PopMatters is moving to WordPress. We will publish a few essays daily while we develop the new site. We hope the beta will be up sometime late next week.

Fast Company (1979): Blu-ray

Fast Company

Director: David Cronenberg
Cast: William Smith, Claudia Jennings, John Saxon, Nicholas Campbell
Distributor: Blue Underground
Studio: Danton Films
UK Release Date: 2009-05-19
US Release Date: 2009-05-19

Until recently, David Cronenberg was known only as the king of biological horror. His brutal looks at life and the physiological foundations of fear made uncomfortable classics like Rabid, The Brood, Scanners, and Videodrome fright film masterworks. Today, he dabbles in all manner of contemporary drama, cruelty tingeing works as diverse as A History of Violence, eXistenZ, and his brilliant Russian mob movie Eastern Promises. As with any auteur, it's interesting to look back on their entire career and trace the steps that brought their visionary style to the fore. And while many may laugh at the suggestion, the drag racing morality tale Fast Company is completely within his surreal sphere of aesthetic influence. Made in 1979, this fascinating film proves that Cronenberg could fetishize anything - from a deformed corpse to a shiny chrome engine.

When his prized dragster goes up in flames, renowned driver Lonnie "Lucky Man" Johnson appears down for the count. FastCo corporate rep Phil Adamson doesn't want to spring for another vehicle, and besides, there's a perfectly good automobile waiting for someone capable to pilot it to victory. Of course, this leaves funny car trainee Billy "The Kid" Brocker feeling a little unappreciated. Things get worse when Adamson demands Johnson take over the driving of the fabled asphalt fastback. Tempers flare both on and off the track, with reigning champion Gary "The Blacksmith" Black doing most of the jawing. Eventually, Adamson grows tired of Johnson's prima donna ways, and plans of replacing him with the entire Blacksmith crew. When he discovers this, Johnson makes off with his machine, preps it for the upcoming Race of Champions, and hopes to put Adamson, Black and FastCo in their place once and for all.

Like an old school exploitation flick aimed directly at the seedy passion pits of the Deep South, David Cronenberg's Fast Company (rereleased on Blu-ray by Blue Underground) is part melodrama, part detailed how to, part low budget romp, and 100% Canadian craftsmanship. Call him whatever you want - the master of clinical macabre, the professor of physical fear - but this amazing filmmaker is clearly gifted in the unquestionable basics of moviemaking. Treating his story as the nexus for an examination of all things mechanical, this is a gearhead's dream deconstructed and fused with a perfectionist's purposed vision. Cronenberg takes his camera in, around, and through his vehicles, offering shots unheard of by late '70s standards. As tires burn down the quarter mile strip, smoke and heat radiating off of fiberglass and metal, his lens measures every RPM, his mise-en-scene making the horsepower scream with piston pumping adrenalin.

Cronenberg clearly loves the sport, never talking down to or ridiculing its 'need for speed' allure. Similarly, his characters are carefully considered, motivation and meaning being derived from both conversations and the 200mph contests. Old school faces like William Smith and John Saxon do a great job with their slightly subdued parts, while newcomers Nicholas Campbell, Cedric Smith, and beauties Claudia Jennings and Judy Foster add to the overall authenticity of the experience. Cronenberg hired actual pit crews from the Northern drag circuit to handle his action and the scenes of quarter mile competition are realistic to a fault. Whenever something goes wrong, we instantly cringe, remembering how little of said accident was actually faked. Indeed, you can practically smell the burned rubber coming off the tarmac during many of these 'make or break' sequences.

This will all come as quite a shock to fans familiar with his Grand Guignol gross out gems like The Fly. In fact, outside of the intricate detailing over every aspect of the vehicles, it's often tough to find Cronenberg here. His usual operatic style is stymied, the material not lending itself to the fascinating flourishes he utilizes to bring his 'cruelty as beauty' brilliance to life. Most of his movies center solidly on people, yet the players in Fast Company take second stage to the smell of grease and the roar of engines.

In fact, you have to go back further to find real links to his future filmmaking acumen. Luckily, Blue Underground provides them on this latest Blu-ray release. As usual, the format update makes the movie's 1080p transfer look stunning. There is nary a flaw in this occasionally grain filled 35mm image. Mimicking the original DVD title, we are treated to two ancient Cronenberg artifacts - 1969's future shock statement Stereo, and another speculative jewel, 1970's Crimes of the Future. Both of these hour long experiments in cinema explain that the fledgling visionary was constantly tweaking his talents. He would indulge in David Lynch like monochrome shockers one moment, only to turn around and manage a tempting mainstream entertainment like Fast Company.

Indeed, when you take all the added content offered here - the interviews with Smith and Saxon, the creative tell-all with longtime cinematographer Mark Irwin, you start to understand how Cronenberg came to this project. The corporate greed manifest in the evil efforts of Adamson. The skilled individual fighting to keep his head above such shark-infested waters. The competitive push from a formidable, if friendly, foe. The last act revelation and redemption. These are all elements that would make appearances throughout the filmmaker's venereal atrocities. You can see glimpses of Seth Brundle in Lonnie Johnson, wisps of Frank Carveth in Billy's 'desperate to make sense of things' novice. Cronenberg himself offers up a wonderful explanation of this film's place in his pantheon. You will find it on the commentary track, along with insights into his fascination with cars, his love of all things motor, and the reason why he never returned to the genre again.

It's interesting to note that, as he enters his fifth decade as a director, Cronenberg remains the most elusive of single category myths. Even with unsual attempts at breaking out of his macabre mode, movies with names like M. Butterfly, Spider, and Crash, he remains one of the true masters of intellectualized corpse grinding. Like Wes Craven or Sam Raimi, he just seems more comfortable among the bile and entrails than he does the typical cinematic song and dance. Of course, those of us who love fright wouldn't have it any other way. But it's important to remember that some of our favorite fear mongers actually dabbled in diversions outside the standard scary movie mix. Among his many sidetracks, Fast Company is clearly one of his more unique - and engaging - and fun.


Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology and hosting provider that we have less than a month, until November 6, to move PopMatters off their service or we will be shut down. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to save the site.





Laura Veirs Talks to Herself on 'My Echo'

The thematic connections between these 10 Laura Veirs songs and our current situation are somewhat coincidental, or maybe just the result of kismet or karmic or something in the zeitgeist.


15 Classic Horror Films That Just Won't Die

Those lucky enough to be warped by these 15 classic horror films, now available on Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection and Kino Lorber, never got over them.


Sixteen Years Later Wayne Payne Follows Up His Debut

Waylon Payne details a journey from addiction to redemption on Blue Eyes, The Harlot, The Queer, The Pusher & Me, his first album since his 2004 debut.


Every Song on the Phoenix Foundation's 'Friend Ship' Is a Stand-Out

Friend Ship is the Phoenix Foundation's most personal work and also their most engaging since their 2010 classic, Buffalo.


Kevin Morby Gets Back to Basics on 'Sundowner'

On Sundowner, Kevin Morby sings of valleys, broken stars, pale nights, and the midwestern American sun. Most of the time, he's alone with his guitar and a haunting mellotron.


Lydia Loveless Creates Her Most Personal Album with 'Daughter'

Given the turmoil of the era, you might expect Lydia Loveless to lean into the anger, amplifying the electric guitar side of her cowpunk. Instead, she created a personal record with a full range of moods, still full of her typical wit.


Flowers for Hermes: An Interview with Performing Activist André De Shields

From creating the title role in The Wiz to winning an Emmy for Ain't Misbehavin', André De Shields reflects on his roles in more than four decades of iconic musicals, including the GRAMMY and Tony Award-winning Hadestown.


The 13 Greatest Horror Directors of All Time

In honor of Halloween, here are 13 fascinating fright mavens who've made scary movies that much more meaningful.


British Jazz and Soul Artists Interpret the Classics on '​Blue Note Re:imagined'

Blue Note Re:imagined provides an entrance for new audiences to hear what's going on in British jazz today as well as to go back to the past and enjoy old glories.


Bill Murray and Rashida Jones Add Another Shot to 'On the Rocks'

Sofia Coppola's domestic malaise comedy On the Rocks doesn't drown in its sorrows -- it simply pours another round, to which we raise our glass.


​Patrick Cowley Remade Funk and Disco on 'Some Funkettes'

Patrick Cowley's Some Funkettes sports instrumental renditions from between 1975-1977 of songs previously made popular by Donna Summer, Herbie Hancock, the Temptations, and others.


The Top 10 Definitive Breakup Albums

When you feel bombarded with overpriced consumerism disguised as love, here are ten albums that look at love's hangover.


Dustin Laurenzi's Natural Language Digs Deep Into the Jazz Quartet Format with 'A Time and a Place'

Restless tenor saxophonist Dustin Laurenzi runs his four-piece combo through some thrilling jazz excursions on a fascinating new album, A Time and a Place.


How 'Watchmen' and 'The Boys' Deconstruct American Fascism

Superhero media has a history of critiquing the dark side of power, hero worship, and vigilantism, but none have done so as radically as Watchmen and The Boys.


Floodlights' 'From a View' Is Classicist Antipodal Indie Guitar Pop

Aussie indie rockers, Floodlights' debut From a View is a very cleanly, crisply-produced and mixed collection of shambolic, do-it-yourself indie guitar music.


CF Watkins Embraces a Cool, Sophisticated Twang on 'Babygirl'

CF Watkins has pulled off the unique trick of creating an album that is imbued with the warmth of the American South as well as the urban sophistication of New York.


Helena Deland Suggests Imagination Is More Rewarding Than Reality on 'Something New'

Canadian singer-songwriter Helena Deland's first full-length release Someone New reveals her considerable creative talents.


While the Sun Shines: An Interview with Composer Joe Wong

Joe Wong, the composer behind Netflix's Russian Doll and Master of None, articulates personal grief and grappling with artistic fulfillment into a sweeping debut album.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.