Event Report: Highlights from David Cronenberg’s “CONSUMED” Book Launch and Q&A

Notable film directors deciding to test their abilities in the literary arena is a rare, but not unheard of, occurrence—even within the horror genre (anyone out there remember Wes Craven’s 1999 body-swapping medical thriller FOUNTAIN SOCIETY?). Still, the announcement that Canadian film icon David Cronenberg, one of cinema’s most defined and exalted voices, was releasing his debut novel was one certain to pique the curiosity of both readers and filmgoers.

Cronenberg’s book is titled CONSUMED, and weaves a suitably dreadful tale rife with proprietary Cronenberg tropes like technological fetishizations, sex-borne plagues, and self-destructive intellectuals. Last night in Toronto, Cronenberg and publisher Penguin launched CONSUMED with an on-stage appearance sponsored by Indigo bookstores and hosted by renowned local film writer Geoff Pevere. Here are some of the highlights from Mr. Pevere’s interview and ensuing audience Q + A with a relaxed, game, and dryly hilarious Cronenberg:

On his childhood ambitions as a novelist: “I always felt that I would be a writer, as a very young kid. My father was a writer, a journalist, and I used to fall asleep to the sound of his typewriter. So writing was accessible to me. I was going to be a novelist, and I particularly aspired to be an obscure novelist. It really pleased me when I would discover this writer or this book that I had never heard of, and then there it was and it was terrific. I thought it would be great if somebody discovered me that way. When I actually ended up being a filmmaker, almost by accident, I thought I could be an obscure filmmaker. But unfortunately, you can’t really raise money if you’re an obscure filmmaker.”

On early rejection: “I submitted a short story to FANTASY AND SCIENCE FICTION magazine when I was sixteen. That was one of the three magazines that I used to read; the other ones were GALAXY and ASTOUNDING SCIENCE FICTION. I got a rejection slip that was a great rejection slip, because it was the cover of the last issue, and then on the other side was written, ‘This came quite close. Please try again.’ And I never did. I continued to write, but not discreet short stories that I would submit to a magazine. Who knows what would have happened if that had been published? Maybe I would have continued and never become a filmmaker. And I remember that short story well, I won’t bore you with it, but it really didn’t qualify as science fiction. It was much more a psychological study of a sort of dwarfish man who lived in a basement and had a picture on the wall that he obsessed over. It was a beautiful picture of Paris by the Seine, full of life and full of people. He wanted to live in that painting. Then the twist—because there always has to be a twist—was that he discovers that the painting was done by someone just like him, who lived in a basement, and the painting was pure fantasy.”

On what led him to take up filmmaking: “I too am a techno-geek and a nerd and all those other things, and I loved playing with cameras. I thought, ‘How do you get the sound to sync with the picture?’ Today you shoot it on your iPhone, you don’t even think twice about it. But then, in those days, you recorded sound on a Niagara tape recorder that was in no way connected to the camera. So I wanted to figure that out, and in that way became a filmmaker.”

On the art film scene of the nineteen-sixties: “Back then there were ‘art’ films. Art with a capital ‘A’. Unthinkable now, but Jean-Luc Godard’s WEEKEND played for seven weeks in Toronto. It would never remotely get any kind of theatrical release now.  There was Bergman, there was Kurosawa, there was Truffaut… And so there was excitement on that front, but it still felt inaccessible.  But here we were making underground films, and that was edging close to some of the things Godard was doing.”

On his own literary idols: “I always had a special affection for Nabokov and Burroughs, although I don’t think they would have made a happy couple. I would like to have seen them go out on a date together, but I don’t think it would have worked out.”

On author versus Auteur: I wasn’t thinking about books when I was making movies. In fact, there was a certain freedom for me as a filmmaker, because when I began to write my first commercial script, I felt completely free of any influence. Obviously I had influences, as I had learned what a film was from other filmmakers, as you do. But it wasn’t like Brian De Palma being obsessed by Hitchcock, or Tarantino trying to re-do every terrible 1970s movie. The last thing I was thinking was that I wanted to adapt novels. The Auteur theory of the French critics—I thought you had to write your own film and direct it to be a true author, but (the French critics) weren’t really talking about that. And for me, it wasn’t until I did THE DEAD ZONE, based on Stephen King’s novel, that I realized you didn’t really have to write your own screenplay. It can be quite exciting and liberating to mix your sensibilities with those of someone else, to produce a work that neither one of you could produce alone. [Laughs] It’s very much like producing children, and they often go wrong!”

On his adapting the work of other writers: “I’ve been very lucky with my relationship with writers, and they haven’t hated what I’ve done. They’ve really rather liked what I’ve done. Most of them have understood that there’s no such thing as translating a novel into a movie. There’s no dictionary for that. You really have to betray the novel in order to be faithful to the novel. You are creating a new thing, a cinematic thing. Stephen King said to me that THE DEAD ZONE was the first adaptation of one of his novels that he liked, and a lot of the fans of that movie think that it’s really faithful to the novel, but it’s actually incredibly different. What it reproduces is the tone of it somehow, the emotion; the barometric pressure. The ‘New England-ness’ of it, even though it was shot in Ontario.”

CronenConsumedCoverOn the origins of CONSUMED (after reading a few pages to the audience): “I started to write CONSUMED as a screenplay, and it was euphemistically called an ‘erotic thriller’—that was how I was selling it to the producer that was interested at the time. You can tell from what I just read how erotic it is, and how thrilling. I know I’m romanticizing it, but at some point the screenplay for CONSUMED let me know that it wasn’t a screenplay, that it was a novel, and it refused to become a screenplay. It was just dormant, until (Penguin Canada editor) Nicole Winstanley breathed it to life by encouraging me to send her something that could perhaps be a novel.”

On the possibility of an eventual film version of CONSUMED: “There are five producers with whom I’ve worked in the past who are interested in me turning CONSUMED into a movie. At first I thought, ‘Of course!’ because how many directors or novelists get the chance to do that? And then gradually I realized that it was the last thing I wanted to do, because the book was complete; it was what it was, and I would be bored by doing it again in a kind of diminished or distilled way. On the other hand, it might be interesting to have some other director destroy my book, for lots of money.”

On being asked if he’s keen to jump into writing a second novel: “I’m jumping, I’m jumping. While I was at the New York Film Festival [with latest film MAP TO THE STARS], I was trying to terrify all of my crew and friends and actors who really like working with me by telling them that I’d just made my last movie. I couldn’t say how long it took me to write CONSUMED; it was over the span of about eight years, but I can’t say how much ‘seat time’ it really took. I think the only way I could find out would be to sit down and have writing a novel be the main thing I’m doing, so it would have to take a really fantastic movie project to seduce me away from that.”

Finally, on if he feels that digital technology has completely overtaken analog in the film world: “Oh, it’s already come. Film is dead. You can’t even get film processed in Toronto. You’d have to send your rushes to L.A., which would take a lot of time and a lot of money. In fact, the only thing that’s analog on a film set is the people… for now. I mean, sound recording has been digital for ten or fifteen years. Nobody uses tape recording anymore, because the advantages of digital are huge. It was only a matter of time before that became the case with the film part. And just as I couldn’t wait to get rid of typewriters—though I have affection for them—I hated using them and couldn’t wait for word processing. I felt the same way about film disappearing. You know, the only thing I like about film was the smell, when you open a can… If I could get an air freshener, ‘Kodak 5000’, then that would make me happy.”

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About the author
Trevor Parker http://www.trevorwriter.com
Trevor Parker is a Toronto-based writer and editorial assistant whose work has appeared in numerous international periodicals and websites. He also contributes the 'Dump Bin Diaries' column to Fangoria magazine. He can be reached at trevor@fangoria.com or via his website at www.trevorwriter.com.
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