All posts by One Guys Opinion

Dr. Frank Swietek is Associate Professor of History at the University of Dallas, where he is regarded as a particularly tough grader. He has been the film critic of the University News since 1988, and has discussed movies on air at KRLD-AM (Dallas) and KOMO-AM (Seattle). He is also the Founding President of the Dallas-Fort Worth Film Critics' Association, a group of print and broadcast journalists covering film in the Metroplex area, and was a charter member of the Society of Texas Film Critics. Dr. Swietek is a member of the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS). He was instrumental in the creation of the Lone Star Awards, which, through the efforts of the Dallas-Fort Worth Regional Film Commission, give recognition annually to the best feature films and television programs produced in Texas.

DAVID CRONENBERG, DIRECTOR REGARDING THE MAKING OF “eXistenZ”






It takes dedication and persistence for David Cronenberg to make the intensely personal and idiosyncratic films which have marked his career–pictures that have required him to raise financing outside the studio system, even while he was being offered projects like “Top Gun” and “Flashdance.” In a Dallas interview he remarked that it took him ten years to get “Dead Ringers” made, and another six to mount “Naked Lunch.”

As for “eXistenZ,” the articulate, soft-spoken auteur said, “It was being developed at MGM, so it would have been my first studio movie, if it had actually happened there. But eventually they said they didn’t want to do it because they said it was not ‘linear enough.’ That was their reason. And I suppose that tells you a lot about Hollywood.” So once again he went the independent route.

As to why he was willing to bypass the ease of studio production to make pictures that are uniquely his, Cronenberg explained: “To me all my movies are very personal. Each is kind of like a documentary of what was happening when I was making it…. Movies are my way of talking to myself about everything–about what I think about life, and the human condition, and society and technology and all kinds of things–not forgetting that I am creating a drama, so, as George Bernard Shaw said, conflict is the essence of drama, and it heightens things and illuminates things to make things bang against each other, so the movies are very, in some ways, extreme and edgy and all of that. But nontheless it is exactly the way that I kind of figure things out. And I can see the development, the crystallization of my understanding of things happening [as I make them]. And I think as you get older, if you are really able to personally relate to the movies you’re making, then even your age and experiences in directing will be incorporated into what you’re doing. It’s hard to do that with movies, because it’s such a major [undertaking]. Most directors don’t do it, because they are ‘doing projects.’ For a lot of directors that isn’t even the game–the game is to be a good craftsman and make something really exciting that will make money–which is a fine thing to do. It’s just not exactly the thing that I’m doing.”

Cronenberg admits some concern about the future of the sort of truly
independent, challenging films that he’s committed to making. “The
‘Hollywood film’ is so successful all over the world…that there might
come a day when there is only one kind of film you can see, which is the Hollywood film,” he mused. “Now that would be a bad thing, because Hollywood has a very strong understanding of what moviemaking is, but it’s a very narrow thing–it includes approaches to character, music, cutting, everything–for example, the idea that you have to have a sympathetic character that you identify with, and all of that stuff…. There might come a time, I worry–I have to worry about these things–that I won’t have an audience, that there won’t be an audience that can understand what I’m doing, that they won’t actually even comprehend it, that there’s no way for them to access it. There always will be some people who could do that, but will there be enough to actually get your film financed, to make it financially feasible? That could happen. When I have Jennifer, in this movie, say, ‘The world of games is in a kind of trance; people are programmed to expect so little, but the possibilities are so great,’ I’m talking about Hollywood, about movies. People are educated into only one kind of movie now, and no other kind. And so it is a worry, and I do think about it.”

WORLD TRAVELER

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The thing one will note first about Bart Freundlich’s sophomore feature is how beautiful it looks. Each shot is so carefully composed and artfully shot in brilliant widescreen and luminous colors that the result seems like a succession of glossy photos in a up-scale magazine. The problem is that it’s as devoid of content as such magazines inevitably are. “World Traveler” is a pretty but empty portrait of a vacuous character having what amount to an rather early midlife crisis that causes him to abandon his family and tour the country, leaving a succession of women with whom he has brief encounters in his wake; and its lack of narrative urgency, combined with its opaque message, makes it an irritating journey indeed. Like Freundlich’s first film, “The Myth of Fingerprints,” it will leave you impressed by the director’s visual sense but, in the end, emotionally unmoved.

Billy Crudup, looking and sounding rather like Jim Carrey trying to do a straight dramatic role, stars as Cal, a blankly handsome architect who unaccountably walks out on his wife and three-year old son (as well as their admittedly sterile New York apartment) and goes on a cross-country road trip. His first stop is a Pennsylvania town, where he takes a construction job, bonds with fellow worker Cal (Clevant Derricks) and engages none too happily with waitress Delores (Karen Allen). On the move again, he takes up for a time with a winsome college girl, whom he abandons at an airport, and for a longer while with a troubled woman named Dulcie (Julianne Moore), who’s in need of a ride to retrieve her son from her estranged husband. This episode ends with a dramatically inept twist that even the talented Moore can’t pull off, and shortly Cal is on his own again, eventually reaching his destination–an Oregon lake house where the time he spends with a fellow called Richard (David Keith) is meant to explain the motive behind his trip by bringing things full circle. The message seems to be that every person has to come to terms with his past, but needn’t be straitjacketed by it.

For the most part “World Traveler” is a maddeningly meandering movie, with pretensions to profundity that it never earns. It has some good moments–the confrontation that Cal has with a loquacious high school classmate (James Le Gros) comes off especially well–but ordinarily it’s just sluggish and opaque. Crudup doesn’t help matters with his bland, faceless performance. Freundlich and he both rely far too much on the actor’s good looks as a kind of dramatic shorthand; the narcissism reaches the point of absurdity when a couple of children approach Cal to inquire whether he’s a movie star. The normally reliable Moore is badly used, but Derricks, Allen, Mary McCormack and especially Le Gros are more successful. The script, however, gives them all thin gruel indeed.

For all the driving entailed in “World Traveler,” the picture doesn’t get very far or go very deep.