Friday, October 23, 2015


I would consider nearly all of writer/director David Cronenberg's films to be ahead of their time, though my revisit a few weeks back with 1983's VIDEODROME was downright startling.   Its foresight disturbs me now more than any of its violent or sexual content possibly could.  Cronenberg was always either in line with or ahead of the medical and technological worlds with his visions.  The director was surprised to learn that the research behind the amorous parasites in his 1975 low budgeter SHIVERS actually existed.

VIDEODROME follows Max (James Woods), president of a small Toronto cable TV station that features softcore programming.  He's been seeking different fare for his viewers, something "tougher".  He begins receiving curious satellite transmissions from what his technician believes is Malaysia.   Staticy, barely visible shots of people being tortured in a single room. Intrigued, Max begins pirating the signal, called "Videodrome" believing this to be the sort of edgy material that will boost his ratings.  He learns the transmissions are actually coming from Pittsburgh.

Max will learn quite a bit more about "Videodrome" - who created it, who's currently behind it, what its actual purpose is.  How his new girlfriend,  radio psychiatrist Nicki Brand (Deboarh Harry),  responds to it. Cronenberg's screenplay incorporates many conspiracy theory elements and corporate misdeeds, much like in his previous film SCANNERS.  The subject was so ripe.  People were increasingly glued to their TVs in the wake of cable and video game ubiquity in the late 70s/early 80s.  It seemed natural that the government or some corporation would seek to control the minds of such a captive audience.  To perhaps thin the herd of those who would seek to disagree with their agenda.

Max discovers that viewers of "Videodrome" develop brain tumors, which in turn cause hallucinations.  Are those screaming about cell phone use causing acoustic neuromas so off the mark?  Will virtual reality soon no longer require special gear? Is this part of the Plan?

It's hard not to wonder about the proliferation of reality TV over the last decade plus in such a context.  But TV as a whole (along with the plethora of devices on which to view it) has indeed become more real than people's real lives, as a Marshall Mchuan-esque character called Brian O'Blivion states in VIDEODROME. How, as another character muses, "North America is getting weak, soft.  The rest of the world is getting stronger".  Sound familiar? The devolution has been happening for some time.

Cronenberg continues his "body horror" stylings to great effect in VIDEODROME, featuring characters who become human VCRs, plunging videotapes straight into their abdomens.  The disgusting manifest of "Videodrome"'s effects, sexual and otherwise.  There is both creation and death in this imagery. Makeup whiz Rick Baker does some nauseatingly good work, especially in a late death scene that outdoes the exploding head in SCANNERS. 

So how long before we assume "the new flesh"? Or has it already happened?
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