Brutalism is the 20th Century architectural style critics love to hate. The blocky aesthetic has fallen from favour because of its association with cold totalitarian bureaucracy. This is the very thing that makes Brutalist structures perfect film shorthand for The Dystopic Future.
David Cronenberg's films of the 70s and 80s are eye candy for fans of Brutalist buildings, their rigid architecture is perfect for Cronenberg's themes of malevolent science.
Swinburne Cinema Studies and Design students can access DVD / online versions of selected Cronenberg films, including:
In Cronenberg's early student film Stereo, the "Canadian Academy of Erotic Enquiry" is actually the University of Toronto's Andrews Building, designed by famous Australian architect John Andrews. The stark poured-concrete megastructure attracted worldwide attention when unveiled in 1966. At the time of Cronenberg's film in 1969 there was still little surrounding foliage so the monolithic structure jutted out from the landscape like a raw wound.
When interviewed by Piers Handling for the Toronto International Film Festival's "David Cronenberg: Evolution" exhibition, Cronenberg explained "It was an experiment for me ... I structured the film around the architecture". "The emptiness allowed me to completely see this structure in an abstract way, because they were not inhabited yet by human beings. That attributed to the tone - the loneliness, the smallness of human beings. The relationship of technology with human beings has always interested me, and you have to think of architecture as an expression of technology." "When I went back to Scarborough College [years later] it was trashed. People had been living in it. It had been humanized. They had not allowed themselves to be pushed around by that very aggressive, distancing architecture".
Cronenberg's next film, Crimes of the Future, filmed in University of Toronto's Massey College, is also unsettling. The concrete exteriors and interiors disorient and alienate. Large empty spaces reflect spiritual emptiness and harsh, unfinished concrete Caligarian angles, dwarf and threaten the actors.
Cronenberg's film Shivers, about a parasite that infects residents of a Montreal condominium, was set in architect Mies Van der Rohe Buildings, a pair of luxury high-rises on Nuns' Island. In the film's title sequence an advertisement for the fictional Starliner apartments showcases their cold architecture. By the end of the film the suburban dream turns into a nightmare as Starliner's parasite-infested residents escape their claustrophobic apartment incubator and invade Montreal. The architecture played a major role, Cronenberg likened the isolated apartment block to a spaceship, in an era where most horror films were set in gothic vampire castles it was revolutionary and went on to influence the film Alien four years later.
Another Brutalist building, 1000 St. Charles served as ConSec headquarters in Cronenberg's film Scanners. Harsh industrial corporate exteriors housed commercial spaces where senses were assaulted by garish colors.
Scanners, Videodrome, eXistenZ, The Fly, Naked Lunch, A History of Violence, Eastern Promises, A Dangerous Method, Cosmopolis, M Butterfly
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Image credits: Flickr - JasonParis 7938680648 | 7938681332