|Starring|| James Woods |
|Directed by||David Cronenberg|
|IMDB Info||0086541 on IMDb|
|Buy it from||Amazon.com on VHS|
|Buy it from||Amazon.com on DVD|
Well, Mr. Convex, too bad for you... Videodrome, David Cronenberg's first masterpiece, tells the tale of one Max Renn. Played with expert sleaziness by James Woods, Renn oversees a low-rent, exploitative cable network, which specializes in showing increasingly violent and pornographic shows. When he stumbles upon the satellite transmission of "Videodrome" - a realistic S&M/Torture show from Pittsburgh - Renn believes that he's discovered the next wave. Then come the hallucinations... maybe dead bodies, cancer guns, stomach-vulvas, etc. Reality bends and, perhaps, Videodrome has taken over...
In every respect, Videodrome is a great film, managing to repulse and intrigue simultaneously. It is horrific and contains numerous science-fiction motifs, but, unlike the horror and special effects driven pictures of today, Videodrome, to quote the film, has a philosophy. Videodrome is not about mind-controlling cable shows; it is about our un-healthy consumption of visual media. I may not agree with Cronenberg's vision of our relationship with TV, but it is never less than interesting. It's refreshing to see a movie about more than itself; it seems that, since the 1980s, these types of films have become increasingly rare and that's a shame. Maybe it's only nostalgia, but the era when films like Videodrome and Dawn of the Dead were being made by major studios and released to huge audiences seems like a Golden Age to my mind.
Here's to hoping those days will return. What's truly brilliant about Videodrome, beyond its decision to base itself upon an idea, is its seamless blending of the characters' realities and their hallucinations. After the forty-five minute mark, what actually happens becomes lost as we enter deeper and deeper in the the tortured psyche of Max Renn. It is impossible, by the end of the movie, to know what actually happened. Unlike a movie like Donnie Darko, which left me puzzled and irritable, I accept the puzzlement of Videodrome because an explanation would have lessened the film's visceral impact. The open-endedness of the narrative melds perfectly with a film that revels in the hallucination/reality divide. If the characters cannot comprehend what is actually happening, why should we?
As mentioned, every element of this film works. There are amazing set-pieces (throbbing televisions and gurgling video cassettes) and moments of beautiful photography (the shots of Renn approaching the harbor for instance). The acting, even by Debbie Harry in her first starring role, is excellent. James Woods, in particular, excels. He has always been one of my favorite actors and brings to Renn a level of sleaziness that perhaps could have been achieved by only him or Harry Dean Stanton.
This is Cronenberg's first masterpiece (sorry, I'm not too keen on his earlier work, as it doesn't meld his ideas and venereal/technological horror as well) and started a string of absolutely brilliant films. For me, it's also his greatest masterpiece; it's (forgive me for using this word) postmodern vision is spell-binding and the story is, I think, his most imaginative to date. As his career went forward, Cronenberg became more and more respectable and, I think, that hurt his work slightly. In Videodrome, he is at the top of his form and working with his most amazing cast. The movie is an acquired taste and will not appeal to everyone, but I highly recommend it and think you should all watch it with an open mind.
Love it or loathe it, David Cronenberg's 1983 horror film Videodrome is a movie to be reckoned with. Inviting extremes of response from disdain (critic Roger Ebert called it "one of the least entertaining films ever made") to academic euphoria, it's the kind of film that is simultaneously sickening and seemingly devoid of humanity, but also blessed with provocative ideas and a compelling subtext of social commentary. Giving yet another powerful and disturbing performance, James Woods stars as the operator of a low-budget cable-TV station who accidentally intercepts a mysterious cable transmission that features the apparent torture and death of women in its programming. He traces the show to its source and discovers a mysterious plot to broadcast a subliminally influential signal into the homes of millions, masterminded by a quasi-religious character named Brian O'Blivion and his overly reverent daughter. Meanwhile Woods is falling under the spell, becoming a victim of video, and losing his grip--both physically and psychologically--on the distinction between reality and television. A potent treatise on the effects of total immersion into our mass-media culture, Videodrome is also (to the delight of Cronenberg's loyal fans) a showcase for obsessions manifested in the tangible world of the flesh. It's a hallucinogenic world in which a television set seems to breath with a life of its own, and where the body itself can become a VCR repository for disturbing imagery. Featuring bizarre makeup effects by Rick Baker and a daring performance by Deborah Harry (of Blondie fame) as Wood's sadomasochistic girlfriend, Videodrome is pure Cronenberg--unsettling, intelligent, and decidedly not for every taste. --Jeff Shannon