Director: Godfrey Reggio; Original Music by Philip Glass; Starring Jeff Goldblum, Geena Davis, and John Getz.
“It began as a silly Funny or Die video,” says Jeff Goldblum, “Right away there was buzz for a remake. Buzz probably isn’t the right word, all things considered.”
The star of the original David Cronenberg film took some time to sit with us outside a French bistro in Echo Park to discuss the inception and execution of what some critics are calling the most avant-garde film since Andy Warhol’s Blowjob (1964).
“They’ve been talking about a remake of The Fly for years. Who fucking knew,” producer Cassian Elwes told Variety.
Who knew, indeed. People still don’t know. If they do, they don’t believe it. Who would? You’re crazy to believe any of this.
The scoop: in 2009 Goldblum was approached by two USC film students to appear in a two-minute spoof of 1986’s The Fly.
“We had a dollar fifty to shoot this,” Goldblum says between cigar puffs, “I kid you not. Certain sacrifices had to be made.”
The success of the Funny or Die video is old news, as it enjoyed over thirty million hits and remains wildly popular on Twitter and Reddit.
What’s not old news is how the viral video got the attention of filmmaker Godfrey Reggio (Koyaanisqatsi).
“I don’t even use the internet,” Reggio said in a Skype interview. “An assistant cameraman on Visitors showed me this video on his smart phone in between takes, and it was like mainlining the collective unconscious. I saw the film. I saw the whole film. There is no question this is the greatest movie I will ever make.”
The film is a shot-for-shot remake of The Fly (1986), which itself is a remake of The Fly (1958) only this time with no make-up or effects whatsoever.
“Without the distraction of FX and the gross-out factor, this becomes a primal study of identity, of what happens when the inner darkness of a man comes out onto the surface, but you just can’t see it,” Reggio says.
The film, scored by Philip Glass, follows scientist Seth Brundle as he experiments in his loft with teleportation.
“The dog scene was challenging,” Goldblum said. “We all know what happened to the dog in the original film. In this version it’s the same thing, except when the dog teleports and my character opens the pod door, it’s just the dog playing dead and the pod isn’t even a pod, it’s a poorly-built camping tent large enough for one person. Still, you have to pretend it’s a teleportation pod and the dog’s been turned inside out. That’s not easy when it’s just a regular old happy dog you’re looking at.”
Actress Geena Davis, who reprises her role of Veronica Quaife adds, “As the film progresses, Jeff’s character’s supposed to be turning into a fly, losing parts of his face, you know, all those elements that made it into the original.”
“It’s not a horror film anymore,” Cronenberg told us, “It’s Jeff jumping off walls and Geena pretending he looks gross when it’s just Jeff being Jeff and he looks fine. What the fuck is that?”
It’s true that lines such as, “Be afraid. Be very afraid,” don’t pack the same wallop in this naturalist context. Even the arm-wrestling scene falters. Where Brundle originally breaks his opponent’s arm and snaps the bone in half, in Reggio’s version Goldblum barely pins him, although everyone in the bar freaks out.
“What attracted me to this project so much,” Reggio said, “is that we’re asked to suspend all sense of reality in order to embrace deadpan reality. That itself is a contradiction. This film is an examination of that contradiction.”
While the cinematography is faithful to the 1986 version, most of the shots are slower and meditative, much in the spirit of Reggio’s work on the qatsi pictures. For instance, there’s the one-minute close-up of a shirtless Goldblum staring at himself in the mirror, and the oner of Goldblum running toward the wall in slow motion in an attempt to cling mosquito-like using all four limbs, which might ordinarily seem comical, but when viewed through Reggio’s lensing and Glass’s hypnotic score, causes you to question who you are in this world, and what the fuck you’re even doing.
“A fly gets into the pod. But Martin Brundle emerges as Martin Brundle. Does he think he’s turning into a fly? Absolutely. Is he turning into a fly? Not for me to say. Who says the fly and I are all that separate to begin with?” Reggio says.
Which seems to be the point, when you think about it. The Fly suggests we’re all one big organism anyway, a theme in all of Reggio’s films, to the point that the co-mingling of human and insect DNA would yield no visible or tangible results.
Others aren’t so convinced.
Says actor John Getz, reprising his role of Stathis Borans, “When Jeff’s character pukes his acid reflux on my ankle, my foot doesn’t fall off this time, not at all, and in fact, it’s only orange soda that’s streaming out of his mouth. It works in no way whatsoever. Not even as deleted scenes. Sure it’s scary, but more the other scary than scary scary.”
“It’s easily the scariest film I’ve seen since The Ring,” says actor Elijah Wood, who isn’t even in the movie, but whom Reggio is eyeballing to play Goldblum’s son in the remake of The Fly 2. “Negative space and all that. It’s pretty rad.”
With the film generating all kinds of buzz about genre lines, minimalism, and a new wave in independent filmmaking, several other filmmakers are following suit, including the producers of the The Final Destination franchise, Warren Zide and Craig Perry.
“We’re rebooting the franchise. It’s exactly the same The Final Destination as before, just with really old people.”
Adam Cushman holds an MFA in fiction writing from Columbia University. His short stories have appeared in The Mississippi Review, Trop, The St. Petersburg Review, El Portal and elsewhere. He teaches fiction writing at Writing Workshops Los Angeles and is the President of Red 14 Films. His novel CUT releases February 2014 from Black Mountain Press.