From the Drain: A Creepy Comedy David Cronenberg Made in Film School (1967)

You’d expect a bit of strange­ness from David Cro­nen­berg‘s stu­dent films, but for most of its short length, From the Drain, which he made in 1967 while attend­ing the Uni­ver­si­ty of Toron­to, seems to deliv­er strange­ness of an unex­pect­ed kind. Play­ing more like Wait­ing for Godot than his lat­er vivid-to-the point of har­row­ing pic­tures like CrashVideo­drome, or The Fly, this thir­teen-minute black-and-white film, only Cro­nen­berg’s sec­ond, presents us with two fel­lows seat­ed, ful­ly clothed, in a bath­tub. The sit­u­a­tion looks bizarre, and as soon as the play­ers start talk­ing, it reveals itself as even more bizarre than we’d thought: evi­dent­ly, one of these men has mis­tak­en the tub for “the Dis­abled War Vet­er­ans’ Recre­ation Cen­ter.” The con­ver­sa­tion con­tin­ues with­out its par­tic­i­pants leav­ing their porce­lain con­fines, mak­ing a cer­tain kind of sense on the sur­face but none at all beneath. This feels almost like the realm of Mon­ty Python’s Fly­ing Cir­cus, which would­n’t debut and begin exert­ing its vast influ­ence on young comedic film­mak­ers until 1969.

We’d feel more secure in our laugh­ter if we did­n’t know who its direc­tor would go on to become. These days, when you watch any­thing by Cro­nen­berg, per­haps the best-known liv­ing auteur of tech­no­log­i­cal men­ace, “body hor­ror,” and form­less dread, you can rest rea­son­ably assured that some­thing will soon­er or lat­er go hor­ri­bly, vis­cer­al­ly awry onscreen. So it comes to pass in From the Drain, whose title gives some sug­ges­tion as to the nature of the ulti­mate malev­o­lence. Don’t let the hyper-far­ci­cal dia­logue, the goofy per­for­mances, or the clas­si­cal gui­tar sound­track mis­lead you; here we def­i­nite­ly have a project by the king of unset­tle­ment, though at a time when he pre­sum­ably had yet to earn even the title of prince of unset­tle­ment, a point from which he could look for­ward to decades of more advanced and much creepi­er visu­al effects. At this point in his career, how­ev­er, with the bleak-look­ing Hol­ly­wood satire Maps to the Stars due out in the near future, he seems to need noth­ing so elab­o­rate, still unset­tling us, but pre­fer­ring to do it sub­tly.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Stan­ley Kubrick’s Very First Films: Three Short Doc­u­men­taries

The Hearts of Age: Orson Welles’ Sur­re­al­ist First Film (1934)

The First Films of Great Direc­tors: Kubrick, Cop­po­la, Scors­ese, Taran­ti­no, and Truf­faut

600 Free Movies Online: Great Clas­sics, Indies, Noir, West­erns, etc.

Col­in Mar­shall hosts and pro­duces Note­book on Cities and Cul­ture and writes essays on cities, Asia, film, lit­er­a­ture, and aes­thet­ics. He’s at work on a book about Los Ange­les, A Los Ange­les Primer. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on his brand new Face­book page.

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