Cronenberg on Cronenberg: Pushing Buttons

by Anthony Kaufman
November 30, 2005 10:16 AM
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"I want to push buttons that nobody ever knew existed before," David Cronenberg recently told me. " "If you're pushing the same old buttons, then you get the same old movie and the same old response from your audience. I'm pushing my own buttons, as well, and I'm finding them, and the unusual ones that are not pushed are often the most revealing. To me, that's the difference between art and entertainment. Entertainment wants those familiar buttons, but if you're an artist, you want to push those buttons that make people uncomfortable, because it reveals things that they don't want to know about."

This quote didn't make the cut of a recent article, and I thought it was good enough to bring out from my hard drive. After Woody Allen on Monday night, Cronenberg spoke to Lincoln Center audiences on Tuesday night (those Film Society people must be tiring, and it's not even the New York Film Festival). I couldn't make the proceedings, but I'm sure Cronenberg, one of the most articulate directors I've ever interviewed, gave an ellucidating talk.

It's good to know that as we enter the heat of awards season, Cronenberg isn't being forgotten. At least I hope that his latest haunting work isn't swept away by all those bloated studio prestige pictures that don't have half the complexity and unsettling core as "Violence." Either way, Cronenberg won't be holding his breath. When I spoke to the director about his 2003 work "Spider" the day before the Oscars were announced, he told me, "The bad thing about winning an Oscar is that when you die, people will say, 'Oscar-winner David Cronenberg just died' -- as though it's the highpoint of your life."

Here's more from our conversation. . .

On violence:
"One of the subjects is our ambivalent relationship to violence -- it's attractive, it's exhilarating, even cathartic when the bad guys get what they deserve, but it's also repulsive when you see the corpses that CNN doesn't want to show, than it's not so exhilarating. The two are wedded together inextricably. We still have the warrior culture, the joy of the hunt, all of that is still part of us."

On ambiguity:
"To really characterize what it is to be a human being now is really what the artistic project is: It's not propaganda. Who needs another form of propaganda? To be painfully honest about things that are not politically convenient, or simplistic, and that means ambiguity and ambivalence."

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