There are two kinds of David Cronenberg movies: the ones that disturb and horrify you, and the ones you haven’t seen yet. In November 2013, I wrote a review of Cronenberg: Evolution, the exhibition showcasing David Cronenberg’s prolific film career at the TIFF Bell Lightbox. In the process I realized I had seen a total of three Cronenberg films; pitiful, considering that he’s made almost forty. In the name of research, I watched 15 Cronenberg films in the span of five days (with one particularly trying Saturday Cronenberg marathon—six films in a row, not recommended for the faint of heart).
Cronenberg: Evolution showcases the artifacts of Cronenberg’s prominent and prolific film career within three loosely defined themes or stages. The first stage asks, “Who Is My Creator?” and features films like Stereo, The Brood, and Videodrome, films in which the heroes and heroines have to live with the results of a scientific experiment gone wrong. The second stage, “Who Am I?” deals with protagonists who are often the scientists—The Fly and Dead Ringers, for example—and their own test subjects. Finally, there’s “Who Are We?”, the current stage in Cronenberg’s career where his films look outward at society and communities, with films like A History of Violence, A Dangerous Method, and Cosmopolis.
At every stage, Cronenberg: Evolution makes a point to include notable costumes and other important sartorial artifacts, like the makeup and wardrobe sketches for Videodrome. David Cronenberg works primarily with his sister, Denise Cronenberg, who has created some of the most iconic wardrobes seen in his films. Denise has worked on thirteen of David’s films, as well as Dawn of the Dead, The Incredible Hulk, and Resident Evil, among others.
Denise did not formally study costume design. “I’m completely self taught,” she tells me over email, adding that she comes from a family who worked in clothing—her grandmother was a dressmaker and her grandfathers were tailors. The family connection is clearly not just between David and Denise—she adds that “being a mother of three has given me the best tool in working with actors. Psychology!”
Before film, Denise was a dancer who specialized in ballet. “If I disliked [my costumes], I found it affected my performance. I always remember that when I’m creating costumes for actors. They must feel good in their costume; it must help them become the character they are playing.”
In the video above, you can see a few costumes and accessories from our visit to opening day. The clothes of a Cronenberg film are, like the protagonists who wear them, ill-fated. They’re fabric casualties in the making. From the moment I saw Jeff Goldblum proudly display his one-outfit closet to Geena Davis in The Fly (“Learned from Einstein,” he boasts), I knew he would soon lose any human appendages with which to wear those five identical pants, shirts, and blazers. If The Brood‘s Nola goes to her psychoanalysis in flowing white robes that we only see from the neck up, you can bet those robes are hiding something truly grotesque from the neck down. By the end of most Cronenberg movies they’re either covered in bodily fluids or disintegrating to dust.
On the other hand, the fashion of David Cronenberg’s films isn’t exclusively blood-soaked or ripped to shreds. Often they’re incredibly beautiful and intricate period pieces, like the opera costumes for M. Butterfly and the true-to-life wardrobes for Cronenberg’s fictional versions of Sigmund Freud, Carl Jung, and Sabina Spielrein in A Dangerous Method. My personal favourites are the leg braces from Crash, which evoke an iconic Helmut Newton photograph, and Debbie Harry’s red dress in Videodrome.
Cronenberg: Evolution is open until January 19, 2014. I’d highly recommend a visit for Toronto Wornettes. For Wornettes everywhere else, I have a suggestion for a really dark Saturday afternoon.
Video // Daniel Reis
Music // Love Like This by Human Egg (h/t Alex Molotkow)