1. Mutant sex slugs lose weight after 40 years.
The slimy thingy that turns its human hosts into horny maniacs in David Cronenberg’s breakthrough 1975 horror hit Shivers—a.k.a. the “Hobbes parasite”—is the first of the iconic props on display in the main gallery-show component of TIFF Bell Lightbox’s multi-platform tribute to Canadian cinema’s preeminent provocateur. Alas, the sole remaining model from the original Montreal shoot looks a little wan and shrunken compared to its former glory. “They desiccated over the years,” says co-curator Noah Cowan of many of the latex creations that made memorable appearances in Cronenberg’s films. That partially explains the relative scarcity of mementoes from the first stage of his career here (i.e., no mucky scraps of Scanners’ exploding heads).
To compensate, there’s an ample supply of props, maquettes, and more from later years, some of which were clearly built to last—the “instruments for operating on mutant women” from Dead Ringers may be even more disturbing now that we know they were made out of nickel-plated brass. Other objects require a high degree of TLC, like the fleshy game pods from eXistenZ that occupy a suitably eerie-looking refrigerator.
2. Seth Brundle’s Telepod had a high-speed inspiration.
Students of film design will have a field day with Evolution’s enormous trove of archival material detailing the inspiration and creation for many iconic images and designs. In the display for The Fly, the hulking metal Telepod is paired with the Ducati 450 motorcycle engine that was a key visual reference point for Seth Brundle’s ill-fated invention. (It’s just as well that a piece of Plexiglas prevents visitors from going inside the Telepod themselves—the Lightbox wouldn’t want to be liable for any dangerous genetic mutations.)
3. You can get your picture taken with a Mugwump.
Icky materials related to Cronenberg’s 1991 adaptation of William S. Burroughs’ Naked Lunch are abundant enough to merit their own room. Along with the infamous typewriter-insect hybrids, the display features the sole surviving example of the movie’s reptilian Mugwump creatures—indeed, they were the subject of an extensive restoration financed with a Canada Council grant. Meanwhile, a full-size reproduction of another Mugwump is posed at the bar and seemingly eager for company—the Lightbox plans to have a photographer at the ready should you want to immortalize your encounter.
4. Cronenberg haters can be pretty hilarious.
Among the papers that fill the walls and drawers of the displays is a set of audience response surveys that reflect the often hostile response to Videodrome in 1983. Writes one concerned viewer, “I don’t think violence against women is very entertaining. Nor self-mutilation.” Another answers the query “What did you especially dislike or would like changed in the movie?” with an admirably succinct “SUCKED.” Elsewhere on the same form, the unhappy patron answers the more neutral question about “How often do you go to the movies?” by scrawling, “Not anymore.”
5. The man can still do creepy.
Due to the films’ more restrained style and largely naturalistic mode, there are fewer doodads to showcase from recent Cronenberg dramas like A Dangerous Method and Cosmopolis. But lest the exhibition leave the impression that the auteur has mellowed in his 70th year, a brand-new short film demonstrates his enduring ability to unnerve viewers. Presented in a space adjacent to the main gallery along with two other autobiographical oddities—2000’s Camera and 2007’s At the Suicide of the Last Jew in the World in the Last Cinema in the World—The Nest includes an unsettling view of Quebecois actress Evelyne Brochu. Looking desperate, vulnerable and topless in a cluttered hallway, she stares into the lens and asks, “Are you the psychiatrist?” “No,” says the cameraman in a calm voice, “I’m the breast surgeon here to prepare you for your surgery.” Of course, the voice belongs to Cronenberg.
David Cronenberg: Evolution runs at TIFF Bell Lightbox and MOCCA to Jan. 19.