Videodrome

Year: 1982

Production: Filmplan International / Guardian Trust / Canadian Film Development Corp.

Director: David Cronenberg

Starring: James Woods, Sonja Smits, Deborah Harry, Peter Dvorsky, Les Carlson

Novelization (1983) by Jack Martin

89 minutes; Color


Bravely placing his outrageous exploitation movie squarely in the center of media-theorists' debates about interaction between viewer and screen, Cronenberg here produces perhaps the best (and also the oddest) of his series of sf scenarios of medicine, media, metamorphosis and religion, the emphasis here falling on the last 3. Woods plays the cable-tv-station executive in charge of sex'n'violence programming who stumbles across a private programme called Videodrome. This, on the surface sadisitic pronography, metamorphoses him (either mentally or physically), so that a videocassette slit forms in his belly and his hand becomes (naturally) a handgun. This second part of the film, where even the tv set becomes organic and protrudes lips (the Word made Flesh), may also be read as a prolonged hallucination. It is an intricate tale, also featuring a media guru, O'Blivion - modelled apprently on Marshall McLuhan (1911-1980) - whose daughter pronounces after his apotheosis into software: "I am my Father's Screen." Too schlocky for the squeamish - especially the scene where talk-back hostess Nicki Brand (pop star Deborah Harry) burns her own breasts with a cigarette - and too intellectual for exploitation-movie fans, the film naturally flopped. But it may have been the most significant sf film of the 1980s, and is certainly - and very early on - the most cyberpunk. Another film with a similar theme by the same director is eXistenZ (1999).

The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction

As audacious in it formal refusal to disentangle medium and message as it is provocative in scrambling politics and pornography, Cronenberg's ragged speculation on the video-age future acts both as the first McLuhanite horror movie and as a cheekily joky reprise of motifs from his own substantial generic oeuvre to date. Adopting the highly unstable first-person perspective of voyeuristically inclined video-freak and cable station controller Woods, Cronenberg takes us on a truly discomfiting trip through the outer limits of TV programming and the viewing psyche - sado-erotic fantasies populate both - and first investigates, then penetrates, the charged space between subject and screen. Woods, hooked on the apparent pirate broadcasts of the shadowy Videodrome channel, finds himself immersed not only in ideological conspiracy (hypnotized by TV signals) but also in evolutionary turmoil (hallucinating his own genetic adaptation to video's primacy, and developing a brand new orifice in which to receive "living" software). And with Cronenberg giving no indication where "reality" might be situated in this complex scheme, we can't help but share Wood's dread, and possibly deadly, fascination. The film's disgust factor is high, but it's also compulsive, and therein lies the intricacy of Cronenberg's boldly conceptualized sortie into the very debates about representations of sex and violence that have so often sprung up around his own previous films (each here "quoted" in some bit of nightmarish comedy). A black punning humor hardly lightens the tone - though it occasionally carries the film into the distinguished company of works like Michael Powell's Peeping Tom (1959) and Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange (1971) - but the film's eventual incoherence as an "argument" or as articulating a "position" is in many ways its saving grace. Now Cronenberg's definitively opened up this particular can of worms, it's up to the audience (file, TV, or video) to do their own fishing.

The Overlook Film Encyclopedia - Science Fiction

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