Wednesday, October 3, 2012

31 Days Of Horror: Videodrome

We have our first Son Of Danse Macabre purchaser's essay up today. With a look at Videodrome,  In the meantime remember that any reader can request their own review by sending me a picture of Son Of Danse Macabre on their Kindle or Nook

“There’s A Specter Haunting The World!”


“What Does The Disease Want?”

-The Fly-

“It has something you don’t Max.”

“Oh and what’s that?”

“It has a philosophy.”


There is always something haunting the world in David Cronenberg films. Odd for a man who is a staunch materialist, to have so much of the focus of his work focus on the effect of ineffable bodyless presences. Whether they be the poisonous emotional vapor in The Brood, the inescapable weight of the past in A Dangerous Method, Eastern Promises, and A History Of Violence, the evolution with malignant intelligence (philosophy?) in The Fly and Scanners, the mysteries of sex in They Came From Within and Crash. Even the creative impulse itself is suspect as the haunted Burroughes compelled, bullied and commanded by his hideous typewriter to write in The Naked Lunch shows. 

In Videodrome of course you have the airwaves themselves, humming unseen torrents of information around our head. Most of it fairly innocuous, or so we think but when the mask is peeled back.

Videodrome focuses on Max Wren, who let us not beat around the bush, is a pretty poor excuse for a human being. Making his living selling “Softcore sex and hardcore violence.” He’s always on the lookout for the next sensation. As Wren James Woods is fantastic, arguably his best performance, a figure of nearly gleeful amorality and an oily malignant charm. He's matched by Debbie Harry in one of her best performances, as a figure who originally is set up as a foil for Wren, but ultimately has more goblins in her headspace than even he can deal with. 

Wren gets more than he bargains for when he winds up stumbling upon Videodrome, a pirate signal that displays nothing but a single static shot of naked people being tortured by others in blue bodysuits, all done within a large clay room (and just how odd and alien does that set look?) “When do they leave the room?” he asks, they don’t, they never do. There’s no story, no context, just the repetition of sadistic imagery.

Of course Videodrome itself became famous for showing some pretty twisted imagery. It arguably contains the most aggressive assaultive imagery in Cronenberg’s career which is, you know saying something. But for all the TV’s exploding into intestines, handguns and chest vagina, is really a blind, like Videodrome itself Croneberg’s film contains within it its own malignant signal. A much less tangible and more sinister threat.

Because lets face it, nowadays anyone can access footage that would make what’s broadcast on Videodrome look PG with a simple Google search. The ease of access, quantity and sheer variety of sick shit that anyone literally anyone can get their hands on if they so choose would blow poor old Max Wren’s mind (well more than it already ends up blown anyway). Videodrome is one of those rare movies that time has caught up to without dating a whit. All one has to do to see that is compare it to Existenz, which though made much later than Videodrome looks far less prescient, and would seem to have little to nothing to do with our current mediascape. If as Videodrome suggests that the media, not the medium, is the message, then the message that our present sends us is that the average person has an appetite for some pretty twisted shit.

Seen that way Videodrome (and by exstension our own media) becomes the giant implacable id for the entire country, an invisible presence behind the background. Never articulated but always there. A specter haunting the world indeed.

Of course this being Cronenberg, nothing is clear cut.

(Spoilers of a particularly spoilery nature)

After the nearly assaultively abstract first half the events of Videodrome are revealed to have a lucid (well lucidish) explanation.  Videodrome itself is nothing but one big honey trap, a giant lure designed by the CIA to attract as many deviants as it can and give them the particularly nasty form of cancer (or new flesh) that Videodrome delivers. If this explanation seems disappointingly pat coming from Cronenberg, and when compared to the first half of the film the way it is delivered is anything but. Wood's hallucinations grow evermore violent and abstract, helped not at all by the various programmings and deprogrammings he goes through, vacillated by the giant vagina that may or may not have grown on his chest.

And here's where things get tricky, though Cronenberg's view on Max Wren and the broadcasts of Videodrome itself may be unsettlingly detached, he clearly has nothing but contempt for the moral majority types who are attempting to engineer what amounts to a genocide. A type of social engineering based eugenics.

Obviously this is something that Cronenberg abhors, but perhaps not for the reasons one would assume. After all the impulse behind it, and the ascension to the New Flesh that Cronenberg has made the subject of his career is very similar. An attempt to transcend a certain sort of human fallibility. Arguably that's precisely what Wren does here (though at the very least it would be almost impossible to say he does it on his own terms), though like Seth Brundle and Johnny Smith before him, he self immolates in the process. The line between self destruction and enlightenment is exceedingly thin in Cronenberg's cinematic landscape.

As I said before in a lot of ways it's Max Wren's world and we're just living in it. Cronenberg has in his own strange way become one of the most prescient filmmakers of his generation. And that my friends, is fucking scary. 

1 comment:

Unknown said...

For me, what is most striking about VIDEODROME is how ahead of its time it was in anticipating people’s fascination and access to the illegal and the forbidden. Max’s obsession with the obtaining and broadcasting of twisted, sexual fantasies has now become even more prevalent with the widespread proliferation of the Internet, bit torrent and so on. Cronenberg’s film also anticipated the notoriety of snuff films like the Faces of Death tapes of the 1980s. Like the VIDEODROME transmissions, they supposedly showed real deaths and acts of torture.

I also like how VIDEODROME continues Cronenberg’s pre-occupation with secret organizations that operate beyond the boundaries of what is socially acceptable and permitted. They work towards a greater goal that involves the next step in human evolution. So, you've got the merging of man and technology as one character, Professor Brian O’Blivion, who exists entirely on video. In fact, he comes across as very Marshall McLuhan-esque figure with such proclamations as, "The television screen has become the retina of the mind’s eye."