenzied metamorphosis and proliferating disease.
THE SOUND OF THE ELECTROLUX
What do we know for sure about David Cronenberg? We know that he enjoys collaborating with writers. The track record is clear. We know that he loves to speak of the sounds his fathers typewriters had on his artistic pursuits. Not only the sounds generated from the typewriters but how those same sounds introduced him to the marvels of machination. We also know that he enjoys being an autuer. On numerous occasions, he has made these pronouncements.
Oftentimes magicians, illusionist and even charlatans grant us entry behind the curtain that provide them shields. They occasionally step aside, lay their cards on the table and give us the facts behind their schemes. Indeed charlatans must be exposed. Yet even the most esteemed crime stoppers often themselves are imbued with the same characteristics of the criminal they pursue. Like crime detectives, Film critics (whose job it is the dissect films and define the tactics of filmmakers sometimes serve Moloch. They can not always be trusted to remain objective. When outsiders like Canadian film maker David Cronenberg stands at the gates howling cinematic diatribes, its best to ignore the critics and let Cronenberg speak.
With his penchant for the grotesque, Croeneberg is sure to disgust many. Yet for those astute enough to separate his Canadian wheat from his chauvinistic chaff, the new school of critics can then be called in to explain what shared definitions apply.
While they both exude the kind of talent that once confounded me into thinking they were leading men, they both started out and for a long time were considered character actors. The term character may be defined as a supporting actor skilled at playing distinctly unusual, interesting, or eccentric characters, such that they are almost unrecognizable from part to part, and yet play many, many roles convincingly and memorably. This definition is acceptable yet it fails to illustrate that personal idiocracy that some actors manage to bring to the screen. An idiosyncrasy that is as profound as is serves in convincing. Both David Strathairn and Chris Cooper carry that important trait, or, look of being able to embody the roles they play with mannerisms that have enabled them to develop a reliable screen presence while simultaneously carving into the brains of those familiar with their works, attributes attributed to them and them alone. This creates a beguiling memory much like a LEADING MAN does for us. Both actors continue to convince us that a certain aspect of the roles they play are noteworthy not because the role is central to the plot of a movie but because the character himself offers something that resonate in the familiar. The familiar we hold both on (though in our minds) and off screen. That familiarity can be a peculiar sort of thing or a stereotypical view held about that ‘kind of person’. What these two also manage to do is to play it close and convince us of the certainty rely on then suddenly shock us with a hidden aspect of the character. An aspect that is not so familiar
While both men maintain very controlled demeanors when being interviewed, Cooper seems the more reserved one of the two. Perhaps this is the end result of being reared in the midwest and the south. Southern men, particularly white men, often withhold themselves behind a veneer of respectability. They often use, ‘Ma’ma’ and ‘Sir’ toward authority or those in a position of such. This is similar the dual roles used by those forced into subservience. It can outwit one’s opponent. For those familiar with the writings of WEB Dubois, the term ‘DOUBLE CONSCIOUSNESS’ IS is well to recall. Cooper was born in Kansas City, Missouri and spent a great deal of time on a cattle ranch in Houston Texas. One surmises that he is as soft spoken in life as he is in many of the roles he assumes. Yet he, like many of those ‘quiet man’ roles he assumes , conceal an explosive interior. Cooper uses this “devil in the detail” to great effect.
“I had a close relationship with cattle and horses as a young boy, so
it becomes a very strong emotional link to the character when you have lived that life experience,
say in “Seabiscuit” where I’m the trainer of this marvelous race horse who’s having some trouble
because he’s been treated poorly and trained poorly. And a simple line like “He just has to learn
how to be a horse again”, that’s a really strong connection. Through the career there are a number
of instances like that”.
Comparatively, Strathairn, born in 1949, hails from San Francisco. He has a distinctly assertiveness that is heard not only because of his rigid delivery but his fluid body motions that creates an air of authority when he speaks. Even when he is playing the part of a guy who has seen better day, his delivery demand attention. Regrettably, neither of this descriptions can hold water if one were to use them to pigeonhole either of these men. They are capable of morphing into opposite of themselves at will. I mean that’s what all good actors do. Some better than others.
Take a look at this clip from THE SENSATION OF SIGHT, a 2007 indie film not always sighted as one of Strathairn’s finest. It was directed by first time director Aaron J. Wiederspahn. In it you see a lot of what actors like to do when they are free to immerse in a role not headed for the BLOCKBUSTER status. Its a risky role yet when you know that Strathairn at one time was an actual clown ….that is true… he spent two years prior to engaging in acting traveling with Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, you know he takes risks. One wonders if his unusual gate is a result of some accident or a habit he uses to great affect.
Chris Cooper carries a similar tool in his arsenal of actor/character skills. No finer example exist than his Oscar award winning performance in ADAPTAION. Indeed the award for “best supporting actor” fits Copper squarely in the supporting actors category for which this post argues he does not squarely fit. Nonetheless, he manages to do for toothless and stringy haired characters what had not been done.
Only Micky Rourke’s role in THE WRESTLER comes close. But lets not get off the subject…..
Enough of what makes these actors different, its what makes them alike that is worth picking apart. Perhaps even better what is worth dissecting is why they are often cast to play similar roles. There is no better place to start than with the John Sayles’ 1987 Matewan. Both actors must feel indebted to John Sayles, he casts them both repeatedly. However in Matewan, the sowed the seeds of their respective destiny by taking on roles that not as lending men but as leaders of men.
Matewan relies on a historical occurrence. Its known that the labor wars between coal miners and their ruthless employers was long and bloody. For actors young in their profession, it was a daring move to portray men who actually helped start that war. In Matewan, David Strathairn takes on the role of sheriff Sid Hatfield. This role required him to not only perform the acts that relived a real person. But a person who was murdered for his bravery. Meanwhile Chris Cooper (who shared screen time with Strathairn) portrayed an equally daring role as a union organizer, Joe, Kenehan. What is both laudatory and condemning fr them here, is that because of those and more casting like them they both ran the gambit of being typecast. Over the years, they swam through that almost neck-in-neck.
Both have lead the government teams charged to capture and kill Jason Bourne in the Bourne sagas. Christ Copper has been a company man, a government man and a father figure in so many films. He manages to and bring to each movie that lasting impression he is known for. He does it with such candor that he avoids typecast. Flip the coin and the same can be stated about Strathairn.
Strathairn salt and pepper hair and air of sophistication that allows him drift in and out of characters who possess a trusted authority and a shady side. He too has been been a father, a G-man and (again) historical figures. One of which lead to an ACADEMY AWARD for his portrayal of Edward R. Murrow in George Clooney’s GOOD NIGHT, AND GOOD LUCK . His impeccable range toward the polished and clean or the darker side is avails him well. They both offer unpredictability in in small doses.
“…Right, to serve the thing. That’s what we do; we serve the story. One particular case of mine was the
film called “Dolores Claiborne” in which I had to play a very damaged man who abuses his daughter
and it was a very uncomfortable prospect to go there, to think about what that is and actually
depict that, but it was part of a story that was so much more. The relationship between the mother
and the daughter and the character was essentially just a smaller catalyst for a bigger picture, but
I felt it was important. Sometimes you have to go down some dark alleys while the main story is
It is no accident that these men confound the senses and often confuse one’s memory of one from the other. They may not be casts as leading men; however I would place my bet that they sure are neck in neck with leading the pack of character actors. One one final note- one distinctly difference is Strathairn is his rather outspoken on the political front.