Sam Edwards had no idea that when he went to class on Tuesday night, legendary director David Cronenberg would show up.
“I was shaking in my chair,” Edwards, ArtSci ’12 said. “It’s hard to think of a name that’d be more interesting or compelling to hear speak.”
David Cronenberg said his longtime friend, Professor Donato Santeramo, has been asking him to visit Queen’s for years. Santeramo teaches the Interdisciplinary Studies department course 210, Art and Society, along with Professor Gary Kibbins.
“He often uses my films to illustrate things that are relevant to his courses … so he thought it would be interesting to have me interact with students directly,” the Canadian director, screenwriter and actor said. “I loved the idea of it.”
Some of Cronenberg’s films include The Fly, The History of Violence and most recently, A Dangerous Method.
Cronenberg’s visit was kept a secret from students.
“I think Donato was worried if word got out, there’d be a lot of people coming to his class that weren’t his students,” he said.
Cronenberg’s surprise visit to the class came after a recent screening of Naked Lunch — an early directorial effort that catapulted him into stardom more than 20 years ago.
The film raises questions about the relationship between art and society, a topic featured heavily in Cronenberg’s hour-long question and answer session with students.
Cronenberg received an English degree from the University of Toronto in 1967. He said at the time, few educational courses in film were offered.
According to Cronenberg, a film degree isn’t necessary for aspiring filmmakers.
“Watching films of course is the best way to learn the way movies are made,” he told the Journal in an interview on Wednesday.
Film is a demanding art form, he said, and it’s necessary to understand economics, psychology and technology and have a deep cultural background to be successful in the field.
“Perhaps there’s some super film school that gives you all that, but I doubt it,” he said.
Despite his modest beginnings, Cronenberg’s films have gone on to achieve commercial and critical success.
His film Cosmopolis, based on the novel by Don Delillo, is in post-production. It stars Robert Pattinson as a Manhattan millionaire.
The film was shot in Toronto, a favourite shooting location of Cronenberg’s.
“I’ve never shot a foot of film in the U.S., even though a lot of my movies are set there,” he said.
Toronto also provided a refuge for Pattinson’s international celebrity, he said.
“When we were shooting on the streets, [Pattinson] had a lot of fans crowding around, but he could go to bars and clubs in his street clothes and people didn’t recognize him,” he said.
Cronenberg said Pattinson has a deep knowledge of cinema with a talent that stretches beyond what is shown in the Twilight Saga franchise.
“He’s a very serious actor. He wants to be great and takes the trouble to try and be great,” he said. “What he does in [Cosmopolis] will lay that question to rest, which a lot of people who are skeptical of Twilight are asking.”
Pattinson wouldn’t be the first actor to be recognized for his talent in a Cronenberg film.
William Hurt and Viggo Mortensen were nominated for Academy Awards for their respective roles in 2005’s A History of Violence and 2007’s Eastern Promises.
But winning an Oscar isn’t one of Cronenberg’s personal goals, he said.
“You’ll kill yourself if you do that. In Hollywood, the Oscar is like a religious icon — it’s like the Holy Grail,” he said. “The Weinstein’s are famous for spending millions of dollars to get that Oscar … but that isn’t the game I’m playing.”
The Weinstein Company is a U.S. film studio founded by Bob and Harvey Weinstein, who previously founded Miramax studios.
In Hollywood, a movie’s budget often determines its content, Cronenberg said.
“It would be naive to do a $200-million film and expect to be an extreme, radical filmmaker,” he said. “You just know you’re going to have to be much more conservative because you need that huge audience … which is why I continue to make indie films.”
Many filmmakers are swayed to make their art appeal to the masses, at the expense of its quality, he said.
“As an artist you have to try and ignore the outside pressures, not just in terms of violence, but with sex or anything that’s taboo,” he said. “If you’re distributing your movie all over the world … the fears of one country aren’t at all the fears of another country.”
Violence and sexually-explicit content are prevalent throughout Cronenberg’s films, but he insists all his movies feature deliberate comedic moments.
“I don’t think I need to do something that’s classified as a comedy, but I wouldn’t do anything that didn’t have some humour.”
The first sequel of Cronenberg’s career could be on the horizons.
“We’re trying to get Eastern Promises 2 made,” he said. “We’ve got a good script, Viggo is committed and so is Vincent Cassel … It’s not a sure thing, but its a possibility.”