And You Thought It Was Safe(?)


eXistenZ (1999)
Intimacy, Cronenberg style.

Know what could’ve made this creepier? A funk-a-delic porn soundtrack. Ah yeah! Cronenberg style, baby.

…yes, but, after M. Butterfly, and especially after Crash, writer/director David Cronenberg suffered the slings and arrows of outrageous critical fortune and the inevitable backlash from snobs. Either horror snobs scoffed at his Chinese Opera movie, or the art house snobs called his sex-and-car-crashes movie “pretentious.” And when the San Francisco Chronicle calls you “pretentious” you’ve either made it to the Absolute Height of North American cinema…or you’re in serious trouble.

Alright. Not too serious, but still…I can see why, after all that, he went back to the well for a refresher. Back to the ol’ Body Horror stomping grounds that were so good to him in the 70s and 80s. Back to the concerns and questions that haunt his entire career. Questions of identity when your biology runs riot. Questions of ethics and morality in a world of simulacra. Questions of humanity in an age that does its best to reduce, marginalize, and (should it fail in the first two) eliminate human beings.

When this film premiered in April, 1999, my only question was, “Has the well finally run dry?” Continue reading



Sherlock Holmes (2009)

I could care less about Robert Downey Jr.’s personal reformation into an Action Hero and franchise flagbearer. He must be doing something right, though damned if I can find two movie critics who’ll agree on just what that is. Most dismissed his turn as Sherlock Holmes, and dismissed this film as a bit of mindless fluff meant to tide us over until Iron Man 2. Read Rotten Tomatoes and you’ll find this film suffers from the usual consensus: it’s a bit of fun, sure, but in no sense civilized. And it ruined Sherlock Holmes.

Both of these readings are false, the product of a false consciousness that lets actors and directors walk away with all the credit or the blame. This ignores the real lesson Arthur Conan Doyle’s stories teach because it has to do with plot…and if that were important we’d all be watching smarter films (instead of, say, Iron Man 2). All of Doyle’s stories are wound Swiss watches of plotting, simultaneously illustrating and espousing upon Sherlock Holmes’ vaunted methods of Reasoning. Tonight, then, let us assay this Sherlock Holmes‘ plot, in the hope of understand why this film managed to disappoint almost everyone who saw it. {More}