Cannibals, sex and surgery—The director's first novel is as strange as his filmsby Moira Weigel / September 18, 2014 / Leave a comment
Published in October 2014 issue of Prospect Magazine
Consumed by David Cronenberg (4th Estate, £18.99)
If you were trying to capture Consumed in a few words, they would include: cannibalism, consumerism, Cannes film festival, elective amputation, 3D flesh printing, insect larvae and Kim Jong Un. The book’s real subject, however, is the one place where all these things coexist: the internet.
Google “David Cronenberg” and you learn that Consumed is his first novel, and that the “Canadian filmmaker, screenwriter and actor,” also known as the “King of Venereal Horror” or “Baron of Blood,” was born in 1943. Recent photos show a shock of white hair raked back from sharp blue eyes and a brow that is usually furrowed in bemusement. The effect is a wry kind of sternness reminiscent of late photos of Samuel Beckett, or what Beckett might have looked like if he had grown up in “an ordinary, middle-class progressive Jewish family.” That’s how Cronenberg describes his childhood in Toronto. His mother was a pianist. His father was a writer. As a child, Cronenberg remembers falling asleep to the click of fingers on the typewriter. He started writing short stories when he was very young. He also became obsessed with science, especially insects. He spent his first year at the University of Toronto majoring in cell biology before switching to English. After graduation, he began making underground films, learning as he went.
In the 1970s, the Canada Film Development Fund was offering subsidies to independent filmmakers, and after a few years in television, Cronenberg went to work at Cinépix, a company that used state funds to put out soft porn and horror movies. His first two feature films, Shivers (1975) and Rabid (1977), contained elements of both. The films turned big profits but Cronenberg decided to stay in Canada rather than head to Hollywood. Relying on state funds, he developed an idiosyncratic “trash” aesthetic that used low genre themes and conventions to tell highly inventive stories. In time, he turned himself into a strange crossbreed: a B-movie auteur.