Arrow Video’s new restoration of David Cronenberg’s Videodrome (1983) follows in the footsteps of Rabid (1977) and Shivers (1975) also restored and re-released on dual format this year. Each film with its disc-filled extras is clearly a labour of love.
Just preceding the Video Nasties Act of 1984, Videodrome, I’m sure would have gotten Mary Whitehouse’s knickers in a twist with the film’s provocative, paranoiac and altogether pleasure-seeking premise. The narrative centres on Civic TV executive Max Renn (James Woods) and his quest to find the next ‘big thing’ in sensationalist programming. His station is responsible for “soft core pornography and hard core violence” which Renn unapologetically justifies as a result of economics. Moral questions arise surrounding the over-stimulation of the consumer following exposure to dehumanising images via the media. These questions are depicted through metaphor, potential Freudian imagery and the former protégé of Dick Smith, multi-Oscar winning make-up effects Wizard Rick Baker (Smith famously created the exploding head in Scanners). Fellow Canadian, composer Howard Shore, yet again, provides the score (Shore and Cronenberg have worked together on all but The Dead Zone) and employs the use of a Synclavier II synthesiser alongside an orchestra. This electronic sound adds a dark, ominous, even metallic, tone to the film and aids with the 80s nostalgia along with the coiffed hair, shoulder pads and leather ties.
Renn stumbles upon Videodrome – a pirate television station which depicts the torture, brutality and eventual death of its subjects. Becoming obsessive to continually transgress social boundaries, Renn shows the footage to his girlfriend Nicki Brand (a hypnotic Deborah Harry) who, by her own admission, is the perfect over-stimulated test audience. She is sexually free (connoted by her costume, both cut and colour) and is immediately enamoured at the premise of the snuff sequences. Her enthusiasm for all things dark and painful grows and she even disappears to audition in Pittsburgh upon hearing the show is filmed there. Left alone, Max begins to suffer hallucinations; disturbing, intriguing visions which only seek to feed his need to consume the morally ambivalent visual media and further blur the line between fantasy and reality. His interactions with the Marshall McLuhan-inspired Brian O’Blivion (velvet-voiced Jack Creley, only ever visible via a television screen) increase the bizarre especially when we learn O’Blivion’s history to Videodrome. It is an aesthetically pleasurable film; body parts are fetished, Betamax tapes pulsate and television undulate and literally swallow the flesh.
Anybody familiar with the articulately intense septuagenarian director will immediately recognise the body consciousness which is prevalent in a large percentage of his oeuvre. The man, who has cited Bergman, Fellini and Kurosawa as main inspirations, presents the limitations of the human body within his own artistic nihilism. Ideologies are often invasive and monstrous, the embodied becomes disembodied whilst sex and violence surrounds, causes, or indeed invades the diegesis. There can be contradictory readings of Cronenberg’s films; does he fight for the patriarchal pleasures he depicts and stray dangerously close to misogyny or destroy said pleasures while reinforcing the fragility of the physical body and mind? While the male consciousness is seen in crisis and at odds with the social world around him, it is the female body which appears abject and the site of disgust. In Videodrome, the male mind becomes more abhorrent through feminine imagery; Renn’s torso is repeatedly violated via the vagina-like opening. Or perhaps, it is like the man himself stated a few years ago; he plugs into the zeitgeist, examines and plays around with it. In simple terms Cronenberg’s films are about life and death yet he cleverly uses the horror and prosthetics as a distancing tactic. He questions who or what we are and presents, albeit through social paranoia and viscera, the evolutionary limitations of the human body and the emotional terror of the waking nightmare.
Videodrome has never been more relevant in the face of the current media and image appropriation. It is disorientating, visually audacious and presents an ideology which is fascinating, wholly original but is, perhaps, one of the more convoluted Cronenbergs. That said, as a first time viewer (yes, I know…) the experience of it was exhilarating.
Review originally posted by The Digital Fix. Found in its entirety here: Long live the new flesh…