Transfer by David Cronenberg: Saturday Night Short Film #2
A short film based on my life (no, not really).
Last week on the inaugural Saturday Night Short Film, I took a look at Doodlebug, one of the first films that Christopher Nolan ever directed. This week I settled on the first film that my fellow Canuck David Cronenberg directed, Transfer. It was a tough decision which consisted of me randomly clicking links.
In Transfer there’s a psychiatrist and his patient, and they indulge in a lot of psychological dialogue, often disconnected, in the middle of a snowy field. I thought this would be interesting because I like Cronenberg and I love psychology. I love snow in movies because of the atmosphere it creates despite not being especially fond of it in person, at least not since I was a kid when it would cancel school.
I mentioned Doodlebug in the opening stanza because it was an early example of a director doing flawed by solid work. It was easy to see that Nolan had the potential to go somewhere. If I had the secret to time travel and I went back to 1966 when Transfer was released, I would not be able to say the same about Cronenberg.
It’s atrocious and doesn’t showcase any of what we’d know him for. For example, where the dialogue should be intelligent and thoughtful, it is so poorly written and delivered so obnoxiously that it actually makes the psychology look like babble more than anything. Though depending on what you think about the psychology presented, maybe it would be babble to you anyway.
It doesn’t stop there. There are awkward transitions, which I understand is meant to be an aspect of the surrealist nature, but coupled with the dialogue it looks amateurish–which to be fair, it was. There’s a way to do this kind of snappy editing to make it work and to make it endearingly jarring, but this ain’t it.
There’s a decent idea buried in here somewhere, but I imagine even if it was more on the forefront the camera wouldn’t be able to keep up with it and capture it anyway! The camera movement is terrible; sometimes it’s too slow to move along with its subject, getting there a split second later; sometimes there are just janky zooms or pans that really serve no narrative purpose.
On top of that, he doesn’t show much of an ability to frame a shot properly. You can see where he uses space and perspective, sometimes panning the camera to the side to make the field more dominant in the picture. These are techniques that are frequently used but they are also used with more of a purpose. Unless he was intentionally setting out to make a bad movie–in which case you can ignore everything I’ve said because good job–then it’s just so strange to see how poor he was at the beginning of his esteemed career.
Look, I’ve made what a couple of what you could loosely describe as short films in my day. They were all attempts at comedy and most of them were bad. I understand that me saying this about Cronenberg is like me wrestling a bus (I’d murder that bus, let’s be honest)–I can technically do it but the bus is so much better than me. There’s a solid argument to be made that I could beat very few objects or people in a wrestling match, anyway. That doesn’t change the fact that there’s nothing to recommend here. This paragraph is a weird, disjointed closer, and yet it’s still more comprehensible than Transfer.