“Death to Videodrome. Long live the new flesh!”
When a small network executive comes across a signal depicting acts of torture and murder, he finds himself immediately intrigued. After years of airing the most offbeat, weird, and bizarre content, Renn can’t stop thinking about the pirated channel. But why? Is it broadcasting some kind of mind control or is there something larger, darker behind the signal?
Thought by some to be director/screenwriter Cronenberg’s groundbreaking moment – the moment irrevocably tied to his forthcoming rise to predominance as an important force, a visionary – Videodrome is Cronenberg’s seventh feature film. It doesn’t disappoint; managing to hold up – both visually and in terms of its story – after more than 30 years.
Following the moderate box office draw of Scanners, released just three years prior, Videodrome is a bizarre, often mind bending experience, wrought with occasionally extreme sexual behavior, sado-masochism, and healthy doses of Cronenberg’s signature body horror. It’s an important film when looking at not only Cronenberg’s body of work, but also the science fiction genre.
It’s perfect that Videodrome is set in the early 80’s, a time when decadence and ego-centric behavior pervaded the culture. Through advancements in technology, we were more connected to and with the world than we’d ever been. We could turn on our televisions and receive signals from other states and countries. Our world, and us in return, had forever changed.
Looking back 30 years on, the 80’s were really a sort of beginning – even though, the seeds for the technology that would enable this radical upheaval in our lives were planted decades before.
As Nikki Brand, Debbie Harry is both electric and terrifying. Brand is the quintessential Cronenberg femme fatale, complete with body issues and complicated sexual impulses that drive her to self-mutilation. Cronenberg explains that her name “refers to the razor cuts, or nicks, on her back and the ‘Brand’ refers to the moment when she brands herself with a cigarette burn to her breast.“
Brand is a complex character whose instincts and desires drive her to impulsively consume and experience even when it puts her in mortal danger. In a way, her psychological state is a form of terror unto itself. Debbie Harry, maybe best known as the lead singer of the rock group, Blondie, is perfect as Brand. At once totally inaccessible and yet seductive, she exudes the energy and self-possession of a rock star trapped in the body of a radio talk show host.
James Woods, who had been acting in film for over a decade prior to his portrayal of Renn in Videodrome, lends his particular brand of squirrely to his performance. As Renn is drawn further into the world of Videodrome, his hallucinations become increasingly bizarre and unsettling. It’s difficult for me to watch any performance of Woods’ and not think of him in Salvador; a condition from which most character actors like Woods suffer.
Videodrome continues to work in the modern setting, despite the use of now-antiquated technology (the use of a Betamax tape was necessitated due to it’s smaller size in relation to Renn’s abdominal orifice), because its themes remain ever present.
The further Renn is drawn into the Videodrome experience, the less connection he has to the tangible world. The depiction of our – sometimes sexualized – relationship with technology results in an obsessive need for more fantasy, to reach the far edges and see what, if anything, lay beyond. And that comes at a cost – for Renn, for Nikki, for everyone in the movie who even remotely comes into contact with Videodrome.
It is as if Cronenberg had looked into a crystal ball and foreseen the future of the Internet – a hub for every kind of pornography, imaginable or otherwise, available 24/7, 365.
Then, again, maybe he did.
Cronenberg has said that the idea for Videodrome came to him from his childhood days when he would pick up television channels originating from New York, late at night after the Canadian stations had gone offline. He was worried that he might “see something disturbing not meant for public consumption. This formed the basis for the plot of Videodrome.”
Come for the visual effects wizardry, stay for the S/M … or the hallucinations – you choose. But prepared for Cronenberg’s near-obsession with depicting holes in the human psyche as strangely eroticized orifices.
Making of Featurette:
David Cronenberg introducing Videodrome at TIFF in 2009:
Wiki facts: Videodrome
Is Videodrome rotten or fresh?
Criterion Collection: Videodrome
Related: Internal Bleeding reviews Videodrome