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Year: 1969
Language: English
Format: 35mm Black & White
Runtime: 63 min
Director: David Cronenberg
Producer: David Cronenberg
Writer: David Cronenberg
Cinematographer: David Cronenberg
Editor: David Cronenberg
Narration: Glenn McCauley, Mort Ritts
Cast: Ronald Mlodzik, Jack Messinger, Iain Ewing, Clara Meyer, Paul Mulholland, Arlene Mlodzik, Glenn McCauley
Production Company: Emergent Films Ltd.

Seven young adults volunteer for an experiment at the Canadian Academy of Erotic Inquiry in order to investigate the theories of the parapsychologist Luther Stringfellow. After their power of speech is surgically removed and their telepathic potential increased by a form of brain surgery, they are isolated in a stark, modern building where unseen researchers observe their behaviour on monitors. As the experiment progresses, the researchers report (via the film’s narration) on phenomena which supports Stringfellow’s theories. Later, aphrodisiacs and other drugs are added to the volunteers’ food in order to break down conventional repressions and expose a basic polymorphous perversity. In the final stage of the experiment, the participants are isolated from each other for long periods, provoking physical violence and two suicides.

With its impressive formal and structural innovations, David Cronenberg’s first feature is a true original. Clearly relatable to the thematic concerns of his later, more popular work, Stereo comments on modern science’s belief in its own potential and also functions as an absurdist statement on the obsessive introversion of science. The film was shot at the Scarborough College campus of the University of Toronto, and Cronenberg carefully evokes the alienating sterility of the original architecture to make a fitting setting for the themes of dehumanized sexuality and the rupture of the mind-body link. The oppressive sterility of the film is reinforced by the dispassionate images and the unfeeling narration. Often what is happening on the screen is far removed from the narrator’s observations, illustrating the incompatibility between what is experienced and what is observed. By combining these polarities, Cronenberg achieves a portrait of humankind’s schizophrenic nature, an idea that continues to be central to his cinema.

Cronenberg made Stereo when he was twenty-six, serving as his own producer, cinematographer and editor. He shot the film without synchronized sound in order to keep costs down (the budget was a stunningly low $3,500). The film garnered many laudatory reviews, including one from Robert Fulford, who later denounced Shivers as a waste of taxpayers’ money. Stereo was shown as part of a major retrospective of Cronenberg’s work at the 1983 Toronto Festival of Festivals (now the Toronto International Film Festival®) and was re-released commercially in 1984.

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