With a collection of talks from international filmmakers including Guillermo del Toro, Francis Ford Coppola and Ang Lee filmed at festivals in Berlin, Toronto, Tribeca and others, the We Are One Festival has offered a mini masterclass series on the filmmaking process. As the online festival draws to a close, one of the final interviews celebrates David Cronenberg and the film Crash made nearly 25-years ago and selected by actor Viggo Mortensen for a special screening at the Toronto Film Festival.
Cronenberg’s movie was incredibly controversial when it was released in 1996, censured, even banned in some counties. Mortensen’s introduction to the film insists he hates being told what to think, something that never happens in a David Cronenberg film. Crash, he explains, doesn’t allow you to remain neutral, and unlike most directors and movie producers, its rare brilliance lies in showing a particular way of living without moralising.
After the screening (not included in this 50-minute panel session), Cronenberg begins this TIFF Talk by noting how strange it is to be alive when your films are being restored. Based on the J.G. Ballard novel, Cronenberg remembers how disturbed the original novel felt and was initially unable to read more than 20-pages. It was “quite repellent” he explains, unable to connect to its unsettling medical style of writing. Eventually forcing his way though the story, he suddenly found its style extraordinary despite the absence of humour, admiring its lack of self-awareness – “it was just what it was.”
Reviewing the film decades later, Cronenberg discusses the sensuality he added to his dramatization through the choreography of the movement of cars and the use of lighting to create a “fusing of the human body and technology.” Filmed in a pre-digital era, Cronenberg also emphasises the real danger in the production process, shutting a section of the highway and having to hang from the back of a camera car to get particular shots as the stunt team crashed real cars in the rain. While modern digital tools are helpful in a different way, when the big set pieces work, Cronenberg notes it is “incredibly satisfying.”
Asked about selecting actors for his films, Cronenberg jokes: “You need to work with crazy people but crazy in a particular way”. Elaborating, he explains that knowing the lines and technical structure of a scene is only part of the acting process, but having no fear about what they’re being asked to do on screen and unleashing that in themselves unfiltered is not something all actors are able to do. This is vital to exploring the human condition, a theme that links his work, a process he describes as “a diamond with a million facets.”
On set, he is interested in an actor’s “first instinct” from reading the script and only talks afterwards if interpretations are not aligned. As a self-taught director, with no formal training, Cronenberg recalls being wary of actors at first, thinking he had to manipulate them into performing a certain way when budget and time constraints limited their freedom to explore the character. But he soon realised that collaboration is at the heart of moviemaking, and as a final masterclass statement this seems a fitting conclusion to an engaging series of talks.
Available here until 12 June 2020