What’s this? Videodrome? – Torture. Murder.
I rarely get ‘obsessed’ with movies. When I do, they’re almost always horror flicks. My newest obsession is David Cronenberg’s 1983 masterpiece Videodrome. (Long live the New Flesh!)
I’ve heard of Cronenberg’s work through the horror ether but the only film of his I’ve seen to date is The Fly. And that was only bits and pieces as a child. Considered the father of ‘body horror’, Cronenberg’s work explores the visceral transformation of the human form through infection, technology or the paranormal along with the accompanying psychological trauma. His work influenced Tetsuo: The Iron Man, a great Japanese short where a man is taken over by metal (and which I wrote a monster mashup for the film’s villain Yatsu, a few months ago after seeing it at a small Japanese film fest), along with countless others, including the New French Extremity movement that includes films like Martyrs (not an easy watch, by the way).
Videodrome follows a young James Woods who is at times sleazy, mystical and charming. He heads up a public access channel as Max Renn in the early eighties that plays pornography and violent television shows. After being clued in to a pirated broadcast known as Videodrome, a satellite feed of people being tortured and killed, Max begins hallucinating, then comes under control of the company responsible for the signal who turn him into an assassin. However he is quickly turned into double-agent of sorts by the companies rival, a daughter of the signal’s creator, Brian O’Blivion and begins murdering individuals in the original company. Eventually, Max ends up committing suicide once the hallucinations overtake him and believes the hallucinations are leading to the next stage of human consciousness, evolution or both.
That’s the entire plot of the film, spoilers and all. The thing about Videodrome is – the plot is largely incidental. You can known exactly how the film will end and the journey is still a trippy ride. With anatomical ‘chest-vagina’s’ forming on Max’s chest, pulsating video cassettes, bio-mechanical pistols and whipping scenes within whipping scenes, the film unfolds like a dream, never revealing how much is real and how much is fantasy. Normally I am not too keen on ‘dream movies’ but five minutes into Videodrome and I was hooked.
The atmosphere, right from the get-go is oppressive, omnipresent and paranoid. Cronenberg creates a believably seedy world that exists below and behind the mass media of the day, ruled by cynical businessmen and jaded creators. But even worse are the films two antagonists – the company responsible for the Videodrome signal and the ‘new flesh’ advocate played by Sonja Smits, Brian O’Blivion’s daughter.
Its the completely dispassionate nature of all the forces working against Max, the obvious, the hidden and the masquerading that pulls him in one direction or the other. For his part, James plays his character with a fluid ambivalence, perfectly representing the nature of modern man who is awash in ideologies that have no concern for him as an individual and the technology shaping him into the ‘New Flesh’.
Despite its eighties technology, Videodrome is remarkably fresh and relevant, nearly forty years later. In a world where social media determines how we see the world, altering our perceptions of others and ourselves, corporations feed us propaganda to get us to ‘click, buy and share’ and surveillance is ingrained into us, Videodrome’s message was both prescient and prophetic.
And from a gaming perspective, the technology of Videodrome introduces some early cybernetic concepts – like bioware!