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David Cronenberg Clarifies Comments About 'Dark Knight' Series, Questions Comic Book Movies As Cinematic Art

by Kevin Jagernauth
January 2, 2013 1:55 PM
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Last summer, David Cronenberg caused a bit of an uproar among fanboy circles when it was reported that he said Christopher Nolan's best film was "Memento," and by comparison, his Batman films were "boring." Of course, this caused quite the heated reaction on the interwebs, but with his own "Cosmopolis" hitting home video his week, we got a chance to sit down with Cronenberg, and we couldn't help but ask him about that minor controversy. And while he chalks up some of it to his words being taken out of context, he's still not convinced of the potential of the comic book movie genre. 

"No, I haven't seen ['The Dark Knight Rises']. See, this is how it all gets distorted. The question was asked, to me. And, of course, when they quote me, they never quote themselves or the question that provoked the response," Cronenberg explained. "I was asked, then the journalist woman said, 'By the way, superhero comic book movies have shown to rise to the highest level of cinematic art – would you be interested in doing one?' And I said, 'Wait, who said they have risen to the highest level of cinematic art?' That's when I started my little rant. I was really responding to that. She proposed that about the new Batman movies. I had seen the one before this ['The Dark Knight'], not the new one, and I think at that time only journalists had seen it. So I wasn't talking specifically about that movie and I wasn't criticizing it directly." 

It should be noted that Cronenberg's comments came a few weeks after 'Rises' hit theaters, but that's also besides the point. However, what he does want to make clear is that his feelings were more directed at the genre as a whole, and not Nolan specifically. "What I was saying was that a comic book movie is really a comic book movie. Comic books were -- especially those comic books which I was raised on (I loved Captain Marvel) -- created for adolescents and they have a core that is adolescent," he elaborated. "To me, that limits the discourse of your movie if you're basing it accurately on that, and you cannot rise to the highest level of cinematic art. That's my take on it. I went on to say that, of course, technically they can be incredibly interesting, since there are very clever people making the movie and of course have a lot of money they are throwing at it. But creatively, artistically, they are incredibly limited. It got bent out of shape that I was dissing Christopher Nolan, which just wasn't the case."

Certainly, with Nolan's 'Rises' proving to be an ambitious capper to his groundbreaking trilogy and with "The Avengers" becoming a global blockbuster and one of the biggest movies of all time, there are many who will dispute Cronenberg's assertions. What are your thoughts? Can comic book movies also double as cinematic art? Weigh in below and stayed tuned for more from our chat with Cronenberg tomorrow.

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  • H-Man | January 22, 2013 8:55 PMReply

    Pfft.... I'd say The Dark Knight Rises is better than Cosmopolis. I'd say any of Nolan's films are better than Cosmopolis. Cosmopolis was a dull, pretentious pile of rubbish, and somehow managed to be way worse than Cronenberg's previous dud, A Dangerous Method.

  • jaloysiusm | January 21, 2013 7:59 PMReply

    ...and cue the fanboy These films are merely clever and well executed; Cronenberg likely made any factual mistakes he did because he quite frankly thinks of these films as interchangeable. He hasn't seen the new one, true, but he saw the previous, and I've yet to hear anyone, anywhere suggest the new one is better. He's seen what most superhero film fans would advance as the greatest product of the genre...and he's nonplussed. No one who's conversant with Bergman or Truffaut or Renoir or Hitchcock is going to be bowled over by what's essentially a well-made Bond film tarted up with a (muddled) political agenda...sorry!

  • Alan B | February 5, 2013 4:38 PM

    So we're now bitching about films that we haven't seen ... and that's fine, I guess.

  • Oliver Gogarty | January 9, 2013 12:26 PMReply

    They're not comic book movies. They're superhero movies. There are superhero movies not based on comic books, and there are comic book movies that have nothing to do with superheroes. Don't encourage people to confuse a genre with a medium. I'm disappointed Cronenberg didn't correct you, as he has made a comic book movie, called A History of Violence.

  • mpzz | January 4, 2013 7:07 PMReply

    It depends on the book, doesn't it? No one is going to accuse a movie with people in it dressed like they are in the picture above of being high art. On the other hand, a realistic story, like A History of Violence, is not automatically demoted in its artistry simply by the fact that graphics were included with the written word.

  • Turtletub | January 4, 2013 7:41 AMReply

    No wonder Cronenberg is sucking lately... he's being wishy washy. We all know he was dissing Nolan. Why? 'Cuz he's right and Nolan sucks.

  • Alan | January 4, 2013 11:29 PM

    He was dissing a film he hadn't seen. If you are so anti-Nolan that you can't see why that's a problem ...

  • dan | January 3, 2013 10:46 PMReply

    So many whiny idiots here. Why is this a big deal? No one's saying you have to agree with Cronenberg.

  • Alan | January 4, 2013 7:13 PM

    Well, if someone has lied - repeatedly - about something he didn't need to lie about, I would say that he thought it was a big deal. Why lie when he didn't have to?

  • dan | January 4, 2013 3:58 PM

    You're right, Alan, it is a big deal.

  • Alan | January 4, 2013 1:10 AM

    *sighs* I don't HAVE TO agree with anyone. But he lied repeatedly about the questioner, he bitched about a film HE HADN'T SEEN, and he blames other people for his own words. I don't like the idea that he thinks other people are too stupid to research the previous article, in which many of his lies are easily refutable. To paraphrase (or misquote) an episode of the TV series 'Community', the guy is lying, which is fine I guess, but he's getting caught doing so which is not cool.

  • PabloC | January 3, 2013 2:42 PMReply

    Hey! Let's not forget that Cronenberg's A History of Violence WAS a comic book -by John Wagner and Vince Locke- prior to the film. A graphic novel, if hardcore semantics is your thing. I guess what's lacking clarification is if Cronenberg was talking solely of super-heroe comics. I guess there aren't any doubts about the quality of films like American Splendor, Persepolis, Old-Boy Ghost World, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, etc.
    On the other hand, to me -yes, my opinion-, Memento is Nolan's best feature by far. And it looks it will stay that way...

  • cineman | January 3, 2013 2:20 PMReply

    Any genre can be raised to a high level of art, but most wallow a few miles below that in the gutter. Same goes for comic book adaptations, as westerns, as sf, as crime, as romance etc

  • morethanaluddite | January 3, 2013 12:12 PMReply

    I would go further and say that anything that doesn't specifically reject the technocratic mindset of the modern world cannot be high cinematic art. That effectively banishes all movies that uses heavily integrated CGI imagery.

  • CinemaPsycho | January 3, 2013 12:33 AMReply

    Yes, A History of Violence is based on a comic book. But not a superhero comic book, which is what Cronenberg is specifically referring to.

    Frankly, I think it was a stupid question in the first place, and so he gave a stupid answer. Does anyone actually think Cronenberg, based solely on his filmography, would EVER make a superhero film? Has he ever shown any interest in telling that kind of story? Would she ask that question to, say, Bernardo Bertolucci or Wim Wenders or Roman Polanski? Cronenberg is not of the comic book generation of filmmakers. He's an intellectual, literary kind of guy. Look at the films he has made and ask yourself if he would be the right guy to make Green Lantern 2. Or if he would even care to do so. He's not into comic books. It's NOT A BIG DEAL. Get over it.

  • Alan B | January 8, 2013 5:30 AM

    Also, according to the reporter on Twitter, the interview was conducted on August 13, so his assertion "I think at that time only journalists had seen it. So I wasn't talking specifically about that movie and I wasn't criticizing it directly" isn't true, either. The film was released for a little less than a month when the interview was conducted. Thinking about it, I kinda admire Cronenberg's shamelessness in blaming EVERYTHING ELSE for his actions.

  • Alan | January 3, 2013 6:18 PM

    You're misinformed and confused: the questioner never, ever, ever called superhero films "the highest level of cinematic art". She said that "some fairly formidable directors have branched out into superhero movies pretty beautifully". You might want to read the question next time before you call it stupid or something, huh? Oh, and your argument is that - because Ang Lee's film misfired - that no filmmaker can ever, ever, ever attempt to mix art and comics. Wow ... I guess no one can ever do a cop movie because 'Pride and Glory' was bad. And no one can do a vampire film because of th 'Twilight' films.

  • AE | January 3, 2013 10:40 AM

    It WAS a stupid question. 'The highest level of cinematic art' you've got to be kidding! And Re Ang Lee, have we forgotten how that panned out, if you want evidence that comics and art don't mix go see The Hulk.

  • Alan | January 3, 2013 5:54 AM

    All he was asked was whether he would do a superhero film. Whoa, dude, you're right: that question is TOTALLY BEYOND THE PALE. The "journalist woman" should be hanged or something, right? Frankly, I don't think that it would be that implausible to see Cronenberg do a superhero film. 'The Dead Zone' features an ordinary man that has an accident, is given special powers and must stop a megalomaniac from destroying the world. That logline doesn't strike me as THAT different from a conventional superhero film. And 'The Fly' has - visually and in terms of its score - been a huge influence on the superhero genre, in particular the two 'Hulk' films. So the jump is not that ridiculous. Plenty of great directors have made superhero films: just as Ang Lee, for instance, has made a Jane Austen adaptation, he's also ventured into the world of Stan Lee. I think Cronenberg is a great director, however he comes across as arrogant and entitled in these interviews, especially given his recent bitching about James Schamus not funding a 'Eastern Promises' sequel.

  • Alan | January 2, 2013 11:59 PMReply

    Is Cronenberg stupid or does he merely think other people are? All his points are easily refutable by someone doing the barest of rsearch. First thing, that pesky "journalist woman" is called Brooke Tarnoff, and she printed the interview, including her own questions (including the one that led to his Nolan-rant: "Some fairly formidable directors have branched out into superhero movies pretty beautifully —is that something you would consider doing?"). Hence, his suggestion that "they never quote themselves or the question that provoked the response" is a cheap lie, a pathetic attempt to blame the media for his own words. Secondly, he says that she said that Nolan elavated the superhero genre, whilst she didn't mention Nolan at all. She just said some "fairly formidable directors"and then he went on his rant. She didn't prod him to criticise Nolan, he was the first person to mention that director. Thirdly, the interview was published mid-August, so it could have been done anytime before then. I am not sure that it was or was not done before TDKR came out, but considering that he is lying about EVERYTHING I don't trust his assertion that only critics had seen the film at that time. When I first read about Cronenberg's rant, I assumed that he hadn't seen the film, which was pretty clear from his assertion that the film used 3D. If anyone has the right to be pissed, it isn't Nolan but Brooke Tarnoff (that pesky journalist woman), who published a perfectly responsible interview, and is now being blamed by Cronenberg for his own stupid, misinformed words. He comes across as angry and entitled, which - coupled with his own ignorance of the people he bitches about - doesn't make him seem too endearing or credible an interview subject. Pity the next journalist woman who gets blamed for his own stupidity.

  • Yod | January 2, 2013 9:07 PMReply

    Comic nerds are lame and should go away.

  • Alan | January 3, 2013 8:12 PM

    So, it's perfectly fine to bitch about films you haven't seen ... as long as they are comic book films? Whatever ...

  • LB53 | January 3, 2013 2:25 PM

    It's the new fundamentalism from the western world. I keep hearing religion is dead but diss the man in the bat suit and you're treated like you cursed out Jesus in a Baptist church.

  • CRO-MAGNON-BERG | January 2, 2013 8:57 PMReply

    What Cro don't know is ... comics are no longer written just for adolescents. Many, yes, but many, no.

  • Zatopek | January 2, 2013 6:13 PMReply

    What's more limiting to these blockbuster superhero movies is not necessarily that they're based on comic books, but that they're extremely expensive so they need to be crowdpleasing to get the money back.

  • Tink | January 2, 2013 5:04 PMReply

    i get what he was saying this time and the last time. i love the Batman films and The Avengers but they are limited. they have to stay within a rating/character/action/etc construct. you can argue that they are a form of art but that's taking his intention apart completely and going another route with it. bottom line for me is while i love the "higher grade" superhero films of late, if someone asked me if i saw them as a genre of cinematic art, i'd say no. there are moments but not enough to come close to what the genre of cinematic art means to me.

  • Jamie Helton | January 2, 2013 4:39 PMReply

    Did this article really use the word "interwebs" in a non-ironic way? Really? It makes me question the validity of anything reported here.

  • CARY | January 2, 2013 4:20 PMReply

    I don't mind whatever Cronenberg said about comic book movies... just mildly offended by him calling the journalist as journalist "woman".

  • Alan | January 5, 2013 8:23 PM

    Hey Brooke, Cronenberg also says that the interview was conducted before TDKR was released. Is that another lie, as well?

  • Brooke | January 5, 2013 10:12 AM

    As the journalist woman in question... me too. And for a guy so deeply concerned with accurate quoting, I'd have appreciated his reading our interview to refresh his memory on whether I'd included my own questions, or at least thought very hard about attaching my name to a phrase I never said. "Highest cinematic art?"

  • Skippy | January 4, 2013 2:57 PM

    I was annoyed by that, too.

  • Alan | January 2, 2013 11:39 PM

    But the tricky journalist woman tricked him with her trickiness.

  • Oliver_C | January 2, 2013 3:41 PMReply

    Cronenberg has nothing to apologise for.

    Left unfettered, the superhero genre is going to drag American cinema down into the same ever-decreasing-spiral of reboots and retreads that has happened in American comicbooks.

  • EVAN | January 2, 2013 3:30 PMReply

    I can't get over the disconnect I felt when David Cronenberg used the word "dissing".

  • Rodie | January 2, 2013 2:40 PMReply

    This is so silly. The term "comic book movie" is being misused in order to be dismissive. A comic book or graphic novel is just the source material / seed of an idea for a movie, just like any other source material is, it is not a movie GENRE. Do we call Memento a "short story movie," or No Country for Old Men a "novel" movie? No. Anyone who's seen both The Avengers and The Dark Knight Rises knows that those movies are not the same genre, so "comic book movie" is misleading. The Avengers was an action-comedy. The main characters just happen to be superheroes. TDKR was more of an epic mystery/drama. The main character just happens to dress like a bat.

  • d | January 2, 2013 8:11 PM

    I don't see why not. Some science fictions are like Star Wars and some are like Alien. Some Westerns are like The Wild Bunch and some are like True Grit. Completely different movies, with different tones and for different audiences. @JD: I wouldn't sweep all movies *involving* police officers together but movies *about* police officers generally fall under a heading like "detective movie" or "police procedural."

  • Rodie | January 2, 2013 5:58 PM

    JD you make a great point. And no, D, I don't think "superhero movie" should be a genre like Drama, Comedy, Action, Thriller..... Should Watchmen and The Incredibles be considered the same genre because they both feature "superheroes"? Completely different movies, with different tones and for different audiences.

  • JD | January 2, 2013 3:41 PM

    Yeah, in saying "comic-book" movie they really mean "superhero" movie. And to just sweep all superhero movies together is like sweeping all movies involving lawyers or police officers together.

  • d | January 2, 2013 3:32 PM

    "superhero movies" isn't a genre?

  • tristan eldritch | January 2, 2013 2:38 PMReply

    Probably got a frantic call from his publicist after the first comment: "Dave, you don't know this guy's fans. Does the name Salman Rushdie mean anything to you?"

  • Pat | January 2, 2013 3:30 PM

    Give it a rest. Here anyone critique The Master and PTA fans will be all over the poster. The only difference with Nolan is his extreme fans are more numerous than PTA or similar directors. The critic for Movieline panned There Will Be Blood and the link on rottentomatoes had a large amount of nasty comments. Crazy fans aren't exclusive to Nolan or any other director. Saying they are insults your intelligence.

  • Helgi | January 2, 2013 2:22 PMReply

    Cinematic art or any art has nothing to do with popularity, selling tons of tickets and such. The fact that a movie becomes (hugely) popular does not mean it´s good. Let´s keep that in mind.

  • Eric | January 3, 2013 11:03 PM

    The terms "art" and "good" are the very definition of subjective. What is "art" and "good" for one is entirely different for another.

    Ask the average movie-goer what is good, and you'll get differing answers. I will say popular movies are usually popular for a reason. Let's keep that in mind.

  • Alan | January 3, 2013 7:50 PM

    Let's also keep in mind that Cronenberg hadn't seen TDKR before he bitched about the Nolan films, and lied repeatedly in his clarification: she never said 'By the way, superhero comic book movies have shown to rise to the highest level of cinematic art – would you be interested in doing one?'" What she ACTUALLY wrote was: "David, you've done drama and horror. Some fairly formidable directors have branched out into superhero movies pretty beautifully —is that something you would consider doing?" He wrote that "And, of course, when they quote me, they never quote themselves or the question that provoked the response" In contrast, she published the interview, so that she, in fact, quoted herself and her response. Finally, she never mentioned the Nolan films, and she certainly didn't suggest that " to the highest level of cinematic art". HE mentioned Nolan, and then made his rant about TDKR. He said - and, keep in mind, this is when he hadn't seen the film: "I think people who are saying, you know, "Dark Knight Rises" is, you know, supreme cinema art," I don't think they know what the f**k they're talking about." Who bitches about a film they hadn't seen? Who blames other people for their own words? Who asserts they they have been quoted out of context when their words were transcribed into a Q&A? I admire Cronenberg's work, but his attempt to pass the buck and blame EVERYONE ELSE for his own actions is fairly slimy.

  • Eneko Ruiz | January 2, 2013 2:18 PMReply

    By the way, I also consider 'A History of Violence' a comic-book movie. As a matter of facts, every movie based on a comic-book (graphic novel is one of the biggest euphemisms of our time) is a comic-book movie.

  • JD | January 2, 2013 3:29 PM

    Exactly. The supreme irony of all this is that David Cronenberg himself has made a comic-book movie that arguably does rise to the highest level of cinematic art.

  • Chris | January 2, 2013 2:09 PMReply

    Is anyone interested in making a (long) list of so-called "adolescent" films that have reached a greater level of "high cinematic art" than anything David Cronenberg has ever done, or should I go ahead and start the list myself?

  • Chris | January 2, 2013 2:45 PM

    I was actually seconding Rodie's comment above. But The Playlist's comments feature is fucked up as usual, so it just decided to post "Seconded" to a completely unrelated comment that I wasn't responding to. So it goes.

  • Chris | January 2, 2013 2:44 PM


  • d | January 2, 2013 2:18 PM

    um go ahead.

  • Christian | January 2, 2013 2:05 PMReply

    Nolan's films are artistically satisfying films beyond the sheer spectacle and scope. They evoke big emotions, big themes and big ideas. Like Sam Mendes pointed out Nolan has proved that you can make an art film disguised as a blockbuster. What can I say? The Avengers and Raimi's Spider-Man are cool flicks and highly entertaining for sure, but nothing too challenging and thought-provoking. But that's fine, there should be room for all kinds of films.

  • Pat | January 2, 2013 3:26 PM

    Here here Christian! People love to claim Nolan is nothing more than the exposition king; however, other than Inception (which needed it for comprehension and adherence to the basic nature of a heist story) his films have no more exposition than any other filmmaker. It is a BS criticism that so called enlightened film enthusiasts use to detract from him. My two favorite films are The Godfather Part II and Chinatown, which have a great deal of exposition in explaining who is who and what the plan is going to be.

  • yer | January 2, 2013 2:19 PM

    That's Nolan's thing and major weakness which his fanboys look over. He is the master, no the king of expository dialog. Nolan is all TELL and no SHOW.

  • Mark | January 2, 2013 2:10 PM

    Art films generally don't rely on pages and pages of tedious exposition, something The Dark Knight Rises painfully does.

  • jt | January 2, 2013 2:09 PM

    Christian, I concur.

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