In 1972 David Cronenberg’s resume as a filmmaker consisted of Stereo (1969) and Crimes of the Future (1970)—both of those movies, incidentally, are available quite affordably if you order the 2-disc Fast Company DVD set. The latter title, Crimes of the Future, would also function pretty well for Secret Weapons, a 22-minute movie Cronenberg directed for the Canadian Broadcasting Company in 1972. Secret Weapons appeared on some kind of anthology show called Programme X. His friend Norman Snider wrote the script; he would work with Cronenberg again much later, on the screenplay for Dead Ringers. That’s Snider as “The Wise Man”—so IMDb has it—but in all honesty I’m not sure which character that refers to. More recent pics of Snider would make you think that Snider played the main character, but I’m just not sure.
Secret Weapons is some kind of a tossed-off dystopian movie; it’s a mite overdetermined. It cribs liberally from both Huxley and Orwell and probably Kubrick too, and its scary countercultural attitudinizing probably had the identical flavor as a lot of sci-fi of that moment. The premise is that we’re five years into the future—1977—and the United States is embroiled in a civil war. A company named General Pharmaceutics runs society—as the voiceover states, “This gigantic producer of medicines and drugs succeeded in its takeover of technology and soon after, all of society.” General Pharmaceutics has developed mind control drugs and is desirous that a talented young researcher accept their party line, but he’s far too apathetic to care either way. They send him out for some indoctrination and he meets with the leader of the only thing that passes for a resistance, some biker gangs that operate outside of organized society which are, intriguingly, headed up by a woman.
To call this a biker movie may be going too far—motorcycles are on the screen for just a few seconds. This was Cronenberg’s first movie with synced sound, and it shows. What Secret Weapons mainly is is talky, and the voiceover chimes in frequently just in case you hadn’t absorbed enough desultory chatter (actually, there are two voiceovers). Cronenberg has made so many fascinating movies that an early short about mind control can’t help but be interesting, but really my takeaway is that he had a ways to go. His first feature, Shivers, would be released three years later.
You have to admire Cronenberg for wanting to cram so many ideas into his movie, though—even if they were a bit clichéd for the era, a bit half-baked. My favorite thing in it is whatever was brushing and prodding the protagonist’s interviewer around five minutes in. We’re given the impression that the interview is happening in the same room as some committee, but we never see them, we just see objects occasionally intrude into the frame and stroke or otherwise touch the interviewer.
Did I mention this is pretty low-budget?