Stereo / Crimes of the Future Review

Stereo and Crimes of the Future make for perfect companions. They take place within a similar milieu, share a number of the same actors and represent the first forays into 35mm filmmaking a young David Cronenberg. Of course, it is this latter facet which attracts the attention and indeed both of these early efforts touch on themes and ideas which would continue to occupy the director many years later. Stereo concerns itself with sexuality, sociology, psychology and telekinesis; Crimes of the Future meanwhile is a more ambitious affair taking in paedophilia, the development of new organs and strange secretions – all hallmarks of the Cronenberg oeuvre.

Yet whilst such apparent ambition may lead us to expect works as fully accomplished as Shivers, say, or The Fly or Crash, this isn’t strictly the case. Stereo and Crimes of the Future both see Cronenberg finding himself as a filmmaker; there’s an affinity with the vérité movement in both films, yet this tends to document more of the director’s struggle to discover his own voice than it does any of the characters. He’s feeling his ways these ventures, touching on aspects which interest him (most of which are mentioned above, though there is also a healthy dosage of academia present, an aspect which prompts an unexpected association with the early shorts by Peter Greenaway), but not entirely sure as to how he should deal with them. Tellingly, both efforts were effectively constructed in post-production, their vignettes tied together via voice-overs which attempt to provide complete, fully-rounded narratives, even if they don’t always succeed.

The results then are works which, although undoubtedly open to the label of science-fiction and certain generic concerns, are less readily digestible than such later Cronenberg efforts as Scanners or Videodrome. Despite a number of kitsch edges (Crimes of the Future’s costuming recalls Barbarella at times, immediately identifying the film’s time of production as the late sixties/early seventies), both Stereo and Crimes of the Future are best considered as experimental works and play much better as such. Thus the strict visual stylisation – clinical, detached, mock-documentary although not quite… - and the lack of any live sound make sense, as do the quiet, yet decidedly oddball performances; Ronald Mlodzik, in particular, cuts a strange, fascinating figure. Moreover, the narrative concerns don’t seem quite so prominent within such a context, although there is still the nagging feeling that Crimes of the Future and its wide-ranging themes would perhaps be better handled by the present-day Cronenberg than they were back in 1970.

Nonetheless, as cinematic first steps, both features prove endlessly fascinating in their own comparatively inauspicious ways. Certainly, they’re more for the completist than they are for the casual fan, but then the former should be more than duly impressed. These are solid works, governed by intelligence and offering a tantalising glimpse into the developing world that Cronenberg would later form more fully. As such they’re never going to be spoken of with the same enthusiasm as a Dead Ringers or a Crash, but then we shouldn’t expect as much. Rather they’re films to pore over and dissect over numerous viewings, not ones to enjoy in the more conventional sense.

The Disc

At 62 minutes apiece, Reel23 have issued Stereo and Crimes of the Future onto a single dual-layered disc. Both films are presented anamorphically in their original aspect ratios of 1.85:1 and both have been taken from rather fine prints. The black and white photography of Stereo is duly captured with excellent clarity and contrast levels, whilst Crimes of the Future’s colour stock is similarly impressive – the colours pop, but only as far as we should expect; these are low-budget ventures after all. Admittedly both do demonstrate negligible damage, though in both cases such instances would appear to be inherent in their respective films’ productions as opposed to any fault with the disc. That said, ghosting is present on each of the films, though never to a hugely discernible degree. A minor flaw, then, but a flaw nonetheless.

As for the soundtracks, both films appear in their original mono (present as DD2.0) and come across pleasingly well considering their age and relative cheapness. Of course, we’re only really dealing with voice-overs here, yet these are presented well whilst the silences which punctuate both Stereo and Crimes of the Future to a great degree are never hampered by background hissing or the like.

The special features content, however, is decidedly low-key. The disc itself contains nothing more than the films themselves, although the packaging (which is attractively designed, by the way) does feature a pamphlet which contains information on both films (credits, synopses and the like), brief notes and an interview excerpt with Cronenberg.

7 out of 10
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Last updated: 19/04/2018 05:09:13

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