Tuesday, June 5, 2018
Director Report Card: David Cronenberg (1970)
Crimes of the Future
When you're talking about an experimental movie primarily funded by the government's art program, it's hard to define “success.” Clearly, whatever you want to call it, “Stereo” was a satisfying experience for David Cronenberg. The next year, the director would mount another short feature. “Crimes of the Future” clearly had a slightly larger budget than “Stereo.” It was shot in color. Its sets weren't limited to one building. The film would still only be a little longer than an hour. Though still a clearly rough affair, Cronenberg's obsessions continue to evolve through his early films.
In the near future of 1997, the world has been ravaged by plague and disease. A condition called Rouge's Disease, so named for Dr. Antoine Rouge, has swept the world and killed off most women. Dr. Adrian Tripod, a student of Rouge, travels the world and attempts to continue his studies. He is fascinated with Rouge's Disease, which causes strange growths and bizarre behavior. Eventually, Tripod's travels leads him to a sexual deviant underground that is attempting to continue the human race, no matter the cost.
Despite the obvious differences in presentation, “Crimes of the Future” more-or-less continues the techniques shown in “Stereo.” This film was also shot without sound. Voice-over narration provides the only dialogue heard in the film. That narration continues to be highly verbose technobabble that is hard to get your head around. This film was also shot in and around the University of Toronto's campus, the school lending its unique architecture to the movie. Like “Stereo,” it's obviously a student film, unpolished and rather pretentious.
Unfortunately, “Crimes of the Future” does not have a very clear narrative. “Stereo” was also told primarily through incomprehensibly quasi-science-y sounding narration. However, it was still easy to grasp the plot. By telling the entire story through the fractured mind of Adrian Tripod, “Crimes of the Future” is not easily understood. Tripod likes to ramble off-topic, making important plot details hard to distinguish from irrelevant ones. I didn't even realize the movie took place in a world where women have gone extinct until the very end. It's future setting of 1997 is never verbalized, as far as I can recall. It's a movie that requires a plot synopsis to be understood, which is never a good sign.
Despite obviously being made for more money than “Stereo,” “Crimes of the Future” is an uglier film. The colors are washed-out and blurry. The direction sometimes gets shaky and hard to follow. While “Stereo” being partially silent did not make it the easiest movie to watch, “Crimes of the Future's” alternative is not much better. The film's sound design is deeply annoying. Scenes are often scores to incoherent noises or ambient sounds. This frequently dissolves into discordant shrieking and screeching. This makes “Crimes of the Future” a deeply unpleasant watch.
The film also shows the director's trademark body horror rearing its head for the first time. A minor character in the story is growing new reproductive organs. As they fall off, he puts them in a jar, keeping a small museum to his own mutations. (Cronenberg would alter revisit this idea in “The Fly.”) Another minor character has a weed-like growth extending from his nose. One of Tripod's test subjects has webbed-feet, a special effect the filmmaker presumably didn't have to create. The characters in “Crimes of the Future” are mutating, their bodies changed by disease and transformed into something more than human.
One thing “Crimes of the Future” has over “Stereo” is an actual protagonist. The test subjects in Cronenberg's first student film weren't really characters, just ideas pushed around by the highly symbolic plot. “Crimes of the Future” is driven by the studies and obsessions of Dr. Adrian Tripod. Tripod is played by Ronald Mlodzik, a school friend of Cronenberg who would appear in his first four features before retiring from acting. Mlodzik's narration is present throughout most of “Crimes of the Future,” his slightly droning voice talking on and on about the weird plot. Despite the shaky script, Mlodzik's highly stylized performance is at least deliberate. He's playing a very odd man, necessitating a very odd performance.