Secret Weapons (1972, David Cronenberg)
In the hearts of cinema lovers everywhere, David Cronenberg hold a special place, particularly his early period. From the late 60s to the early 80s, we are rewarded with what many (including myself) view as the quintessential Cronenberg. From his early experimental short films such as ‘Stereo’ and ‘Crimes of the Future’ to his commercially viable creep fests like ‘Rabid’, ‘Scanners’ and ‘Videodrome’, Cronenberg has never failed to infuse his films (no matter how trashy) with genuine intelligence and multi-facetted dread. Cronenberg’s quintessential horror, although certainly visceral and often gory, was the horror of the body. Cronenberg was more interested in the pernicious activities lurking within the fortean walls of monolithic corporations than the psycho lurking with a knife in the bushes. It has always been my contention that Cronenberg’s early films represent true horror.
In the 70s, Cronenberg directed a number of seldom-seen, made-for-TV shorts. This was before he’d blow audiences away with the genuinely unnerving, ‘Shivers’ in 1975. With the interesting but meandering shorts, ‘Stereo’ and ‘Crimes of the Future’ under his belt, he certainly must have seemed like an odd proposition. While both of these films contained wonderful, distinctly Cronenbergian ideas, they betrayed their student origins, lacking dynamics and toying with pretention like only a student film can. For those who haven’t had the opportunity to see these two early films, I’d direct you toward the very generous 2-disc ‘Fast Company’ set, which offers them both as a bonus. The ‘Fast Company’ set is a treat for Cronenberg completists and highly recommended.
In 1972, as part of a ‘Programme X’ TV series, Cronenberg directed a short film called ‘Secret Weapons’, which he has, for one reason or another, referred to evermore as his ‘suppressed’ film. I can find no information as to exactly how this was suppressed. It seems more logical to me that the film wasn’t a success and canned by the TV studio, but if you have any information, please feel free to comment. ’Secret Weapons’ represents a few milestones for Cronenberg. For one, it was his first to include synced sound, but it was also the first real indicator that Cronenberg was capable of corralling his ingenious ideas into narrative form. To this day it remains perhaps his most seldom seen film and it’s safe to say that too few people are aware of its existence to truly consider it ‘sought after’.
‘Secret Weapons’ was written by Norman Snider, who Cronenberg would, over a decade later, collaborate with when writing his masterpiece, ‘Dead Ringers’. It concerns a depiction of America 6 years in the future that has plunged into civil war. From this dystopian base, a man has invented a drug that purports to increase fighting ability among those who take it. The decision must now be made as to whether the drug should be handed over to the oppressive government regime or to the rebels. As you can see, several of Cronenberg’s thematic staples are present here. We have a mysterious drug that alters the makeup of the body and then we have the shady organisation whose intentions are not to be trusted. But perhaps, more than anything else, we have that distinct, impossibly uncomfortable vibe that Cronenberg so effortlessly created with his early films. It’s hard to pin down exactly how this vibe is achieved. The mis-en-scene is infused with negative space, which adds to the sense of isolation. This has the unusual effect of momentarily removing Cronenberg’s film outside of the existing cinematic canon and into a sterilised realm of its own. It’s distinctly uncomfortable, yet hypnotic in execution. The characters speak without much emotion, further distancing you from them and the film in general.
‘Secret Weapons’ is of importance because it represents the first Cronenberg film that truly works outside of the intellectual undercurrents of its subject matter. It was an important bridge between his interesting, but ultimately failed early film experiments, and the powerful commercially viability of what followed. Cronenberg, even in his most commercial fare, hasn’t had to compromise as much as many of his peers, but the ways in which he did learn to compromise became an extension of his art. It was a compromise that served the importance of his message rather than detracting from it.
‘Secret Weapons’ is a film that should be seen but is, as yet, unavailable in any commercial form. Not so long ago, it emerged in its entirety on http://www.indiemoviesonline.com, which was a boon to many, but not available to all. To this day, if you reside outside of America, UK or Australia, you are unable to stream the film. This means that those in Cronenberg’s homecountry of Canada are still unable to watch an early curio by one of their greatest exports. This infuriates me. For this reason, I’ve decided to upload to full film to YouTube so that (unless it gets taken down) it will be accessible to all. Please enjoy David Cronenberg’s ‘Secret Weapons’.
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