Thursday, March 15, 2007

Cronenberg at 64, Cronenbook at 25


Today is David Cronenberg's 64th birthday, and the perfect occasion to go public with some news I've been keeping quiet for awhile.
Some background first: Perhaps some of you know that I spent most of the 1980s writing almost exclusively about Cronenberg's films, beginning with a series of CINEFANTASTIQUE set reports -- and finally a cover story -- about the making of VIDEODROME. I was the only journalist granted access to the set, which was closed to protect the film's revolutionary storyline from being leaked. I visited for nine full days. My deal with CFQ was to write a book-length article that would appear as a double issue. This issue happened to coincide with the editor's marriage and, by the time he and his wife returned from their honeymoon, VIDEODROME had opened and closed -- a huge boxoffice flop. CFQ had an unfortunate history of bad feature article choices (KRULL, THE BLACK HOLE, etc.) and it was decided to literally cut the losses by editing my material down to a single issue feature. (I was, of course, being paid by the word.) Then it was announced that Cronenberg had been signed to direct THE DEAD ZONE for Dino De Laurentiis, which prompted the decision to assign me to cover that filming for a special double issue that would cover both films, to be published about a year later. (I was, of course, to be paid on publication.) I visited the set of THE DEAD ZONE for a few days, wrote my article and sent it in, whereupon the editor got cold feet -- Stephen King movies were not doing so well at the boxoffice, so it was decided to run my coverage of both Cronenberg films in a single issue. This whittling-down process was agonizing on a monetary level, but that agony was nothing compared to reading what the magazine had done to my VIDEODROME manuscript. Piers Handling, the head of the Academy of Canadian Cinema, had told me that it was the finest production history of a Canadian film he had ever read -- he included a section of the manuscript in a book he edited, THE SHAPE OF RAGE: THE FILMS OF DAVID CRONENBERG, as it was originally written, while CFQ published an abortion, so greatly condensed that my work couldn't be simply cut; it had to be paraphrased. I was so angry when I read the results that I temporarily lost the power to speak, and it ended my ten-year affiliation with the magazine.
My original manuscript then went into a file cabinet, where it resided for the next 20-odd years. Criterion welcomed portions of it into their marvelous DVD of VIDEODROME, but there was a much they didn't use. In fact, material exists in my files -- like a lengthy Q&A with Cronenberg, which I conducted after my first viewing of the film -- that was omitted from the original manuscript because I didn't then have the time to include it and meet my original deadline. After that first deadline had passed, there was no reason to add anything more because pages were already being cut.
Now that you have the messy background, here's my very neat announcement:
Later this year, in the fall, Millipede Press will be publishing my VIDEODROME book as the first offering in an exciting new trade paperback series called "Studies in the Horror Film." If you've seen the BFI's "Film Classics" and "Modern Classics" series, or Continuum Press's "33 1/3" series about rock albums, the same principle applies here... except this series will consist of uniform numbered books devoted to the in-depth study of individual classics of horror cinema. Publisher Jerad Walters is anticipating that later books in the series will run, on average, about 20,000 words and 144 pages, but VIDEODROME -- being a full production history -- will likely be a bit longer. I'll also be adding some new material to help the book bridge the years of its long sleep: hard as it is to believe, this year marks the 25th anniversary of the manuscript's completion.
I've been working with my original typescript to recreate it as an editable computer document, and reading through it again has been an uncanny experience. The book puts me back on the set in so many ways, back into the warm and funny camaraderie of the people who made it, and I think fans of the film and Cronenberg's work in general will be impressed by the level of intimacy it achieves with its subject. I honestly can't remember reading another book quite like this -- it will give you the VIDEODROME you know, of course, but also the VIDEODROME you don't know unless you too were there, the one that David Cronenberg didn't quite know even as he was writing it by night and directing it by day. In other words, it will put you in the midst of Cronenberg's creative process, his wrestling with the raw idea of VIDEODROME. That's what reading it has been doing for me anyway, and it's been so long since I wrote this book, it feels like the work of someone else, a better writer than I remember being at that age, who was somehow privy to my own experiences.
I've been out of touch with David Cronenberg for a long time, so it's interesting to resume touch with him again through my writing, which was so sympathetic and attuned to him and what he was doing. Wherever he is, whatever he's doing, I wish him much happiness on this, his Paul McCartney birthday. As the aged onion skin of my typescript is being rejuvenated on my computer screen, I reflect on those words I was among the first to hear -- "Long Live the New Flesh!" -- and pass them back to their author with many happy returns.

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