Feb 22, 2011

Cult Classics - Videodrome (1983)

(or: Movie Review #8)
"Death to Videodrome! Long Live the New Flesh!"

Ever since I watched Videodrome, it has been nearly impossible to keep thoughts of it out of my mind. It's without a doubt one of the most intriguing and thought-provoking films I have ever laid eyes on. And since I've been obsessing over it for the past day and a half, I thought: "What the hell! I should just write a review to get it out of my system!". So here I am, doing just that.

How did I come in contact with Videodrome? Well, when I was out in the city with my brother and our friend to go see the Toronto Auto Show, we spent some time beforehand shopping. When I was in HMV (THE place for CDs, DVDs, and BDs), I looked at Videodrome, and I finally decided that I should purchase it. I made a semi-impulsive purchase, since I had been wanting to see the film for some time before. It cost me an arm and a leg, but I was willing to spend that much money so I could  get my first taste of David Cronenberg, at last. I find it funny how I'm Canadian and I haven't seen any of his films before Videodrome. What's even funnier is how most Canadians don't even know who in the world David Cronenberg is! This is the epitome of the dominance of Hollywood cinema throughout the world!

Anyway, I mainly bought the film because I wanted to devour something weird and surreal for a change. I believe I've grown a particular fondness for bizarre cinema ever since I've seen Black Swan. Did Videodrome satisfy my craving? Yes. Yes, it did. Very much so.

So what is this film about, already?! I'll try my best to explain it, even though I asked myself "What the hell did I just come from watching?!" when the credits rolled.

Videodrome centers on Max Renn, this shabby, lowlife man who runs this TV channel in Toronto called "Civic TV Channel 83". He's always searching for the kind of programming that will make his viewers happy, and by this I mean cheap movies of an extremely violent or pornographic nature. So one day, he goes to see his employee Harlan, who manages to pick up a pirate video transmission showing rape, torture, and murder. This show is called "Videodrome". Max is unable to look away from the screen; from this point on all he thinks about is "Videodrome". He is convinced that "soft porn" is getting old and that this is exactly what the people want in this ever-changing society. After contacting his supplier Masha, he is told that "Videodrome" isn't staged, but rather "for real". While he continues his investigation, his messed-up girlfriend Nicki decides to go to Pittsburgh, where the show is based, so she can audition for the show she was "meant for". As the film progresses, strange events unfold and Max is becoming increasingly delirious. He learns that his frequent hallucinations are caused by the tumor that is growing in his head, a result of being a victim of the transmissions of "Videodrome". Ultimately, he is being turned into a weapon to fight in this gigantic conspiracy of oddity.

As you can probably tell, this movie sure is weird. It gets into your mind from the get-go, and for the next hour and a half, it tries to eat its way out. Cronenberg is able to craft something that's very grotesque and creepy, but at the same time, some parts are so wacky and ridiculous that the whole thing can come off as a black comedy. Cronenberg's script has many cult film qualities-- for instance, just look at the memorable line "Long Live the New Flesh!". It seems as though it was his intention to make something that would go down as a cult classic, years from its release. Luckily, it has that status today.

You can count out what I said about the film being funny, because-- come to think of it-- as a whole, it's rather terrifying. Along with Cronenberg, I would like to applaud those who were in charge with the makeup and special effects. Because, let me tell you, they really did a fantastic job. The astonishing makeup contributed so much to the spookiness of the film. I would put it on the same level as the makeup in John Carpenter's "The Thing", to be honest. From the hand armed with a gun that protrudes out of a TV screen, to the giant vertical video slot that stretches across Max's chest and devours whatever is inserted in it, this film is truly amazing on the technical level. Moreover, I was quite surprised to see the name "Howard Shore" appear in the opening credits. If you're completely oblivious, I'll have you know that Howard Shore is the genius behind the film score of Lord of the Rings, as well as many other beautiful works. He did a great job with Videodrome, creating very surreal and haunting music. Interestingly enough, he began his career composing for many of Cronenberg's films, and he has stuck with the man ever since.  

Woah, wait a second. I haven't even talked about the actors yet. But in my opinion, the film isn't as much about the acting as it is about the strange events. Having said that, the film stars James Woods as Max Renn, who I believe is the perfect choice, since he and his character seem to have the same personality. Other than Deborah Harry, the rest of the cast is filled with a bunch of relatively unknown actors. When I was watching the film, the name "Deborah Harry" said something to me, but I couldn't quite put my finger on it. "Where have I heard this name before?", I asked myself. Of course, I had to "IMDb" it, and to my pleasant surprise, I discovered that she's the singer/songwriter of Blondie, one of the best bands of the late 70s! She was surprisingly decent in the movie; her eccentric character gave me the shivers.

There's one trivial thing about Videodrome that I felt like pointing out. Being from the whereabouts of Toronto, it was great to see so many shots of the streets and the cityscape in the film. Cronenberg sure showed a lot more of Toronto than Edgar Wright did with Scott Pilgrim vs. the World! But that's beside the point. I just thought it was hilarious how the tramway shown in one of the exterior shots in the film looked almost exactly the same as the actual tramway! As a matter of fact, even the buildings looked the same. Has Toronto stayed the same for the past 30 years?! Haha!

Getting back to the substance of Videodrome, I have to ask myself what message David Cronenberg was trying to convey through the gruesome scenes he directed, the beautifully horrifying shots he composed, and the peculiar screenplay he wrote. The way I interpreted it, Videodrome is a study of the effects of television on society, but more of a mockery on what people feared it had the power of doing back when it was first introduced. This makes sense, because Cronenberg would've been growing up when TV was becoming a part of-- or taking over-- the American family and lifestyle. I guess the film was also a sort of social critique, showing how society was becoming more and more immoral or unethical over the years, losing all traditional values, and taking pleasure in watching violence, pornography, etc.. I wish I could ask Cronenberg himself what his intentions were in the making of Videodrome. But I guess I could find the answers in the interviews or special features that came with the copy of the movie.

And of course, no twisted film is complete without sado-masochistic sex scenes! I just thought I'd put a warning out there in case you were thinking of watching this with someone who would be appalled by such things-- like maybe your parents?

In sum, Videodrome is a very bizarre, nightmarish Cronenberg masterpiece. It completely immerses the viewer and provokes much thought about the transformation of values in a society, which is partly due to the groundbreaking technological advancements accomplished.


And now it's time for me to see more of David Cronenberg's work. Next in line are "The Fly", "Eastern Promises", and "A History of Violence".