studio films in a row, is Cronenberg selling out? It’s not the kind of question
you want to ask even when he’s three hundred miles away on the phone. Note
above how I failed to follow up on asking him whether his films have influenced the trend of the “Saws” and “Hostels” (chances
are, however, that his answer would be “no.”). So
after tapdancing around the sell-out question (even if so, or because of that,
they are two of his best movies, we move on to other topics. Is this a gangster
movie? IS Martin Scorsese right and Cronenberg is going to Hell? Is the film
more Western than Eastern? And is he worried Putin might be oputting polonium
in his tea?
PK: You were
writing your own scripts up until “eXistenZ?”
DC: Yeah, it
waxes and wanes. It depends. I’ve done adaptations of plays, of novels, I’ve
written original scripts, and then I’ve worked with other people’s scripts.
I’ve sort of done all these levels. It’s difficult to say, I’m going to take
two years off and write an original screenplay, knowing, that at the end of
that, you might not like your own screenplay, or you might like it but not be
able to get it financed. So you’ll notice a lot of directors who started off
writing their own screenplays — even Coppola and Brian de Palma for example are
in that category — and then as their careers gained some momentum, they stopped
writing scripts. It’s not that they’re not using their screenwriting as they’re
working with writers and so on, and certainly I do the same. But to stop the
momentum for the length of time it takes to write an original script, it’s kind
of hard. It’s difficult.
PK: And also
to get it financed. I spoke to you for your last film, “A History of Violence,”
and you said after “Spider” you
didn’t really want to make another independent movie because of the headaches
in financing. Is that still the case?
DC: Well, I
wouldn’t say never, but I’m sure I said that I couldn’t do that again, the next
time. Because basically, every movie, you seem to seem to start from scratch
with financing, as though you’re inventing the movie business from scratch each
time you do it, if you’re doing independent film. Because money always comes
from different and strange places, and you’re really very much at the winds of
global economy: you know, suddenly, the Noia market in Germany goes belly up,
and that’s where you financed your last film, but now you can’t because it
doesn’t exist anymore. You know, that kind of thing. And “Spider” was unique
even beyond that, because we all decided to make the movie knowing that we
weren’t going to get paid for it. That’s unusual, even on an independent film.
So you work for two years and you make no money. It doesn’t matter who you are;
PK: And you
still haven’t made any money on that?
DC: I’ve made
a little money, because it actually on DVD started to make a profit.
PK: So you
started out in horror films, and now you’re — and this is sort of a simplistic
way of looking at it — now you’re going into the gangster genre.
DC: That is
simplistic. [Laughs] Well I certainly started in the horror genre and then went
in and out of it, many times. Also I guess the sci-fi genre; it depends what
you’re definitions are. And then I did movies like “M. Butterfly” and
that aren’t really any genre. So I don’t really think in those terms, I must
say. For me the question of genre is really a marketing question. It’s not a
creative one, because when you start to make a movie, the genre thing
disappears. You’re left with the same problems: how do you cast it? What
locations do you get? What costumes? What lens are you going to use? How are
you going to light it? All of those things don’t have anything to do with genre.
You have to solve those problems--or at least, they’re not always problems,
they’re creative decisions that can be quite exciting rather than just
problem-solving. But at that point you’re just making the movie, and the genre
PK: But there’s
also a tradition of iconography in other films and other filmmakers…
true, but I think the trick is to try to ignore them. Without being
disingenuous, if you really feel the weight of one hundred years of noir on
your back, you’re going go paralyze yourself. If you think about not just “The
Godfather” but Fritz Lang’s “M” and “The Testament of Dr. Mabuse,” and you
know, you name it, you’ll go crazy. You won’t be able to make one decision
because you won’t know whether you want to connect with that one or disconnect
that one, or follow this convention or try to subvert that convention but not
that one. So once again, I think you’re left…you feel it, you know those things
are there, and you certainly know a cliché when you hear it, one that’s really
clunky. But other than that--and this is my approach, I’m not saying that it’s
anybody else’s--I try very hard to pretend that no one’s ever made a movie like
this before. Without, of course, I’m not claiming complete originality for one
frame, but you have to, in a way, act as though you are.
PK: Your own
DC: More my
own movies than anyone else’s. I don’t really think in terms of thematic
connections or even visual ones. I know that making those two or three thousand
decisions a day that I will make while making the movie that are unique to me,
there will be enough of me in the movie. I don’t really have to worry about
putting my snap on it or anything else. I try very hard not to think about
people’s expectations based on other movies that I’m making, because this one
is not those, you know?
PK: I read a
quote from Martin Scorsese, who said that after reading interviews with you, it
was clear that you didn’t understand your own movies.
DC: Yes, he
said that after he’d seen about the first three movies I’d made. But you know,
Marty’s a good Catholic, and he’s an Italian, and he’s an American. All of
those things, I am not. He has his own … I think that my movies, my early ones
in particular, really freaked him out and made him fear for his soul, frankly, which
pleased me to no end. But I am an atheist you see, and I don’t believe in the
soul, not, not in…
PK: Do you
think he’s trying to convert you to the church, and you’re trying…?
DC: Well, I
think his interpretation tends that way, and of course for me, everybody’s reaction to your
movie involves a collaboration. They have a subjective reaction to the movie
that takes their whole life into consideration. And I have no way of
controlling that, nor would I want to, and I can’t anticipate it either. And
so, it makes for some very interesting responses and interpretations, which are
completely legit. I mean, the movie is not an objective thing. You want it to
be organic and to involve an audience. Even people’s perception of a movie shifts
with time. People catch up with it ten years later, their life has changed, and
the way they perceived it ten years ago, suddenly they see it in a completely
PK: Do you
watch your old movies and come up with different interpretations?
DC: No, I
don’t. In fact, I find it very difficult when I’m asked to do commentary on an
old movie for a DVD, because I don’t really want to do it, but I have done it.
And I find it very strange.
PK: Do you
find it enlightening?
wouldn’t call it enlightening.
Scorsese called you on treading on his
DC: He really
liked “A History of Violence.” We haven’t talked in detail though, but he sent
a note about “Spider” as well. We keep in touch. But I would be very interested
to know in detail what he thought of last two movies, and I really don’t know.
But he’s really not territorial in that way; he’s a very generous guy, really
PK: He seems
to be. So it’s called “Eastern Promises.” I would think it would be called “Western
Promises,” because it’s about this girl who gets lured to the West.
believe me, we went through all of that.
PK: So it’s
not just me.
promises made about the West. The promise was made in the East. You know, there
are many ways to look at it. In fact, in England, eastern tends to mean Russia,
whereas in North America, eastern tends to mean Asia, like Japan or China.
more insular. Eastern tends to mean, like, Massachusetts.
DC: Well, I’m
glad you said that. Absolutely, the east coast. So there were some questions
about how confusing or well understood it might be. But finally, we couldn’t
come up with anything we liked better. It’s kind of a soft title. When I first
read the script, the first thing I thought was--wow, this sounds like some
romance, set in China or Japan.
it’s kind of a romance.
PK: Were you
aware that the female protagonist is a midwife and the male protagonist is referred to as an undertaker.
they’ve got everything covered, don’t they?
PK: Yeah, and
the first two scenes are bloody scenes of birth and death.
yes, as he says, birth and death go together sometime.
PK: I saw a
film recently called Trade, and tat also touches into this really horrible kind of
reality, the sex trade.
DC: Yeah, we
did a certain amount of research. There was a miniseries in England called “Sex
Traffic” and we looked at that and we read some things.
Of course, it’s not really the main subject of the movie whereas it was the
focus of those other dramas and semi-documentaries. It is pretty horrifying and
it’s still happening.
said that the biggest fan of this movie might be Vladmir Putin.
Well, you don’t want to give away the ending, but I thought that he would be
very pleased that… [omitted to avoid
PK: Did you
get a call from someone saying unless you want polonium in your tea you'd better… [omitted, ditto]?
that was happening down the street from us, I don’t know if you’ve heard about
PK: So, you
DC: When we
started, the Russian mob in London
was a fairly obscure subject and by the time we finished it basically front
page news all the time. It was literally half a block away from where Viggo,
Vincent Cassel and I were staying. It was a building owned by Berezovsky, the
we walked by that every day and one day there were cops in hazmat suits and a
forensic van and sure enough they were finding traces of polonium in there because Litvenenko had been there. It
suddenly came close to home, but it was half-way through the shoot when it
started to happen.
PK: Did it
make you feel a little nervous?
DC: Not really,
but it was a little creepy that the sushi place we used to go to eat at was
suddenly closed and had cops standing outside.
PK: Did you
go there after they reopened?
Surprisingly, they haven’t reopened. They keep saying they’re renovating. When
we left, months later, it still hadn’t opened.