In our recurring feature STALE POPCORN REVIVAL SHOW, Deadshirt contributor Max Robinson goes to midnight movies, outdoor screenings, and wherever else they show classic movies in and around New York City.
Last Thursday, a friend and I decided to go see see David Cronenberg’s The Fly at SoHo’s Film Forum (You could also catch the 1958 version of the film starring Vincent Price with the same ticket, but we ended up missing it). This was my first chance to see something at Film Forum and I have to say it didn’t disappoint; a non-profit movie theater that plays classic movies 365 days a year? That’s pretty rad. Film Forum boasts three modest screens, the theater we watched The Fly in had surprisingly ample seating. Just a note: make sure you bring cash or buy online, the one downside is Film Forum doesn’t take credit cards for their $12.50 tickets (A very reasonable ticket price when you consider that usually means admission to two films).
I wouldn’t call myself a diehard David Cronenberg aficionado: I’m a total lightweight when it comes to horror. I love Videodrome for its hypnotic, ballsy craziness and I think The Dead Zone is one of the best Stephen King adaptations there is. But more than anything, I really admire David Cronenberg as an artist. Cronenberg is a director who understands, better than any other I can think of, what audiences are afraid of. And that ability to REALLY push our buttons is why The Fly is such an excellent film.
I love how The Fly isn’t at all a horror movie for the first half hour or so; it’s a really solid romantic comedy starring At-The-Peak-Of-Attractiveness Jeff Goldblum and Geena Davis. You really buy Brundle’s dorky, neurotic charm and the way Veronica slowly but surely lets her guard down around him.
BRUNDLE: Is this a romance we’re having, is that what this is?
VERONICA: Yeah, could be a romance.
There’s real a tenderness to their relationship, it has real dimensions to it that you don’t often see in horror movie. And when you realize what has to come next, because it’s a horror movie, your heart breaks. Cronenberg has us wrapped around his finger at this point; now that we’re at his mercy, he really gets to work on us.
What are we afraid of? The Fly came out at the height of the AIDS epidemic and while that definitely informs Brundle’s physical degradation, I think there’s a really timeless idea in play here; we’re afraid of watching someone we’ve fallen in love with change for the worse. We’re afraid of watching someone we love fall apart, mentally and physically. When we first meet Brundle, it’s clear that there’s something troubling boiling underneath his big eyes and wild hair. His arrogance and instability are what cause him to test out of his transporter pods and scramble his DNA. While the movie pins Brundle’s downfall on a housefly, it’s not much of a stretch to imagine him losing himself (albeit in a smaller scale) months or years down the line to alcoholism or drug abuse. Even though he becomes an insane, inhuman murderer, we feel for Seth Brundle because we’re given a very intimate look into the day to day loss of humanity. It’s worth mentioning that the special effects created for the film by Chris Walas (Gremlins) are really outstanding. There’s an nauseating gooeyness to The Fly that holds up, your stomach churns when you watch Brundle’s human face completely disintegrate and all that’s left is the bug face under it.
The Fly also preys on a still very present collective fear – unease around abortion. When Veronica finds out she’s pregnant with the mutated Brundle’s child, she struggles with whether she wants it aborted and Davis plays her horror and confusion with such sincerity. A lesser horror film couldn’t pull off this kind of subject matter, but it’s a real testament to Cronenberg and the skill of his two leads that this element feels natural in a borderline dark comedy. We never learn explicitly whether Veronica has the abortion but the film’s brutally perfect final moments – a completely inhuman Brundle pointing Veronica’s shotgun at his temple and wordlessly asking her to put him down – say enough. It’s really the perfectly to the point ending to what is a very brisk, hyper-intense 95 minute film.
About a year ago, Cronenberg was discussing a sequel he wanted to do to The Fly. It’s unlikely to happen, but he described it as essentially a thematic sequel with totally different characters. It’s sort of a shame we’ll never get to see that, I would’ve liked to see what new vein of fear he would’ve tapped into this time. Either way, The Fly remains a touching, funny, especially gruesome bit of filmmaking.
The Fly played at Film Forum August 19th, 2013