DID YOU READ

David Cronenberg on “Cosmopolis,” Robert Pattinson, and why it’s necessary to “betray the book”

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“Cosmopolis” hits theaters this weekend, bringing director David Cronenberg’s unique vision to Don DeLillo’s 2003 novel about a 28-year-old billionaire whose mid-day trek across Manhattan in a tricked-out limo quickly becomes a surreal, philosophical exploration of the relationship between money, power, and society.

Starring in the film is “Twilight” alum Robert Pattinson, who plays the icy Eric Parker, a young man with a lot of money and a single-minded urge to get a haircut across town. His adventure is waylaid by random sexual trysts, cold meetings with his new wife, a massive protest filled with rat-flinging anarchists, and a pair of mysterious “threats” that keep his security detail on high alert.

IFC spoke with Cronenberg about the new film and his approach to adaptations, and got the scoop on a pair of projects he worked on that will probably never make it to theaters, but are interesting all the same.

IFC: You’ve made so many films over the years based on books, what was it about this particular story that jumped out at you?

DAVID CRONENBERG: I was immediately struck by the dialogue [in DiDeLillo’s book]. It was familiar to me because Don’s dialogue is very distinctive. I think of him in the same terms as I think of David Mamet or Harold Pinter — that is to say, it’s the way people speak, but it’s also very stylized. That produces an interesting tension and rhythm. But those two guys are dramatists, and you hear their dialogue spoken often on stage and in movies, whereas Don is a novelist. You don’t hear his dialogue spoken ever, because he hasn’t had a movie made out of one of his books before.

IFC: Does that raise the level of difficulty in making a movie like this?

CRONENBERG: No, not at all. I’m really thinking of that in retrospect now. I wasn’t thinking so much about that at the time. What I was thinking was, I would love to hear that dialogue spoken by some really terrific actors. I think it would be really intriguing and interesting and compelling. That was the hook for me. It wasn’t the theme of the story or anything like that. I like the restriction of one street, one limo, one day, because I don’t shy away from that and rather like it, but I think it was the dialogue first and foremost that was the hook. And the dialogue in the movie is 100-percent from the book.

IFC: You mentioned wanting to see great actors speak the dialogue, and the movie is filled with them. But I’m curious about Robert Pattinson, who’s still a young actor and doesn’t have nearly as much experience as some of the supporting cast, but has a massive following. When you have a project like this, do you do more tailoring of the script to fit his strengths, or more work with him to match his abilities and talents to the material?

CRONENBERG: For all the actors, you don’t really know what you’re going to get. Except for some auditions that a few actors did for certain roles, I never heard the dialogue spoken until we were shooting. With Rob in particular, I never heard that particular dialogue spoken until we were shooting. You go into filming with confidence that you have the right guy, but you don’t know exactly what’s going to happen. There’s a very organic thing that goes on in “Cosmopolis” that’s very spontaneous, because until Robert’s sitting in the limo with the actual actor opposite him who he’s playing the scene with — and there are so many different actors who come in and out of that limo — he doesn’t know how he’s going to react, because he’s not acting in a vacuum. He’s reacting to the other actor. . . . For example, the very first scene we shot was in the limo with Jay Baruchel. Rob was shocked by how Jay was playing it, because he was playing it with so much emotion and vulnerability, and Rob had never anticipated that. So he had to react to that. That’s the excitement of the movie: you mix all of these things that are potent and good, but you don’t really know what you’re going to get from that.

IFC: It’s sort of like cooking…

CRONENBERG: [Laughs] Yes, it is. It’s like cooking a meal you’ve never made before.

IFC: You’ve done so many adaptations over the years, and many of them have differed significantly from their source material, but were great movies all the same. How do you balance the need to stay faithful to the source material against the need to make a good, original, interesting movie?

CRONENBERG: I learned very quickly when I did “The Dead Zone,” my first adaptation, that you have to betray the book in order to be faithful to the book. The reason for that is that the two media are really different. Literature and cinema, they are not the same. They are related, and they might seem to be closer together than they are, but when you’re really working in both of the fields, you can see they’re tremendously different. To take the most obvious example, even a bad novelist can do a convincing inner monologue where you’re in the person’s head and he’s walking down the street and thinking about his mistress and his bank account, and so on. You can’t do that in a movie. The usual failure is that you resort to a voiceover, where someone is reading the novel to you like a kid at bedtime. To me, that’s an admission of failure. You couldn’t find the cinematic translation or equivalent or whatever. You have to be brutal. When there’s something you know won’t work, you have to get rid of it or rethink it or reconfigure it. That’s what the key is: recognizing the differences of cinema and what its strengths are and weakeness are, and coming to grips with that.

IFC: On the subject of changes form the source material, I’m going to get into spoiler territory here for a moment and ask you about the end of the movie and how it differs from the book. The movie leaves things more uncertain than the book, it seems…

CRONENBERG: It’s hard to discuss without spoilers, but it would’ve been very easy to put a gunshot on the soundtrack and you would know that Eric was murdered. And in the book you know that he’s murdered, or at least if you believe Benno, he’s been murdered — but that’s the thing, because Benno is not exactly a trustworthy narrator. In the book there is still some scope for uncertainty as to Eric’s fate, but as we were shooting that last scene, I loved that these two guys were frozen in that last moment — almost frozen in an eternity of uncertainty. They’re bound together. They’re locked together in this sort of archetypal moment. I thought the moment should be eternal.

IFC: I can picture you going, “And cut it right… there!”

CRONENBERG: [Laughs] Basically, yeah. So it was more like that than a dramatic thing. It wasn’t like, “Oh, I can’t stand to have this character killed,” or “Rob’s fans won’t like it if I shoot Robert,” or anything like that. I wasn’t worry about that stuff. It was really spontaneous. As I mentioned, we could’ve easily made it clear that he’s killed, cutting to black with the sound of a gunshot.

IFC: One of your other projects that’s been im the news lately is “Eastern Promises.” There’s been some indication that a sequel might happen…

CRONENBERG: That’s dead, so it’s not worth discussing it other than to say that was something I really wanted to do and was looking forward to doing, but it’s not going to happen.

IFC: The remake of “Total Recall” was released recently, and while I was doing some research on it, I was surprised to learn about the version of the film that you were planning to make with William Hurt that pre-dated Paul Verhoeven’s film. I’d love to know what your take on “Total Recall” would’ve been like…

CRONENBERG: I haven’t seen the new one, so i can’t say anything about that. But I’m a big Philip K. Dick fan, and the difference [in what I was planning to make] was that I wanted to cast William Hurt and they cast Arnold Schwarzenegger. That’s the difference.

IFC: That’s… that’s a pretty big difference.

CRONENBERG: That’s really the difference.

IFC: So what’s next for you after “Cosmopolis”?

CRONENBERG: At the moment, because “Eastern Promises 2” collapsed, I really don’t have anything that’s remotely close to being green-lit. There are projects, maybe, but nothing that’s close enough to discuss other than the novel I have to finish by the end of the year. It’s been sold to a lot of countries, but I haven’t finished it yet. So that’s what I’m going to do: I’m going to be a novelist for the rest of the year.

IFC: That’s not a bad plan to have.

CRONENBERG: No, it’s not too bad at all.

“Cosmopolis” hits theaters August 17.

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SO EXCITED!!!

Reminders that the ’90s were a thing

"The Place We Live" is available for a Jessie Spano-level binge on Comedy Crib.

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Unless you stopped paying attention to the world at large in 1989, you are of course aware that the ’90s are having their pop cultural second coming. Nobody is more acutely aware of this than Dara Katz and Betsy Kenney, two comedians who met doing improv comedy and have just made their Comedy Crib debut with the hilarious ’90s TV throwback series, The Place We Live.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Dara: It’s everything you loved–or loved to hate—from Melrose Place and 90210 but condensed to five minutes, funny (on purpose) and totally absurd.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Betsy: “Hey Todd, why don’t you have a sip of water. Also, I think you’ll love The Place We Live because everyone has issues…just like you, Todd.”

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IFC: When you were living through the ’90s, did you think it was television’s golden age or the pop culture apocalypse?


Betsy: I wasn’t sure I knew what it was, I just knew I loved it!


Dara: Same. Was just happy that my parents let me watch. But looking back, the ’90s honored The Teen. And for that, it’s the golden age of pop culture. 

IFC: Which ’90s shows did you mine for the series, and why?

Betsy: Melrose and 90210 for the most part. If you watch an episode of either of those shows you’ll see they’re a comedic gold mine. In one single episode, they cover serious crimes, drug problems, sex and working in a law firm and/or gallery, all while being young, hot and skinny.


Dara: And almost any series we were watching in the ’90s, Full House, Saved By the Bell, My So Called Life has very similar themes, archetypes and really stupid-intense drama. We took from a lot of places. 

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IFC: How would you describe each of the show’s characters in terms of their ’90s TV stereotype?

Dara: Autumn (Sunita Mani) is the femme fatale. Robin (Dara Katz) is the book worm (because she wears glasses). Candace (Betsy Kenney) is Corey’s twin and gives great advice and has really great hair. Corey (Casey Jost) is the boy next door/popular guy. Candace and Corey’s parents decided to live in a car so the gang can live in their house. 
Lee (Jonathan Braylock) is the jock.

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

Dara: Because everyone’s feeling major ’90s nostalgia right now, and this is that, on steroids while also being a totally new, silly thing.

Delight in the whole season of The Place We Live right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib. It’ll take you back in all the right ways.

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New Nasty

Whips, Chains and Hand Sanitizer

Turn On The Full Season Of Neurotica At IFC's Comedy Crib

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Jenny Jaffe has a lot going on: She’s writing for Disney’s upcoming Big Hero 6: The Series, developing comedy projects with pals at Devastator Press, and she’s straddling the line between S&M and OCD as the creator and star of the sexyish new series Neurotica, which has just made its debut on IFC’s Comedy Crib. Jenny gave us some extremely intimate insight into what makes Neurotica (safely) sizzle…

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IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon.

IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. You’re great. We should get coffee sometime. I’m not just saying that. I know other people just say that sometimes but I really feel like we’re going to be friends, you know? Here, what’s your number, I’ll call you so you can have my number!

IFC: What’s your comedy origin story?

Jenny: Since I was a kid I’ve dealt with severe OCD and anxiety. Comedy has always been one of the ways I’ve dealt with that. I honestly just want to help make people feel happy for a few minutes at a time.

IFC: What was the genesis of Neurotica?

Jenny: I’m pretty sure it was a title-first situation. I was coming up with ideas to pitch to a production company a million years ago (this isn’t hyperbole; I am VERY old) and just wrote down “Neurotica”; then it just sort of appeared fully formed. “Neurotica? Oh it’s an over-the-top romantic comedy about a Dominatrix with OCD, of course.” And that just happened to hit the buttons of everything I’m fascinated by.

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IFC: How would you describe Ivy?

Jenny: Ivy is everything I love in a comedy character – she’s tenacious, she’s confident, she’s sweet, she’s a big wonderful weirdo.

IFC: How would Ivy’s clientele describe her?

Jenny:  Open-minded, caring, excellent aim.

IFC: Why don’t more small towns have local dungeons?

Jenny: How do you know they don’t?

IFC: What are the pros and cons of joining a chain mega dungeon?

Jenny: You can use any of their locations but you’ll always forget you have a membership and in a year you’ll be like “jeez why won’t they let me just cancel?”

IFC: Mouths are gross! Why is that?

Jenny: If you had never seen a mouth before and I was like “it’s a wet flesh cave with sharp parts that lives in your face”, it would sound like Cronenberg-ian body horror. All body parts are horrifying. I’m kind of rooting for the singularity, I’d feel way better if I was just a consciousness in a cloud.

See the whole season of Neurotica right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

The-Craft

The ’90s Are Back

The '90s live again during IFC's weekend marathon.

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Photo Credit: Everett Digital, Columbia Pictures

We know what you’re thinking: “Why on Earth would anyone want to reanimate the decade that gave us Haddaway, Los Del Rio, and Smash Mouth, not to mention Crystal Pepsi?”

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Thoughts like those are normal. After all, we tend to remember lasting psychological trauma more vividly than fleeting joy. But if you dig deep, you’ll rediscover that the ’90s gave us so much to fondly revisit. Consider the four pillars of true ’90s culture.

Boy Bands

We all pretended to hate them, but watch us come alive at a karaoke bar when “I Want It That Way” comes on. Arguably more influential than Brit Pop and Grunge put together, because hello – Justin Timberlake. He’s a legitimate cultural gem.

Man-Child Movies

Adam Sandler is just behind The Simpsons in terms of his influence on humor. Somehow his man-child schtick didn’t get old until the aughts, and his success in that arena ushered in a wave of other man-child movies from fellow ’90s comedians. RIP Chris Farley (and WTF Rob Schneider).

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Teen Angst

In horror, dramas, comedies, and everything in between: Troubled teens! Getting into trouble! Who couldn’t relate to their First World problems, plaid flannels, and lose grasp of the internet?

Mainstream Nihilism

From the Coen Bros to Fincher to Tarantino, filmmakers on the verge of explosive popularity seemed interested in one thing: mind f*cking their audiences by putting characters in situations (and plot lines) beyond anyone’s control.

Feeling better about that walk down memory lane? Good. Enjoy the revival.

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And revisit some important ’90s classics all this weekend during IFC’s ’90s Marathon. Check out the full schedule here.