21
Dec
12

Stereo (1969)

This subject cultivated a second personality to block other telepaths from knowing her true self. This alternate personality eventually took over.

This subject cultivated a second personality to block other telepaths from knowing her true self. This alternate personality eventually took over.

I’m a big David Cronenberg fan, so I figured why not close the year (and get to 100 posts) by watching Cronenberg’s filmography in chronological order? Of course, there are some items I can’t get my hands on, like shorts and Canadian TV movies, but I’ve got a lot. So, my Cronenbergian Odyssey begins with his first feature-length film (actually only 62 minutes) Stereo.

I suppose you could call this movie a mockumentary, but it totally doesn’t mean what you think it means. In the very beginning it claims to be an educational film put out by the Canadian Academy of Erotic Enquiry. Such a thing, of course, does not exist. We’re a few years into the future here (believe the film is set in 1996) and it is a bizarre future indeed, though we do not see much of the outside world here.

The film is completely silent. It is carried along by narration by supposed scientists or psychoanalysts who are putting

Orientation.

Orientation.

on an experiment involving telekinesis and sexuality, all revolving around the theories of one Dr. Stringfellow. We never see Dr. Stringfellow, we only see the subjects of his experiments: a few poor souls who have been made telekinetic, some of whom have even “consented” to have parts of their brain removed which prevents them from using speech. The subjects have been perfecting their telekinesis independent of one another, but the real experiment begins when they’re all thrown together in a building.

What is the goal of this experiment? To prove the theory that a group of psychics together can and will experience the same events, emotions and feelings, and this shared experience will strengthen the bonds between them. This strong bond between individuals is necessary, I think I’ve gathered, because in this dim future the family unit has become “obsolete.” The subjects are encouraged to experiment with each-other sexually, and are even given pills to foster this behavior.

Oh yeah, I forgot to mention the pacifiers.

Oh yeah, I forgot to mention the pacifiers.

For a 62-minute movie with no dialog, there sure is a lot going on. I found myself struggling to understand the narration, which succeeds in satirizing medical and psychological jargon to the point where it alienates the audience (though, if I know Cronenberg, that’s the whole point). The narration goes from pretty simple explanations of “scientific theory” to explaining why these particular experiments are different – why each subject has a strong relationship with the scientist behind the experiments, to the point where they are actually dependent on said scientist. I assume this scientist is Stringfellow himself, this may or may not have been made clear in the narration – I couldn’t tell!

Even so, I can’t deny that this film is intriguing. There’s a lot of Cronenberg’s later work evident here, and I’m excited to draw the line from the beginning of his career, through the body-horror period and into the weird, straight phase he seems to be in right now. But strictly speaking about Stereo, I don’t think I can say I actually liked it. I spent much of my time being confused, and honestly if it were any longer it would have been too arduous an experience to endure. But the shots are just gorgeous, and the ideas behind the film are really interesting. I’d recommend this to hardcore Cronenberg fans who aren’t already familiar with it, but anyone else would probably just roll their eyes.

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