I got my hands on a 2-disc DVD of David Cronenberg‘s third big film, Fast Company. I had been reluctant to watch this film even though I knew I would have to one day. Sure I had seen a handful of his movies before and eXistenz had been one the first films that I’d seen as a teenager that really got me thinking about reality and all that jazz.
My problem was that I didn’t exactly trust arthouse-type bohemians to treat car culture or motorposrt with any respect. That is not the same thing as not being critical; producing critique and indicating the exploitative way something functions requires the utmost respect if it is going to be successful. By ‘respect’ I mean an absolute attention to detail, or at least a peformative display for those in the know that one has attempted to pay attention to the details.
Most of the reviews of Fast Company are utter nonsense written by people who think that because they know Cronenberg films they can comment. Sure they can comment, but their comments are going to come across as patently stupid for anyone who actually gets the film. These reviews have attempted to read Fast Company in terms of the other films. But why do this?
Anyway, my worry was that Fast Company was going to be another Metal Skin. Metal Skin is an Australian film that is both very interesting and terrible at the same time as it was made by some trendy inner-city film makers about suburban car culture in Melbourne. My memory of Metal Skin was that they got it right (again from being a teenager), but I watched it again last year and I realised everything about the culture is a little off. It is a little too excessive or intensive in the same way a schoolyard bully teases someone by pointing out the obvious but changes the tone slightly transforming an observation into an insult.
Metal Skin is something of an abheration in media that attempts to represent car culture. Normally media either attempts to represent a particular facet of the culture in almost a documentary-style cinematography or the fantasy element of the culture is exploited not to represent the culture in any direct way, but to capture the libidinal energies of enthusiasts who have invested themselves into the culture. I call the second form machinic (even though of course there is a machinic dimension to the first type). A good example of the documentary-type of film that treats the enthusiasm with respect and where the film is made not in an explicit attempt to cash in on the enthusiasm is The World’s Fastest Indian. Good examples of the second type of film include all the films in the Fast and the Furious franchise (even though the third film does try a little to address the obvious stupidities of the fantasy element). Metal Skin attempts to extract the intensities of the Melbourne suburban car culture just like the exploitative second-type of films, but with a twist worthy of M. Night Shyamalan. Metal Skin is not for an audience of a Melbourne suburb (because then the film would’ve followed Mad Max), but an audience of bourgies like the film makers. For some bizarre reason a bunch of bourgie film makers decided to use a car culture completely and utterly alien to trendy inner-city folk use it to exploit the libidinal energies invested in negative conceptions of suburban Melbourne car culture. I have a feeling it has sometyhing to do with a kind if shitty-suburbs authenticity thing that was going on at around the same time in the literary and publishing world.
Yeah… I am just listening to Cronenberg’s director’s commentary and he is saying the exact same thing!!! Holy shit!!!!!111 Not about all these other movies, but the documentary call (from about 0:01:20 to 0:02:04 in the commentary):
“When we got to meet the drag racers whose cars we were using for the movie that there was a rich culture of verbal and visual… that hadn’t really been addressed in the script. SO In a way there was a lot of documentary film making going on in this movie where I would include at 5 in the morning while I was rewriting the script things that I had heard the drag racers say the day before and incidence and moments and stories that thye would tell. And so there was a lot of documenting of what I was seeing in this movie.”
“There is, of course, as I was saying, a ‘found art’ aspect to this movie for me which was in the drag racers and the world that they lived in cause the guys that originally wrote this script I think were basing their script more on other movies and some other fantasies they had about drag racing rather than on the real lives of drag racers. So once we got involved in that life we the stunt men and the stunt drivers who were driving the racers for us a lot of things popped into focus. And I mean, they really did say things like, ‘You can suck my pipes.’ And all of those really colourful expressions, which I actually made sure ended up in the movie.”
Later still (0:29:30-0:29:49):
“It is an expression of somehting that I’m very passionate about and remain very passionate about, even though it doesn’t seem to correlate easily or critically with my other movies. I was really quite pleased to tackle the kind of classic mythology and the good and bad on a race track and the shoot out on a drag strip kind of aspects of it. There was never any intention on my part ot subvert it or to turn it into anything else. I really wanted it to be kind of classic B-movie with the things that are kind of lovable about B-movies.”
Bravo! And in the commentary to the next scene where a driver is explaining how he mixes his own nitromethane fuel for his nitro funny car, we get to what I mean by ‘respect’ above(0:30:05-0:30:32):
“All these details about involved in mixing your own fuel mixture and so on, to me, are to the essence of this movie. I love this stuff, and its all stuff that wasn’t in the script, and it was things we discovered while we were shooting the movies. So it was once again a bit of found art as far as I’m concerned, part of the documentary aspects.”
Note: Worth hearing is Cronenberg’s reaction when he discovers a certain scene involving oil and naked bodies was reinserted into the DVD release. He gets very excited. lol
“It’s interesting the idea of a racer being put into various humiliating positions vis-a-vis his sponsors and stuff is… It was kind of prescient in a way because of Formular One racers for example spend more time at dinners for sponsors I think then they do racing. It’s part of the game and most racers are very uncomfortable doing it. Some racers have made quite a career because they could handle the public relations aspect of racing, end up getting sponsors and bring money with them to the race team. Often its not the best racer who gets to race but the one who’s got the best public relations face and can round up some sponsors in his native country… That’s in Formula One, and I’m not sure how it works in drag racing, but obviously selling is a big part of all modern sports especially motorsport.”
Around 1:12:00 Cronenberg finally addresses the division of labour that is involved in producing the spectacle of these drag races. The promotional team managers, promo girls, drivers, team chiefs and workers all work to different vectors.
I’ll write some more about this later, specifically the ‘mechanics’ of the spectacle as dissected in and through the film.
EDIT: well it would be good to spell his name correctly