Framing the Cheeseburger: The Fly (1986)

Image result for The Fly 1986

Okay, so I was going to revisit The Bodyguard (1992). However, I got distracted by TV re-runs, and so I’m going to do the Time Warp back to another crowd-pleasing romance – 1986’s The Fly.

Quite a leap in film choice, you might say. Okay, well, bear with me. This will be fun. I think.

So back in 1986, I desperately wanted to see David Cronenberg’s latest opus, the posters of which adorned billboards across Melbourne. Alas, my parents had other ideas for their six-year-old, and so I found myself in a cinema watching The Boy Who Could Fly. Which, come to think of it, was itself quite a dark film. Here’s the trailer for that one …

And so it was on that cinematic outing that I discovered the elevators at Melbourne’s Parliament Station. Those long, long elevators that led to who-knows-where.

Image result for Parliament Station elevators

Okay, I digress. Back to the topic at hand …

Fast-forward to 1991. I’m wandering around the local video shop, when I spot The Fly in the ‘Horror’ section. There it is, the celluloid forbidden fruit itself, concealed inside a squeaky videocassette box adorned with images of Jeff Goldblum  in various states of undress.

Two more years pass, and it’s January 1993. The same month I first saw The Bodyguard, actually. I finally pluck up the courage to ask my parents if I can indulge in the taboo terror flick. And this time they say ‘yes’.

So, as some of you will know, Cronenberg’s The Fly is a remake – and here, I want to stress, a very loose remake – of a 1958 creature feature. The film that gave us Vincent Price in a rare good guy role, and the immortal ‘help meeee! Help meeee!’

Cronenberg’s film is also adapted from George Langelaan’s 1957 short story, which I have not read, and which indeed I knew nothing of until recently. I will check it out.

The films at a cocktail party, when boy meets girl. Boy is Seth Brundle (Jeff Goldblum), a brainy and eccentric scientist. Girl is Veronica Quaife (Geena Davis), a journo looking for her Big Scoop.

Very soon, Seth is inviting Veronica back to his warehouse home/laboratory so he can show her his etchings – and his technological innovation. Our Man Brundle has invented a teleportation machine – that is, a device that transports matter from one ‘pod’ to another. Suddenly, Veronica realises that she’s got her cover story – and her dream guy.

Alas, there is a fault in this couple’s stars. One evening, Veronica rushes off to have it out (as opposed to off) with Stathis Borans (John Getz), her ex-lover and current editor, who’s been stalking her obsessively. Believing that she’s gone to indulge in a spot of ‘ex sex’, Seth hits the bottle. Fortified by champagne, he decides to teleport himself. Not exactly a wise idea, given the grisly fate of the baboon that travelled from pod to pod. Unlike that baboon, Seth makes the journey in one piece. Unfortunately, a blowfly has buzzed into the pod with him …

Much has been written about The Fly‘s special effects, which were ‘out there’ for 1986. For my money, though, the film’s highlight is the script. Everyone remembers the line ‘Be afraid. Be very afraid’, which was used in the movie’s marketing campaign, and which is uttered with deadpan brilliance by Davis:

And what about that magical first date? A date that that Brundle initiates with one word: ‘Cheeseburgers’. Accompanied by hand movements that suggest that he is ‘framing’ the topic of discussion. Framing the cheeseburgers, as it were.

Yes, a first date over cheeseburgers. But what kind of a first date would you expect with Jeff Goldblum?

Indeed, throughout the film, the food-as-sex metaphor becomes even more explicit. Brundle’s metamorphosis into ‘Brundefly’ is accompanied by an increased appetite for sugary goods and nookie. After one of their ubiquitous nude wrestles, Quaife turns to her lover and gushes: ‘I want to eat you up!’ (A cheeseburger line, if ever there was one).

There is also the kind of psychoanalytic undercurrent that has been prevalent in Cronenberg’s oeuvre. Brundle appears decidedly boyish against the mature, maternal Quaife. Indeed, at one point, he refers to her as his ‘mother’ (subtle!) Stathis makes an appropriately ‘scummy’ (his word) father figure.

It’s to the credit of the leading actors that the Brundle-Quaife romance is so compelling. Goldblum and Davis kinda resemble twins, with their brown bouffants  and their bug (appropriate!) eyes. Their quirky aesthetics and believable chemistry lift them above the standard airbrushed, superficial blockbuster coupling.

Actually, it might have helped that Goldblum and Davis were (around that time) a real life couple. Here’s a shot of the lovebirds circa the late 80s.

Jeff Goldblum and Geena Davis

Can’t ya just smell the hairspray?

Finally, but importantly, The Fly is funny. And not unintentionally funny in the way that so many monster flicks are. Cronenberg’s film squeezes laughter and pathos out of the most ghoulish of situations. Who knew that losing an ear would be so chuckle-worthy, as well as … well, sad?

It’s this blend of humour and pathos that lifts The Fly above the standard exploitation flick. It’s also a blend that would have gone over the head of that boy in Davis’ Movieworld, who was transfixed by that squeaky videocassette cover and the promise of bilious brutality that was tucked inside. It’s the blend that was worth waiting all those years for. And that continues to be worth revisiting.

One day, I will revisit The Bodyguard. And The Boy Who Could Fly.



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