Hor­rors of Hol­ly­wood

Winnipeg Free Press - Section G - - FRONT PAGE - RAN­DALL KING

FOR decades, the name David Cro­nen­berg was syn­ony­mous with hor­ror, al­beit hor­ror of a chilly, dis­tinctly cere­bral na­ture, es­tab­lished with films such as Ra­bid, The Fly and The Dead Zone. So the Oct. 31 re­lease of the di­rec­tor’s Maps to the Stars plays as a Hal­loween trick. In set­ting and theme, it skews closer to Hol­ly­wood satire, say Robert Alt­man’s The Player, than Video­drome. That said, the movie should qual­ify as a treat in the way Cro­nen­berg, 71, and screen­writer Bruce Wag­ner glee­fully lay bare the nar­cis­sism, ve­nal­ity and just plain vi­cious­ness in its cast of movie stars, child stars, quack psy­chol­o­gists and the min­ions who fa­cil­i­tate their ev­ery need. Yet Cro­nen­berg, on the phone from his Toronto home base, as­serts the film is in no way an at­tack on the Hol­ly­wood club he, as a suc­cess­ful Cana­dian film­maker, could never be both­ered to join. The film’s dys­pep­tic view of Hol­ly­wood, he says, is very much a prod­uct of screen­writer Wag­ner. “If it wasn’t for Bruce, I wouldn’t even think of mak­ing a movie on Hol­ly­wood,” he says. “I have no beef with Hol­ly­wood. Hol­ly­wood doesn’t owe me any­thing. And I have no prob­lem with the ex­is­tence of Hol­ly­wood. “But Bruce grew up in L.A. and grew up in the film business. If you feel there’s anger and a cri­tique against Hol­ly­wood in the movie, it comes from Bruce. “On the other hand, I’ve had enough stu­dio ex­pe­ri­ence and meet­ings with stu­dio ex­ec­u­tives to know the truth of what Bruce has writ­ten.” For his part, Cro­nen­berg’s ex­pe­ri­ence of Los An­ge­les in rel­a­tively min­i­mal. In a fea­ture film ca­reer span­ning 40 years, Maps to the Stars rep­re­sents the first time he’s ever ac­tu­ally shot in L.A. — or in the United States, for that mat­ter. “It’s not like I was al­ways ob­sessed with Hol­ly­wood and felt the need to at­tack it,” he says. “In fact, in some ways, it’s le­git­i­mate to say that the sub­ject of the film is not Hol­ly­wood, but the hu­man con­di­tion it­self, and the need to con­struct an iden­tity, the des­per­a­tion for that. It’s kind of an ex­is­ten­tial­ist ques­tion.” That said, there is much of L.A. the film cap­tures un­speak­ably well, in­clud­ing a scene — per­haps the movie’s cen­tral im­age — of ac­tress Ha­vana Se­grand (Ju­lianne Moore in an amaz­ing per­for­mance) in a full lo­tus yoga po­si­tion, scream­ing like an over-in­dulged child when things aren’t go­ing her way. The film’s land­scape is filled with such mo­ments, in­clud­ing an apho­rism-spout­ing TV psy­chol­o­gist (John Cu­sack) min­is­ter­ing to Se­grand with a com­bi­na­tion of mas­sage and du­bi­ous psy­chother­apy, or Cu­sack’s very young movie star son (Evan Bird) sub­ject­ing his agent to harsh anti-Semitic in­vec­tive, or an es­pe­cially mor­ti­fy­ing scene in which Serena gives a to-do list to her new per­sonal as­sis­tant/“chore whore” (Mia Wasikowska) while nois­ily sit­ting on a toi­let. It all reeks of L.A. “It’s the na­ture of the art form that you can only achieve the univer­sal through the spe­cific,” Cro­nen­berg says. “So yes, it’s set in Hol­ly­wood, no ques­tion, but you can imag­ine it set in Sil­i­con Val­ley or Wall Street as well. And you’d still have peo­ple who are am­bi­tious and des­per­ate and all of those things.” Given the film’s disturbing sce­nar­ios, one imag­ines Cro­nen­berg hav­ing to han­dle his ac­tors — es­pe­cially Moore, play­ing the movie star as mon­ster — with more del­i­cacy than usual. “Not at all,” Cro­nen­berg says. “With pro­fes­sional ac­tors who are re­ally ex­pe­ri­enced and re­ally do un­der­stand their char­ac­ters, there’s no prob­lem. “It’s only when you get the wrong ac­tor in the wrong role that you sud­denly have re­sis­tance or fear of hu­mil­i­a­tion or what­ever,” he says. “We didn’t have that. The ac­tors were to­tally locked in. “It’s true that at some point of try­ing to get the movie made, I ap­proached some ac­tors who were afraid of the roles,” he says. “They didn’t want to be un­sym­pa­thetic. “I talked to an ac­tress who desperately wanted to do it, but could not do the toi­let scene at all,” he says. “And there’s no way I’m go­ing try to talk her into do­ing it, be­cause it won’t work. “With Julie, we didn’t even dis­cuss it. It’s in the script. Now we do that scene. We’re do­ing the scene. No big deal.” Just now, Cro­nen­berg’s cre­ative juices aren’t nec­es­sar­ily flow­ing to­wards his next film. Last month, the di­rec­tor launched his first novel, Con­sumed, a thor­oughly Cro­nen­ber­gian tale of French philoso­phers and Cana­dian jour­nal­ists en­meshed in dis­ease, in­ter­na­tional in­trigue and can­ni­bal­ism. Nat­u­rally, the ques­tion arises: Will he adapt it to film? “The rights are avail­able, so if you’re in­ter­ested, what can I say?” he quips. “There was a time — a short time — when I thought for sure I’m go­ing to want to make a movie of the book, be­cause how many nov­el­ists get a chance to do that? “But the I re­al­ized I’d be bored,” he says. “I mean: I’ve done it. I re­al­ized I don’t need a movie to val­i­date or com­plete it. “So the pos­si­bil­i­ties have opened up. Now that I’ve proven I can write a vi­able novel, I want to write another,” he says. “It would take a very se­duc­tive, ir­re­sistible film project to come along to have me mak­ing another movie in the near fu­ture.”

Maps to the Stars opens in the­atres Fri­day.

CHRIS YOUNG / THE CANA­DIAN PRESS

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