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David Cronenberg

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David Cronenberg

David Cronenberg
Cronenberg at the 2012 Genie Awards
Born David Paul Cronenberg
(1943-03-15) March 15, 1943
Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Alma mater University of Toronto
Occupation Director, producer, screenwriter
Years active 1966–present
Spouse(s) Margaret Hindson (1970–1977; 1 child; divorced)
Carolyn Zeifman (1979–present; 2 children)

David Paul Cronenberg, CC OOnt FRSC (born March 15, 1943)[1] is a Canadian filmmaker, screenwriter and actor. He is one of the principal originators of what is commonly known as the body horror or venereal horror genre. This style of filmmaking explores people's fears of bodily transformation and infection. In his films, the psychological is typically intertwined with the physical. In the first half of his career, he explored these themes mostly through horror and science fiction, although his work has since expanded beyond these genres. He has been called "the most audacious and challenging narrative director in the English-speaking world."[2]

Early life

Born in Toronto, Canada, Cronenberg is the son of Esther (née Sumberg), a musician, and Milton Cronenberg, a writer and editor.[3] He was raised in a "middle-class progressive Jewish family".[4][5] His father was born in Baltimore, Maryland, and his mother was born in Toronto; all of his grandparents were from Lithuania.[6]

He began writing as a child and wrote constantly. He attended high school at Harbord Collegiate Institute. A keen interest in science, especially botany and lepidopterology, led him to enter the Honours Science program at the University of Toronto in 1963, but he switched to Honors English Language and Literature later in his first year.

Cronenberg's fascination with the film Winter Kept Us Warm (1966) by classmate David Secter sparked his interest in film. He began frequenting film camera rental houses, learning art of filmmaking and made two 16mm films (Transfer and From the Drain). Inspired by the New York underground film scene, he founded the Toronto Film Co-op with Iain Ewing and Ivan Reitman. After taking a year off to travel in Europe, he returned to Canada in 1967, graduating from University College at the top of his class.[7]


After two short sketch films and two short art-house features (the black and white Stereo and the colour Crimes of the Future) Cronenberg went into partnership with Ivan Reitman. The Canadian government provided financing for his films throughout the 1970s. He alternated his signature "body horror" films such as Shivers with projects reflecting his interest in car racing and bike gangs (Fast Company). Rabid exploited the unexpected acting talents of pornographic actress Marilyn Chambers (Cronenberg's first choice was a young, then-unknown Sissy Spacek). Rabid was a breakthrough with international distributors and his next two horror features gained stronger support.

Cronenberg's films follow a definite progression: a movement from the social world to the inner life. In his early films, scientists modify human bodies, which results in the breakdown of social order (e.g. Shivers, Rabid). In his middle period, the chaos wrought by the scientist is more personal, (e.g. The Brood, Scanners, Videodrome). In the later period, the scientist himself is altered by his experiment (e.g. his remake of The Fly). This trajectory culminates in Dead Ringers in which a twin pair of gynecologists spiral into codependency and drug addiction. His later films tend more to the psychological, often contrasting subjective and objective realities (eXistenZ, M. Butterfly, Spider).

Cronenberg has cited William S. Burroughs and Vladimir Nabokov as influences.[8] Perhaps the best example of a film that straddles the line between his works of personal chaos and psychological confusion is Cronenberg's "adaptation" of his literary hero William S. Burroughs' most controversial book, Naked Lunch. The book was considered "unfilmable" and Cronenberg acknowledged that a straight translation into film would "cost 100 million dollars and be banned in every country in the world". Instead—much like in his earlier film, Videodrome—he consistently blurred the lines between what appeared to be reality and what appeared to be hallucinations brought on by the main character's drug addiction. Some of the book's "moments" (as well as incidents loosely based upon Burroughs' life) are presented in this manner within the film. Cronenberg stated that while writing the screenplay for Naked Lunch, he felt a moment of synergy with the writing style of Burroughs. He felt the connection between his screenwriting style and Burroughs' prose style was so strong, that he jokingly remarked that should Burroughs pass on, "I'll just write his next book."

Cronenberg has said that his films should be seen "from the point of view of the disease", and that, for example, he identifies with the characters in Shivers after they become infected with the anarchic parasites. Disease and disaster, in Cronenberg's work, are less problems to be overcome than agents of [9] Similarly, in Crash (1996), people who have been injured in car crashes attempt to view their ordeal as "a fertilizing rather than a destructive event". In 2005, Cronenberg would say that he was upset that Paul Haggis had chosen the same name for his Academy Award winning film Crash, feeling it was "stupid" and "very disrespectful."[10]

Aside from Return of the Jedi but was passed. Cronenberg also worked for nearly a year on a version of Total Recall but experienced "creative differences" with producers Dino De Laurentiis and Ronald Shusett. A different version of the film was eventually made by Paul Verhoeven. A fan of Philip K. Dick, author of "We Can Remember it For You Wholesale," the short story upon which the film was based, Cronenberg related (in the biography/overview of his work, Cronenberg on Cronenberg) that his dissatisfaction with what he envisioned the film to be and what it ended up being pained him so greatly that for a time, he suffered a migraine just thinking about it, akin to a needle piercing his eye.

In the late 1990s, Cronenberg was announced as director of a sequel to another Verhoeven film, Basic Instinct, but this also fell through. His thriller A History of Violence (2005) is one of his highest budgeted and most accessible to date. He has said that the decision to direct it was influenced by his having had to defer some of his salary on the low-budgeted Spider, but it was one of his most critically acclaimed films to date, along with Eastern Promises (2007), a film about the struggle of one man to gain power in the Russian Mafia.

Cronenberg at the 2011 Toronto International Film Festival

Cronenberg has collaborated with composer Howard Shore on all of his films since The Brood (1979), (see List of noted film director and composer collaborations) with the exception of The Dead Zone (1983), which was scored by Michael Kamen. Other regular collaborators include actor Robert Silverman, art director Carol Spier, sound editor Bryan Day, film editor Ronald Sanders, his sister, costume designer Denise Cronenberg, and, from 1979 until 1988, cinematographer Mark Irwin. In 2008, Cronenberg directed Howard Shore's first opera, The Fly.

Since 1988's Dead Ringers, Cronenberg has worked with cinematographer Peter Suschitzky on each of his films (see List of film director and cinematographer collaborations). Suschitzky was the director of photography for The Empire Strikes Back, and Cronenberg remarked that Suschitzky's work in that film "was the only one of those movies that actually looked good",[11] which was a motivating factor to work with him on Dead Ringers.

Having worked with many Hollywood stars, Cronenberg says that he did not get to make a film with an actor he wanted to work with for a long time, Burt Reynolds. Cronenberg remains a staunchly Canadian filmmaker, with nearly all of his films (including major studio vehicles The Dead Zone and The Fly) having been filmed in his home province Ontario. Notable exceptions include M. Butterfly, most of which was shot in China, Spider and Eastern Promises, which were both filmed primarily in England, and A Dangerous Method, which was filmed in Germany and Austria. Rabid and Shivers were shot in and around Montreal. Most of his films have been at least partially financed by Telefilm Canada, and Cronenberg is a vocal supporter of government-backed film projects, saying "Every country needs [a system of government grants] in order to have a national cinema in the face of Hollywood".[12]

Cronenberg has also appeared as an actor in other directors' films. Most of his roles are cameo appearances, as in Into The Night, Jason X, To Die For, Blood and Donuts and Alias, but on occasion he has played major roles, as in Nightbreed or Last Night. He has not played major roles in any of his own films, but he did put in a brief appearance as a gynecologist in The Fly; he can also be glimpsed among the sex-crazed hordes in Shivers; he can be heard as an unseen car-pound attendant in Crash; his hands can be glimpsed in eXistenZ; and he appeared as a stand-in for James Woods in Videodrome for shots in which Woods' character wore a helmet that covered his head.

In 2008 Cronenberg realized two extra-cinematographic projects: the exhibition Chromosomes at the Rome Film Fest and the opera The Fly at the LaOpera in Los Angeles and Theatre Châtelet in Paris. In July 2010, Cronenberg completed production on A Dangerous Method, an adaptation of Christopher Hampton's play The Talking Cure, starring Keira Knightley, Michael Fassbender, and frequent collaborator Viggo Mortensen. The film was produced by independent British producer Jeremy Thomas.[13][14]

In 2012, his film Cosmopolis competed for the Palme d'Or at the 2012 Cannes Film Festival.[15][16]

In the October 2011 edition of

For a time it appeared that, as Eastern Promises producer Paul Webster told Screen International, a sequel is in the works that would reunite the key team of Cronenberg, Steven Knight and Viggo Mortensen. The film was to be made by Webster's new production company Shoebox Films in collaboration with Focus Features and to be shot in early 2013.[17] However, in an in-person interview held at the Apple Store Soho on August 16, 2012, Cronenberg commented that the financing for the "Eastern Promises" sequel had fallen through about two weeks earlier.

Filming for Cronenberg's next film, a satire drama entitled Maps to the Stars—with Julianne Moore, John Cusack and Robert Pattinson[18][19]—began on July 8, 2013 in Toronto, Ontario and Los Angeles.[20][21] This was the first time Cronenberg filmed in the United States.

In a September 2013 interview, Cronenberg stated that he is not concerned about posthumous representations of his film work: "It wouldn't disturb me to think that my work would just sink beneath the waves without trace and that would be it. So what? It doesn't bother me." In the same interview, Cronenberg revealed that it depends on the "time of day" as to whether he is afraid of death.[22]

On June 26, 2014 Cronenberg's short film "The Nest" was published on YouTube. The film was commissioned for "David Cronenberg - The Exhibition" at EYE Film Institute in Amsterdam and will be available on YouTube for the duration of the exhibition until September 14, 2014. [23]


In 2014 Cronenberg published his first novel, Consumed.[24]

Personal life

He first married Margaret Hindson in 1972: then his seven-year marriage ended in 1979 amidst personal and professional differences. They had one daughter, Cassandra Cronenberg. Now he is married to Carolyn Zeifman, production assistant on Rabid. They have two children, Caitlin and Brandon.[25] In the 1992 book Cronenberg on Cronenberg, he revealed that The Brood was inspired by events that occurred during the unraveling of his first marriage, which caused both Cronenberg and his daughter Cassandra a great deal of turmoil. The character Nola Carveth, mother of the brood, is based on Cassandra's mother. Cronenberg said that he found the shooting of the climactic scene, in which Nola was strangled by her husband, to be "very satisfying".[26] Cronenberg lives in Toronto.[1]

Cronenberg describes himself as an atheist.[27][28] His atheism was further explained in a September 2013 interview:

Anytime I've tried to imagine squeezing myself into the box of any particular religion, I find it claustrophobic and oppressive. I think atheism is an acceptance of what is real.[22]

In the same interview, Cronenberg revealed that film director Martin Scorsese admitted to him that he was intrigued by Cronenberg's early work but was subsequently "terrified" to meet him in person. Cronenberg stated to Scorsese in response: "You're the guy who made Taxi Driver and you're afraid to meet me?"[22]

Awards and recognition

Cronenberg has appeared on various "Greatest Director" lists. In 2004, Science Fiction magazine Strange Horizons named him the 2nd greatest director in the history of the genre, ahead of better known directors such as Steven Spielberg, James Cameron, Jean-Luc Godard and Ridley Scott.[29] In the same year, The Guardian listed him 9th on their list of "The world's 40 best directors".[30] In 2007, Total Film named him as the 17th greatest director of all-time.[31]

Cronenberg received the Special Jury Prize at the 1996 Cannes Film Festival for Crash.[32] In 1999, Cronenberg was inducted onto Canada's Walk of Fame[33] and was awarded with the Silver Bear Award at the 49th Berlin International Film Festival.[34]

In 2002, he was made an Officer of the Order of Canada, and was promoted to Companion of the Order of Canada (the order's highest rank) in 2014.[35] In 2006 he was awarded the Cannes Film Festival's lifetime achievement award, the Carrosse d'Or.[36] Also in 2006, Cronenberg was made a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada, the senior national body of distinguished Canadian scientists and scholars.[37] In 2009 Cronenberg received the Légion d'honneur from the government of France.[38] The following year Cronenberg was named an honorary patron of the University Philosophical Society, Trinity College, Dublin. In 2012, he received the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal.[39]

The opening of the "David Cronenberg: Evolution" Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) exhibition will occur on October 30, 2013. Held at the TIFF Bell Lightbox venue, the exhibition pays tribute to the director's entire filmmaking career and the festival's promotional material refers to Cronenberg as "one of Canada's most prolific and iconic filmmakers". The exhibition will be shown internationally following the conclusion of the TIFF showing on January 19, 2014.[22][40]

In 2014, he was made a Member of the Order of Ontario in recognition for being "Canada's most celebrated internationally acclaimed filmmaker".[41]


As director

Recurring collaborators

Collaborator Stereo
Crimes of the Future
Fast Company
The Brood
The Dead Zone
The Fly
Dead Ringers
Naked Lunch
M. Butterfly
A History of Violence
Eastern Promises
A Dangerous Method
Maps to the Stars
Nicholas Campbell NoN NoN NoN NoN 4
Leslie Carlson NoN NoN NoN 3
Vincent Cassel NoN NoN 2
Sarah Gadon NoN NoN NoN 3
Ian Holm NoN NoN 2
Jeremy Irons NoN NoN 2
Stephen Lack NoN NoN 2
Peter MacNeill NoN NoN NoN 3
Ronald Mlodzik NoN NoN NoN NoN 4
Viggo Mortensen NoN NoN NoN 3
Robert Pattinson NoN NoN 2
Joe Silver NoN NoN 2
Robert A. Silverman NoN NoN NoN NoN NoN 5


  • Red Cars. Volumina Artbooks. Bologna: Associazione culturale Volumina. 2005 ISBN 978-88-901996-8-4
  • David Cronenberg: Interviews with Serge Grunberg. Plexus Publishing. 2005. ISBN 0-85965-376-5.
  • David Cronenberg: Collected Screenplays 1: Stereo, Crimes of the Future, Shivers, Rabid. 2002. Faber and Faber. ISBN 0-571-21017-1.
  • eXistenZ: A Graphic Novel. Key Porter Books. 1999. ISBN 1-55263-027-7.
  • Crash. Faber and Faber. 1997. ISBN 0-571-19127-4.
  • Cronenberg, David (1992). Rodley, Chris, ed. Cronenberg on Cronenberg (1st ed.).  


  1. ^ a b Cronenberg 1992, p. 1.
  2. ^  
  3. ^ "David Cronenberg Biography (1943–)". Retrieved May 18, 2011. 
  4. ^"
  5. ^
  6. ^
  7. ^ New York Times (January 8, 2012). David Cronenberg: Full Biography
  8. ^ Browning, Mark (2007) David Cronenberg: author or film-maker?. Intellect Books. ISBN 1-84150-173-5, ISBN 978-1-84150-173-4
  9. ^ Gordon, Bette. "David Cronenberg", "BOMB Magazine", Winter, 1989. Retrieved July 25, 2011.
  10. ^ "Double Trouble". Slate Magazine. May 12, 2005. Retrieved December 13, 2009. 
  11. ^ "David Cronenberg Re-Examines David Cronenberg". Film Freak Central. March 9, 2003. Retrieved March 9, 2003. 
  12. ^ Phipps, Keith. "David Cronenberg".  
  13. ^ "'"Viggo Mortensen Replaces Christoph Waltz As Sigmund Freud in David Cronenberg's 'The Talking Cure. The Playlist. March 9, 2010. Retrieved May 18, 2011. 
  14. ^ "Keira Knightley Takes The Talking Cure".  
  15. ^ "2012 Official Selection". Cannes. Retrieved April 19, 2012. 
  16. ^ "Cannes Film Festival 2012 line-up announced". timeout. Retrieved April 19, 2012. 
  17. ^ "Paul Webster". Screen International. Retrieved April 23, 2012. 
  18. ^ "David Cronenberg's 'Maps to the Stars' Finds Julianne Moore, John Cusack & EOne". Retrieved February 4, 2013. 
  19. ^ "'"Julianne Moore, John Cusack & Sarah Gadon Join Robert Pattinson in David Cronenberg's 'Map to the Stars. Retrieved February 4, 2013. 
  20. ^ "Cronenberg starts Maps shoot". Retrieved July 16, 2013. 
  21. ^ "David Cronenberg Says His Novel May Arrive in 2013, Talks Working With Robert Pattinson, 'Map to the Stars' & More". Retrieved June 27, 2013. 
  22. ^ a b c d Henry Barnes (September 12, 2013). "'"David Cronenberg: 'I never thought of myself as a prophet. The Guardian. Retrieved September 13, 2013. 
  23. ^ "IFFR presents: The Nest by David Cronenberg". YouTube. Retrieved June 30, 2014. 
  24. ^ Pevere, Geoff. "David Cronenberg’s consuming obsession". Retrieved 16 November 2014. 
  25. ^ Mottram, James (October 21, 2007). David Cronenberg: 'I'm not ready to embrace Hollywood respectability quite yet'. The Independent. Retrieved on: 2012-01-08.
  26. ^ Cronenberg 1992, p. 84.
  27. ^ Guttsman, Janet, (September 10, 2007). "I'm an atheist," Cronenberg said."Cronenberg gets down and dirty with Russian mob;
  28. ^ "I'm simply a nonbeliever and have been forever. ... I'm interested in saying, 'Let us discuss the existential question. We are all going to die, that is the end of all consciousness. There is no afterlife. There is no God. Now what do we do.' That's the point where it starts getting interesting to me." – Interview, Esquire, February 1992.
  29. ^ Jeremy Adam Smith (April 19, 2004). "The Ten Best Science Fiction Film Directors". Retrieved May 18, 2011. 
  30. ^ "The world's 40 best directors".  
  31. ^ "Greatest Directors Ever".  
  32. ^ "Festival de Cannes: Crash". Retrieved September 15, 2009. 
  33. ^ Canada's Walk of Fame: David Cronenberg, film director, Cannes Film Festival winner Archived August 26, 2006 at the Wayback Machine
  34. ^ "Berlinale: 1999 Prize Winners". Retrieved January 29, 2012. 
  35. ^ "Order of Canada Appointments". June 30, 2014. Retrieved July 1, 2014. 
  36. ^ Dupont, Joan (May 19, 2006). "Cronenberg: An intellectual with ominous powers". The New York Times. Retrieved April 30, 2011. 
  37. ^ "2006 New Fellow Citations" (PDF).  
  38. ^ "Cronenberg to receive France's Légion d'honneur".  
  39. ^ "Diamond Jubilee Gala toasts exceptional Canadians". CBC. June 18, 2012. Retrieved June 19, 2012. 
  40. ^ "Evolution". tiff. Toronto International Film Festival Inc. September 2013. Retrieved September 13, 2013. 
  41. ^ "New Appointees to the Order of Ontario". January 23, 2014. 
  42. ^ Shaw-Williams, Hannah (November 7, 2012). "Rachel Weisz To Star in David Cronenberg's Maps to the Stars". Bleeding Cool. Retrieved November 27, 2012. 
  43. ^ 10-minute dramatic short for the  
  44. ^ Cronenberg, David; Irwin, Mark (2004). Director David Cronenberg and Director of Photography Mark Irwin commentary on Videodrome [DVD; Audio Track 2]. Criterion Collection. (According to the DVD, the commentary was recorded in Toronto, Canada and Los Angeles in the Winter and Spring of 2004)

Further reading

  • Mark Browning (2007): David Cronenberg: Author or Filmmaker? (ISBN 978-1-84150-173-4)
  • Thomas J. Dreibrodt (2000): Lang lebe das neue Fleisch. Die Filme von David Cronenberg — von 'Shivers' bis 'eXistenZ'. (academic; in German) (ISBN 978-3-932872-05-1)
  • Serge Grünberg, ed. (2006): David Cronenberg (interviews) (ISBN 978-0-85965-376-3)
  • Piers Handling (1983): The Shape of Rage: The Films of David Cronenberg (ISBN 978-0-7736-1137-5)
  • Kim Newman (1989): Nightmare Movies: A Critical History of the Horror Film 1968–1988 (ISBN 978-0-517-57366-2)
  • Drehli Robnik, Michael Palm, eds. (1992): Und das Wort ist Fleisch geworden. Texte über Filme von David Cronenberg. Vienna, PVS: 1992. ISBN 978-3-901196-02-7
  • Maggie Humm (1997): "Cronenberg's Films and Feminist Theories of Mothering", in: Feminism and Film, Edinburgh University Press. (ISBN 978-0-253-21146-0)

External links

  • Media related to at Wikimedia Commons
  • Quotations related to David Cronenberg at Wikiquote
  • David Cronenberg at the Internet Movie Database
  • David Cronenberg at Rotten Tomatoes
  • The Literary Adaptations of David Cronenberg (via LitReactor, 2011)
  • David Cronenberg Bibliography (via UC Berkeley)
  • An interview at (November 1999)
  • BBC interview with Cronenberg (Video, October 2007)
  • David Cronenberg Profile by The New York Times Magazine (September 2005)
  • episode "The Italian Machine" onlineTeleplay at the Channel4 website (RealMedia)
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