Ahoy, squirts! Quint here. We have a review of Cronenberg and Shore's long anticipated Opera adaptation of Cronenberg's amazing '80s cornerstone, his remake of THE FLY. It premiered in Paris early this week and will be moving to LA for another engagement in September, I believe. I will, by hook or by crook, see this damn thing in LA. I will hound anybody I can for seats. How could I not? I'm a big fanboy, what can I say? Anyway, here's the report from the Paris show! Enjoy and beware of spoilers if you're one of the three people who read this site that aren't familiar with Cronenberg's THE FLY!
Hi there, This is the German Institute For Psychotronic Studies. I’m just back from Paris with a report on the premiere of David Cronenberg’s opera version of The Fly on July the 2nd. Being hardcore Cronenberg fans, the six of us were planning this trip for months, and we’re all happy we took the opportunity. This review will necessarily compare the movie and the opera; some parts are therefore probably incomprehensible if you don’t know anything about the story. Also, it contains heavy SPOILERS. Please keep in mind that I am still tired as hell from the trip, so the text is probably crammed full of mistakes. So, the opera. Not being an expert in the field of opera music, I will concentrate on content and do without an in-depht analysis of the music. However, Howard Shore uses the thematical material from his original Fly soundtrack - That was to expect. The whole opera sounds like you would expect an opera by Shore to sound: modern, minimalistic, dark. Speaking of “an opera by Shore”: I’m not sure about the authorship of the whole affair. It was written by Shore, but Cronenberg’s influence is clearly there. Or maybe Shore wrote the new plot material in Cronenberg’s style. Or it's just Cronenberg's direction that gives it the feel of a Cronenberg project. After all, they’re working together for nearly 30 years, so it probably doesn’t matter anymore. They are a team and just switched top billing for this act. The opera is divided in two acts, each being around one hour long. The break comes after Brundle goes through the Telepods (and as I’m sure someone will ask: yes there’s full frontal male nudity involved), so act 1 covers around 30 minutes of the movie and in act 2, 60 minutes of opera are corresponding to 60 minutes the movie. This shows, as the first part draws a bit, while the second is very fast paced. First thing you notice when the curtain goes up is that you won’t get an exact recreation of the movie. The scene is Brundle’s lab, there are machines everywhere, there is the computer console (which also includes Brundle’s piano –art and science in the same machine), and of course the two Telepods, which look nothing like the ones you know. They’re more like retro-scifi-computers, with big screens instead of windows. When Cronenberg remade The Fly, genetics were the next big thing, and the film reflected that. The new design of the Telepods reflects the arrival of the digital age – people are encoded into digital data and decoded at another workstation. This is The Fly in the times of the Internet. Shore and Cronenberg have refined other aspects from the movie in one way or another. Now, what’s different in term of story and structure? First of all, the opera is told in flashback form. It begins with Ronnie being interviewed by a police woman, hours after Brundle died, and then blends to the party where she first meets him (Βy the way, while it was left to interpretation in the movie, here it is clearly stated that Brundle only drinks because of his loneliness. Nice, as it adds to the drama). From then on, the plot follws that of the movie quiet closely, occasionally interrupted by Ronnie’s retrospective comments. Ronnie really is the protagonist in this version, the focus is clearly on her character. This is to the disadvantege of the love triangle between Brundle, her and her ex lover Stathis. In my opinion, Stathis’ character is a bit underdeveloped. While in the movie he is quiet threatening in the beginning and in the end becomes kind of a tragic hero, in the opera version he stays rather blank. He gets an extra scene in which several people inform him on Brundle’s background, but that does nothing for his character. He is no competition for Brundle, who, after going through the Telepods, becomes The New Flesh. That’s right, that old Videodome phrase is back for The Fly. “All Hail The New Flesh” is what the choir is singing over and over again. Much time is used on thoughts about The New Flesh and how it differs from the old flesh. Enter Marky the arm wrestling guy and his gang of people without perspective hanging out at the bar. When Brundle fights him, this is presented as a fight between new and old flesh and Brundle wins it, just like in the movie, with a nice onstage practical makeup effect. But while he was just a storytelling device in the movie, Marky is given a full background here, kneeling on the bar’s floor, holding his broken arm and giving up hope when he has to accept that his time is over. It is a good scene, but it is dispensable for the overall story, because by then we already got it. Nevertheless, the whole concept of the new flesh is very intriguing. There’s much more build up concerning the positive sides of Brundle’s transformation, so the fall feels much harder when Brundlefly takes over. Another great idea is that the fly inside Brundle’s DNA is a creature “dying to be born.” This is one of the central lines of the opera, and it absolutely nails it. Brundle’s fusion with the fly is the moment he becomes the New Flesh, a being truthfully alive, and in the same moment this starts a chain reaction which ultimately leads to his death. The final consequence of birth is death, and you have to become mortal before you can be born. That's a connection as solid as that between Brundle and the fly. The transformation to Brundlefly is what one would expect it to be: A semi-transparent curtain goes down and the computer summarizes most of what is happening (All computer messages are sung by the choir!). However, you see Brundle in several states of his mutation, and the combination of careful lighting, acting and make up & prosthetics works great. When Brundlefly kidnapps Ronnie before she can get an abortion, he is even running along the ceiling, but although the effect is really good, it feels like an unnecessary gimmick. The showdown is, I’m sorry to say, disappointing. Of course you can’t transform Brundle onstage into an animatronic character, but an even bigger problem is that the underdevelopement of the love triangle becomes very obvious. There is no confrontation between Brundle and Stathis (and neither vomiting, nor melting body parts). Ronnie is not begging for Stathis’ life nor is Brundle begging Ronnie to kill him in the end, she just does it. The movie ends at that point, but here we still are in Ronnie's flashback. She tells the police woman that she does not want Brundle to die completely and therefore intends to have his baby – The New Flesh has come. Througout the two acts there were some moments added for comic relief, which felt a bit strange with the dark tone of the movie in mind. However, you can’t deny the involuntary humor of a guy in a rubber suit singing about insect politics, so the comical stuff was probably neccesary to let us know that Cronenberg & Co. very much knew how absurd even the idea was to turn The Fly into an opera. Despite some press releases telling otherwise, there were no standing ovations. They got two curtains and that was it. We talked to some opera fans afterwards who didn’t know much of Cronenberg’s films and it was very obvious that they thought it had been amusing at most. Opera fans formed the core of the audience. There were very few movie geeks like us and that was clearly a reason why the applause felt warm, but rather short, because much like with some of Cronenberg’s movies, The Fly – The Opera works best if you are familiar with the ideas and principles of his universe. All in all: If you’re in France right now, check it out! It has some flaws, but the music is great, as is the production design and the actors. If you are a fan of Cronenberg’s work or the movie version, this is a must see. It has the look and feel of a Cronenberg film, but you will probably never see this on DVD or television and it is not clear by now if Howard Shore’s music will be released on CD, so after only five shows in Paris and another five in Los Angeles this project will maybe be gone for good. Also, no need to buy tickets in advance. It wasn’t sold out, and on the evening of the premiere you could get best category tickets at the box office for only 20 Euros. Cronenberg will probably stay in Paris as long as the opera is playing, but don’t get your hopes high when you are looking for autographs. He was in a high mood and SUPER nice after the premiere, signing for absolutely everyone who had been waiting at the artist’s entrance (around twenty fans), even making photos with everyone who wanted to (same with Howard Shore, who, by the way, answerd my question if he will score The Hobbit with a decided “Yes!”), but the next evening when he was presenting a double feature of his Fly and the 1958 original with Vincent Price, he arrived with a photo camera, made a picture of the ten of us waiting there, mumbled “Excuse me, I’m just working here” – and slipped behind the security glass doors. He continued to take pictures like mad of some unspectacular concrete walls and the elevator doors before disappearing. I have no idea if he was just parodying what he saw in us (on the other hand, we definitely didn’t behave like hysteric paparazzi) or if this was some sort of genuine bizarreness, but it was quiet obvious that he felt uncomfortable with being a star and I don’t hold it against him. So, show the man some respect. He’ll let you know if he’s willing to give autographs. As a bonus, here is a transcript of what he told the audience when he introduced his movie on Thursday. Nothing we hadn’t already heard of, I think, but if you are asked to tell the same old stories for twenty years, it is unlikely to suddendly come up with something shockingly new. Here it goes: “Madames et Monsieurs, You might know that this film was based on a short story by the writer George Langelaan, who is French and English. So he was a strange hybrid – a fusion, just like the fly. There has been a film in 1958, which starred Vincent Price, which was based on that short story, which had been published in Playboy in America just before that. And I saw that film when I was a young man, and it was a strange combination of kind of campy and funny and also really quiet genuinely terrifying. So, we now go to 1985 when I was in Los Angeles and I had just spent a year of working on a script that I re-wrote twelve times, for the movie Total Recall. And I have wanted the actor William Hurt to play the lead, and the producers wanted Arnold Schwarzenegger. So, that’s the difference we had and that’s why I didn’t end up directing Total Recall. But that meant that I was now looking for work in Los Angeles and I was very broke and I said to my wife “I can’t come back to Toronto,” which is my home, “until I have another movie to make.” So, I met Mel Brooks, who was offered the strange project, which was a remake of the film The Fly. And he showed me a screenplay, which I must say with all respect, I didn’t think was very good, but it did have some interesting ideas about DNA and the fusion of the main character and the fly in the light of the new science of genetics. I said that I would be interested in doing it, if I could rewrite the script, create new characters, create new dialog, use the basics – some of the structure that had been there in the original, in the script that Mel Brooks was showing me, and he agreed, and so I ended up making La Mouche. The film was very well received, and is still, to this day, my most successful film I think, both critically and in terms of box office, so with that weight of anticipation on you – you know that people like it, you know it’s good, so you have to like it. But of course, you might not. In any case, I’m extremely happy to see you all here and to present this film, which I believe I myself have not seen for twenty years. So, you will have to let me know whether you like it or not. Merci Beaucoup” And that’s it. Hail psychotronic! Long live the new flesh!