Naked Frames: David Cronenberg Exhibits

Of David Cronenberg's three 'official' visits to Italy thus far, his most recent to Rome in 2008 may be of the most immediate interest to followers of his psychoplasmic explorations via film.

David Cronenberg at the Chromosomes Opening Exhibition in Rome, 2008

Chromosomes Opening Exhibition held at the Palazzo delle Esposizioni on October 21 to November 16, 2008 in Rome, Italy presented 60 images chosen and processed by David Cronenberg and the staff at Volumina (responsible for the realization of the exhibition and the catalogue) amongst which were original film frames from Cronenberg's cult movies VIDEODROME, CRASH, DEAD RINGERS, THE FLY remake, THE DEAD ZONE, SCANNERS, THE BROOD and NAKED LUNCH. Transferred to digital directly from the 35mm film prints at the Centro Sperimentale di Cinematografia in Rome, the images were then processed according to Cronenberg's instructions and finally printed to a size of 80x100 cm (approx.31.5x39.5 inches). Cronenberg specifically chose textured canvas as the support which was then stretched and mounted on plain wooden frames and displayed as is. A frameless presentation allowed the images to be hung in their 'purest' form and the decision to have them printed onto canvas as opposed to having them occupy their regular habitat within the medium of photographic paper positioned them within an environment conducive to perception outside of their regular cinematic context.

Chromosomes Opening Exhibition, Rome, 2008 - note David Cronenberg's son Brandon's artistic interpretation of DNA sequences occupying the walls alongside the displayed frames

The Volumina team initially hand-picked around five hundred frames from Cronenberg's films with an eye to selecting ones which could be viewed and appraised free from their original narrative context within the films themselves. This selection was then narrowed down to one hundred and fifty frames which were printed onto cardboard and sent to Cronenberg's home in Toronto, Canada for the director to begin his own endorsement. The resulting exhibition was a combination of immediately recognisable frames from the films of David Cronenberg (at least to genre enthusiasts) such as the pistol-hand from VIDEODROME, the parthenogenetically birthing Nola Carveth (actress Samantha Eggar) from THE BROOD and the exploding head from SCANNERS (likened to a Francis Bacon painting by Cronenberg at the opening exhibition) displayed alongside frames with less obvious and immediate impact as they appear in their almost transitory nature within the films, yet which harness equally potent qualities made especially apparent by their
isolation such as the image of the goldfish bowl cracking from the heat of a house fire from THE DEAD ZONE and a frame taken from EASTERN PROMISES showing the metaphoric 'new flesh' being applied as tattoo by hands that are simultaneously sheathed in a synthetic latex 'skin' and operating through the medium of a mechanical construct - the tattoo gun. A seemingly inconsequential frame from SPIDER showing the titular character (actor Ralph Fiennes) sitting at a table in a café was commented on too at the exhibition with Cronenberg pointing out the significance of a 'Keep Britain Tidy' poster which hangs on the wall behind Spider within the frame and its role as rebus for one of the many social conventions constricting Spider's reality.

A recuring motif running throughout the selection of chosen frames is that of the interplay of hands and limbs. Either with themselves (frames from A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE, THE DEAD ZONE, THE FLY and EASTERN PROMISES) or interacting with mechanical constructs/man-made objects (CRASH, EASTERN PROMISES, DEAD RINGERS, M. BUTTERFLY) or indeed a fusion of both as witnessed in Cronenberg's psychoplasmic biomechanical realities (VIDEODROME, NAKED LUNCH, EXISTENZ), these images illustrate clearly Cronenberg's artistic fixation with the synergy of appendages, technology and the mind.

In naming his exhibition Chromosomes, Cronenberg draws parallels between the information within his chosen frames and the DNA threads present within cells - both are patterns of events, whether staged onscreen or biological configurations and as such represent clusters of action comprehendible in their own right whilst also being part of and thus contributing to the action of the larger structures to which they belong.

Chromosomes Miniatures at Turin, Italy 2008/2009 - a downsized version of the exhibition in Rome to a 20x25 cm (8x10 inches) format

Two ten-minute videos showing sequences from Cronenberg's movies accompanied the exhibition, along with a catalogue in English and Italian by Volumina, limited to an edition of 1,000. Featuring the frames shown in the Chromosomes exhibition, the catalogue also contains written commentary by exponents of the worlds of culture and science who have in some way an affinity for the artistic concerns of Cronenberg including Peter Suschitzky (cinematographer), Howard Shore (composer), William Gibson (writer), Thierry Frémaux (Artistic Director for Cannes), Marcello Buiatti (Professor of genetics at the University of Florence), Giorgetto Giugiaro (automobile designer), Viggo Mortensen (actor) and the curators Luca Massimo Barbero (Associate Curator of the Guggenheim Collection, Venice) and Domenico De Gaetano (Artistic Director for Volumina). Encapsulating Cronenberg's strongest themes as an artist is the image chosen to grace the front cover of the catalogue - a frame from CRASH. Sensuality, technology, transformation, catastrophe and affliction is succinctly depicted by the still of the hand caressing the ruptured 'skin' of the car 'body', alerting all but the most cold-hearted to the compassion at the heart of Cronenberg's work.

Chromosomes exhibition catalogue - front cover showing a frame from Cronenberg's CRASH

Chromosomes exhibition catalogue - page example showing a frame from Cronenberg's DEAD RINGERS

Chromosomes exhibition catalogue - page example showing a frame from Cronenberg's VIDEODROME

Chromosomes exhibition catalogue - page example showing a frame from Cronenberg's THE BROOD

(L-R) Thierry Fremaux, David Cronenberg and Domenico De Gaetano at the Chromosomes exhibition, Rome 2008

One room of the Chromosomes exhibition was dedicated to the multimedia installation Red Cars, a transformation of Cronenberg's artbook published in 2005 which in turn was based on an abandoned screenplay which Cronenberg wrote immediately after having filmed CRASH. An homage to the Ferrari, Cronenberg's drama depicted the sports rivalry of the American driver Phil Hill and the German count Wolfgang von Trips as they raced their 156 F1 Ferraris, nicknamed the 'sharknose' due to the shape of its vehicular snout. The Red Cars installation was narrated by Cronenberg in dialogues along with the sounds of the car races accompanying images and text from the screenplay printed on two hundred and forty 23.5x30 cm (approx 9x12 inches) Forex panels. A 10 foot video display showing rare period film footage from the Ferrari archives completed the multimedia event.

Two further engagements for the Chromosomes exhibition have been realized so far; another Italy and one in Portugal. Turin, Italy staged Chromosomes Miniatures on December 4, 2008 to March 31, 2009. Essentially a scaled down version of the Rome exhibition conceived for the opening of the King Kong Microplex (a 50-seat multimedia theatre in the city centre), this theatre's hanging quarters, constructed of a dark metallic grid-like material certainly complemented Cronenberg's frames with their own sense of technological menace and exactitude. The Estoril Film Festival at Lisbon, Portugal November 5 to 14, 2009 chose 40 frames exhibited at the first floor of the Congress Center of Estoril for the duration of the festival where Cronenberg's whole works, including short films and television productions plus the Red Cars installation were shown for the first time ever in Portugal - a truly comprehensive experience.

RED CARS - title design graphic highlighting the characteristic air intake 'nostrils' or 'sharknose' of the 156 F1 Ferrari

RED CARS - artbook package

RED CARS - the cover of the artbook is made from aluminium to resemble the body of a car. Included is a Ferrari model by Italian diecast collectible model company Brumm

RED CARS - page example of the artbook. Cronenberg's unfilmed original screenplay is illustrated with digitally enhanced Ferrari archive photographs employed as a form of storyboard.

A common link between the Chromosomes exhibition and the Red Cars installation lies within David Cronenberg's life-long fascination with engines and motor sports and its direct influence on his films' production design, a notable example being with the appearance of the telepods (character Seth Brundle's teleportation system) which appeared in his 1986 remake of THE FLY. After his initial desire for telepods resembling 'high-tech Italian phone booths' was met with insufficient realization, Cronenberg's long-time production designer Carol Spier ended up basing the telepod's design on the bevel twin cylinder heads of Cronenberg's vintage Ducati motorcycle engine, albeit inverted and with the addition of a glass door panel.

Left: Telepod from Cronenberg's remake of THE FLY. Right: Ducati's Cucciolo ('little puppy') a name inspired by the 'yapping' sound of the engine's squat exhaust

I was very pleased to receive the Chromosomes exhibition catalogue from Volumina this week and look forward to delving into its commentary to images with which I am already quite familiar with, yet which continually beckon reassessment and appreciation. 

With a little over 140 copies left of the Chromosomes catalogue and around 280 left of the Red Cars artbook, now would be the time to secure yourself a copy of either at the Volumina store

Visit VoluminaVideo's Channel on YouTube for footage of David Cronenberg and Thierry Fremaux talking at the Chromosomes exhibition for Rome Film Fest 2008.

Long Live The New Flesh!

Images from the Volumina web site and Flickr account are used with kind permission from the Volumina Office/Domenico De Gaetano. Many thanks.

Article Copyright © 2010 by Silver Ferox Key Art & Design


 Giallo By Design

CREEPY*IMAGES magazine article - click to enlarge for reading.

Article Copyright © 2010 by Silver Ferox Key Art & Design / CREEPY IMAGES Magazine


The Art And Design Of The Japanese Laserdisc Jacket

Combine incendiary images from seventies and eighties horror and exploitation films (a genre already infused with style to burn) with a tradition of powerful visual aesthetics and typographical sophistication and the result can often be seen in Japan’s publicity artwork for a movie’s theatrical release and home video market. Japan’s majestic martial heritage coupled with a minimalist, ordered cultural sensibility has shaped a particular approach to movie based promotional art and design that has enticed not only native but also many a Western movie memorabilia collector in search of exotic aesthetic thrills. This is particularly true when it comes to aficionados of the laserdisc.

A home video format introduced globally in 1978, consisting of a 12” silver platter (employing optical storage technology and hence a forerunner to CD and DVD) (Fig.1), laserdisc survived for almost 30 years as an industry standard in the East and as a niche market format for videophiles in the West who were prepared to pay a premium for video and audio quality that was the best commercially available. Japan, in particular, enjoyed a significant commercial adoption of this burgeoning format largely due in part to laserdisc’s modest market retail and rental pricing there (almost on par with VHS cassettes) and the Japanese public’s enthusiasm and embrace of new technology. Concerning Western collectors of video media, Japan’s advertising savvy and considerable packaging skills plus a design proclivity for photo-montage interfaced with bold and striking graphic elements has indeed created many a laserdisc jacket worth framing.

(Fig.1) A 12” laserdisc

Andy Warhol’s BLOOD FOR DRACULA (Paul Morrissey, 1974) (Fig.2), a film combining a blend of classic horror and art house affiliation which enjoyed considerable commercial success on release in Japan (spawning a prodigious seven poster designs along the way), has Japanese laserdisc jacket design utilizing photo-montage at an elementary and subsequently striking level. This use of a pastiche of central images from the film aligns itself with Warhol’s pop art aesthetic whilst simultaneously emphasizing the film’s farcical humor amidst the art-gore sensibility.

(Fig.2) BLOOD FOR DRACULA (Columbia Video Disc, COLM-6227)

Conversely, Dario Argento’s PROFONDO ROSSO (1975) (Fig.3), although similarly acknowledged as an art house horror production, has laserdisc cover art clearly promoting the bloody and violent aspects of this Italian murder mystery (or ‘giallo’) over and above the movie’s narrative and character convolutions. Incidentally, this movie was re-titled SUSPIRIA 2 in Japan in an attempt to ally it with Argento’s own hugely successful SUSPIRIA (1977), regardless of the fact that this was a thematically unrelated production, however, which also happened to precede SUSPIRIA by two years!

(Fig.3) PROFONDO ROSSO / SUSPIRIA 2 (Columbia Video Disc, 98C59-6112)

Examining the reverse side of the laserdisc jacket to the aforementioned SUSPIRIA (Fig.4), one can see a typically strong photo-montage that utilizes scenes from the film arranged as if they form part of some diabolically fractured stained glass window. This layout may well have been influenced by the film’s stunning opening murder climax and suits the tone of the film tremendously. Similarly, on the reverse of the jacket to THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE (Tobe Hooper, 1974) (Fig.5), the gruesome patchwork of antihero Leatherface’s skin-mask would appear to constitute the basis for this deranged, fragmentary mosaic.

(Fig.4) SUSPIRIA (NEC Avenue, NALA-10022)


David Cronenberg’s CRASH (1996), a film adaptation of J.G. Ballard’s 1973 novel concerning the conceivable sexual potential of automobile crashes has received a Japanese laserdisc cover design quite unlike any other country’s promotional approach to this controversial movie. Whereas most international contributions have consisted of publicity material merely hinting at the film’s divergent psycho-sexual content, the Japanese laserdisc release of CRASH (Fig.6) has met with the subject matter head-on. Perhaps the most overtly literal pictorial presentation of the film’s themes has unabashedly been given centre stage here, with the cover’s full bleed still of the leg-ironed, fish-netted and scar tissued posterior of the character Gabrielle. The film’s title has been provocatively emblazoned centrally across the buttocks at the top of this image, at the apex of the triangle formed by the legs, which fittingly leads the eye into direct contact with the root of the subject’s unflinching, flirtatious stance.

(Fig.6) CRASH (Herald Films, PILF-7360)

This classic triangular composition also forms the basis for the Japanese re-release laserdisc cover to HALLOWEEN (John Carpenter, 1978) (Fig.7). Bold use of typeset at the base of this layout anchors this design whilst perspective is formed through the utilization of a smaller font above, enhancing the pyramid effect and forming a bridge to the image of The Shape looming above. The film’s original two tone livery of the complementary colours orange and blue is adhered to along with the inclusion of the iconic pumpkin head which will appeal to HALLOWEEN memorabilia purists everywhere.

(Fig.7) HALLOWEEN (Amuse Video, AML-0040)

Regarding another magnificent genre addition from director John Carpenter, the seemingly long lost art of the illustrated promotional piece makes a welcome appearance on the laserdisc jacket to THE THING (1982) (Fig.8). Possibly inspired by the original illustrated movie poster created by veteran artist Drew Struzan (which makes an appearance on the back of the jacket), the particular painted approach appearing on this cover, however, foregoes an ambiguous suggestion in favour of a full blown depiction of the titular ‘thing’. Thus, consistent with the Japanese horror and exploitation promotional art trend for excessiveness (allowing for this film’s equal footing in the science-fiction genre), this painting makes no apologies for fully revealing the startling and grotesque ‘Blair Monster’ in all it’s transformative glory. With reference to the execution of the artwork itself, this cover has more than likely been painted using acrylic as opposed to oil paint, due to its increased drying time and hence popularity with the commercial art and design sector where time is often at a premium.

(Fig.8) THE THING (CIC Video, PILF-1621)

An occasional misstep in artistic rationale can be evidenced, however, as on the laserdisc cover for Lucio Fulci’s THE BEYOND (1981) (Fig.9). Here, the inclusion of a cartoonish moniker which accompanies the Japanese title typography (a pair of hands bloodily thrusting forth, presumably from the film’s book of Eibon, to produce the film’s title in English), whilst a negligible icon, still forms a blot on the landscape of this terrific cover by most collectors’ standards. While noticeably not in keeping with the implacable and moribund tone of Fulci’s gothic delirium, this graphic may serve, however, as a minor nod to enthusiasts of the frivolous and kitsch.

(Fig.9) THE BEYOND (Daiei Video Disc, DLZ-0117)

Research into exactly who the artists and designers were who created these laserdisc sleeves unfortunately uncovers little information of significance. As per common practice in the industry, the layout and design would normally be either commissioned by the publisher of the laserdisc to an outside agent or undertaken by an in-house team of personnel skilled in the art of publicity, design and typeset. As a result, and in the majority of cases, credit for a given design concept and it’s execution can only be assigned to the publishing company in general as opposed to a particular person or team.

The addition of a colorful band of paper that folds or wraps either vertically, horizontally or diagonally around the laserdisc jacket (and also compact discs) is a standard marketing practice in Japan. This distinguishing packaging component has been termed an ‘obi’ strip by Japanese speaking non-natives unaware of the fact that the true term is in fact ‘tatsuki’, meaning ‘ribbon’. ‘Obi’ is actually the Japanese word used to refer to the sashes used as belts that are worn over traditional kimonos and martial art uniforms; however, it has now been adopted by the Japanese too, in this context, for sake of ease. The purpose of the obi strip is two-fold; for the prospective buyer it lists the film’s title in Japanese (usually phonetic) along with relevant information such as audio and visual technical details, special features and related promotions and for the seller it displays product code information and retail price to enable efficient trade (Fig.10).

(Fig.10) Japanese laserdiscs complete with obi

For a memorabilia enthusiast, the inclusion of an obi strip on a laserdisc jacket elevates the collectability of the item over one where it has been discarded. This preservation of an original merchandising constituent, whilst being a fundamental procedure for collectors in most fields, also adds a packaging dimension and element of design to the laserdisc, the result of which can be likened to the coveting effect of a bow tied around a gift.
The Gaga Communications laserdisc box set of ZOMBIE - DAWN OF THE DEAD Perfect Collection (Fig.11) has an obi strip made of a particularly attractive silver mylar paper which wholly compliments the similar treatment of the box. The two gatefold jackets inside (necessary to accommodate the four discs) plus the sixteen page booklet have been afforded a lavish text and design layout the quality and depth of which has rarely been seen on any other laserdisc (Fig.12, 13, 14). Greetings from director George A. Romero and producer Dario Argento, plot synopsis, a comprehensive mosaic of stills, floor plans of Monroeville Mall, plus a catalogue of related items only available from Japan and even a section on the film’s bloopers, round out the contents of this package ensuring that of all the memorabilia items borne from the DAWN OF THE DEAD universe, this must rank as one of the most desirable. Romero’s 1978 masterpiece has Japanese cover art which sports a central graphic that replaces the iconic American ‘bald head zombie’ logo with a similarly emblematic ‘gas mask head’ silhouette. The striking and ominous monochromatic depiction of this military figurehead consequently manages to demonize this human authority enough as to make one wonder whether or not it is in fact the terror at large. As Roger DeMarco resolutely replies in the film, “Perfect, baby, perfect”.

(Fig.11) ZOMBIE - DAWN OF THE DEAD Perfect Collection (Bandai/Emotion, BELL-745)
Laserdisc box set cover (left), booklet cover (right)
(Fig.12) ZOMBIE - DAWN OF THE DEAD Perfect Collection (Bandai/Emotion, BELL-745)
Gatefold inner to the George A. Romero Director’s Cut
(Fig.13) ZOMBIE - DAWN OF THE DEAD Perfect Collection (Bandai/Emotion, BELL-745)
Gatefold inner to the Dario Argento European Cut
(Fig.14) ZOMBIE - DAWN OF THE DEAD Perfect Collection (Bandai/Emotion, BELL-745)
Two pages from the booklet showing an example of the design and layout

- All laserdiscs referenced are from the author’s collection -


Japanese Movie Chirashi

Japanese movie 'chirashi' flyers are 'mini posters', usually 7"x10", distributed only in Japanese movie theatres to advertise and commemorate a films release. More popular to collect in Japan than larger posters, they appeal to the 'kawaii' sensibility of small and pretty.

The Japanese word 'chirashi' translates as 'to scatter, diffuse or disperse'. An English equivalent would be a flyer, an exhibition or a notification leaflet.

Chirashi feature artwork consisting of a mixture of photos and graphics that are usually unique to the chirashi flyer itself (ie. not reproduced on the posters or programs although their designs maybe derivative). On the reverse side they usually have Japanese text for promotion plus info on the release date or related events (often including the odd and endearing 'Engrish' translation) together with stills from the movie.

Although usually designed in portrait orientation, some are in landscape or banner style which are similar to the Japanese 'tatekan' meaning 'standing upright' format of some of the larger posters. Still others may open out to a four-page spread or advertise double bills.

For anyone interested in collecting chirashi, online auctions are a good place to start. In any event, simply browsing chirashi designs is a fine way to experience our much loved American, British and European movie images under the alternative and stimulating guise of the rising sun.

Below are a selection of chirashi from my collection:

David Cronenberg's CRASH

CANNIBAL APOCALYPSE oversize chirashi

George A. Romero's DAY OF THE DEAD

DAVID CRONENBERG - Collection has English text on the cover proclaiming "The return of the prince of 'cult' and countdown to 'crash' (although CRASH is not included in the line-up), plus 'Exterminate your rational thought!'. Features the following films: THE DEAD ZONE, VIDEODROME and SCANNERS.

English text on the back of the PHENOMENA chirashi says: 'Jennifer! You're So Beautiful' plus there is an advert for the cinema's 'Phenomena Cranky Sound' audio system.


REDNECK RAMPAGE, a 2007 presentation of Tobe Hooper films features THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE, EATEN ALIVE and THE SHOCKING TRUTH Documentary.

MOTHER OF TEARS mini chirashi

THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE - Only for the first movie was the title noun 'Chain Saw' two seperate words. For the sequels 'Chainsaw' was used...


TENEBRE goes under the alternative title of SHADOW in Japan.


DAVID LYNCH - Triple Nightmare features a triple bill of: DUNE, BLUE VELVET and ERASERHEAD.

Fulci's ZOMBIE is entitled SANGUELIA in Japan.

English text on the DAWN OF THE DEAD Newspaper chirashi says 'King Of Perfect Version'.

DAWN OF THE DEAD Newspaper (back)

DAWN OF THE DEAD 2010 Re-release

Article Copyright © 2010 by Silver Ferox Key Art & Design