I have been very fortunate to have known Melbourne, Australia’s Emma Westwood for a few years now and have been looking forward to her new book on David Cronenberg’s THE FLY (2018, Devil’s Advocates). After a bit of spotty availability, the book is now out everywhere and I asked Emma to answer a few questions about it. I have read it and Emma brings more to the table on the film than you might imagine. It definitely deserves a spot on your bookshelf. Look forward to her next book on The Bride of Frankenstein (1935) down the road (and she does a ton of film commentaries for the boutique labels). Follow Emma Westwood on Twitter @EmmaJWestwood and her website: emmawestwood.wordpress.com
FIEND: Before we get into the book itself, can you let us know what interested you in becoming a film critic/writer? How did you get started?
EMMA WESTWOOD: I never wanted to be a film ‘critic’, so to speak. In fact, I never really liked the term ‘film critic’ because it seems to suggest someone who is better than the films themselves and is looking for the negative aspects when judging them. I just love cinema and want to celebrate the things I love, which means largely steering clear of talking about the ones I don’t love. But, initially, I wanted to be a filmmaker – more specifically, a director – rather than a commentator, but I quickly realised that I despised the shooting process and I just didn’t have the right personality to do it. That was all a process of self-discovery that took place when I was at university and hanging around with the university filmmaking club. I was also studying film theory as part of a Bachelor degree in Arts/Humanities so the writing about film – ‘criticism’, if you wish – just continued by an extension. I still harbour fantasies of writing some screenplays. I hope to do it someday. When I find the time.
F: I know you are a major fan of David Cronenberg films but what attracted you in writing a book on The Fly? Were there any other films of his you considered before this one?
EW: When I put forward a list of films to my publisher, John Atkinson, there were two David Cronenberg films included. He leapt on the opportunity for a Cronenberg monograph, and said he’d been waiting to add one to the Devil’s Advocates collection. The two films were The Fly and The Brood, and my publisher pretty much left it to me to choose which one appealed most. To be honest, I found it really hard to choose but I ended up going with The Fly because I had seminal memories around that film, including having just done a recent presentation, so it felt like the film was choosing me, in some way. Also, I love the simplicity of The Fly, and where it sat at the juncture between the two halves of Cronenberg’s career. I’m now glad I chose it because Electric Dreamhouse are publishing are book on The Brood. And my next house, Bride of Frankenstein, is for Electric Dreamhouse. Everything seems to have worked out nicely.
F: Who did you actually get to speak to and/or interview for this book? Did you find it easy to get subjects to discuss the film?
EW: I ended up speaking to 10 different people for the book, which was a lot for the Devil’s Advocates collection. Many of the Devil’s Advocates books just stick to straight film analysis but I have a journalistic background so I feel compelled to speak to the people involved in a film production; it’s just part of my curiosity. My publisher didn’t want to dictate things one way or another. He was careful not to stifle creativity but I also realised he didn’t want a ‘making of’ book so my challenge was to find the right mix of film analysis versus eyewitness accounts. I really wanted it to be entertaining, rather than too academic.
It wasn’t difficult getting the subjects to discuss the film at all. In fact, it was probably harder getting them to shut up! I was thrilled at how generous with their time and information they were – the producer, Stuart Cornfeld, talked to me for almost two-and-a-half hours! I couldn’t stop thanking him and he said that the film meant so much to him, he was more than happy to talk about it. That seemed to be the universal sentiment – everyone who worked on the film loved it and the experience of making it, despite the pressures. And a lot of that had to do with Cronenberg and his conduct on-set. Everyone spoke about him in glowing terms. I’d love to have interviewed him for the book but his PA told me he couldn’t remember the details any more! I think that was a bit of an excuse but, in the end, I’m actually glad I didn’t get to speak to Cronenberg because I could talk about the film entirely on my own terms without being overly influenced by the opinions of its director.
F: You have an anecdote in the acknowledgments section on your father’s reaction to a scene in the film. Did you two see it together in the theater?
EW: Ah, yes – it’s good to see you picked that up. That was one of the seminal memories I have around that film; taking my father to see it at the cinema. I’d already been to the cinema on the sly and seen The Fly when I was underage and shouldn’t have been there. I loved shocking my father, who had a weak stomach so, when I saw The Fly come up as part of a double feature (with Aliens, I believe) at a local arthouse theatre, I seized the opportunity to take Dad. Then I watched his face at all the key moments. I swear, when George Chuvalo had his wrist broken, Dad looked like his own wrist had been broken too! He loved the movie but it was a bit traumatic for him.
F: Why do you think in the past few years that film critique books on a single film are becoming more popular?
EW: It’s an interesting and exciting trend, which I think has a lot to do with the accessibility of older movies these days. When I was young, if you wanted to find anything beyond the mainstream, you had a real hunt on your hands. There were some great video stores that stocked hard-to-get horrors and the like (that’s how I got obsessed with Dario Argento) but you really had to work hard to find these films. Nowadays, you catch wind of something and it’s just a matter of punching it into your computer to stream or download. It feels like everything – a whole world of cinema – is available. And then you’ve got all these interesting companies like Kino Lorber, Arrow and Indicator that are seemingly pumping out these rare, almost forgotten titles, and even going to the trouble of providing extras about them and commentaries, of which I’ve been lucky to participate in a few. All of this creates a ‘cult of the film’, which means it’s not just about watching a film but it’s about dissecting a film in every which way, which allows the viewer to ‘own’ that film in a way they’ve never been able to before. I think the film monograph has arisen from that zeitgeist.
The Fly has definitely been comprehensively covered in the film press but it’s never been the subject of a monograph, as far as I know. There have been books dedicated to the original 1958 The Fly but not Cronenberg’s version. So, straight away, that gave me the opportunity to craft something unique because the narrative flow of a book is inherently different to an article. Creating a story arc over a book, whether it’s fiction or non-fiction, is a very challenging process. I wanted to reflect the essence of Cronenberg’s The Fly – the DNA aspect of it – by metaphorically mirroring that in the content of my book. So it’s all about the ‘DNA’ i.e. where did The Fly come from and what were the influencing factors that culminated in Cronenberg’s vision? I was lucky because The Fly has such an illustrious ancestry so I think my analogy worked very well. Well, at least I hope it does.
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