Videodrome operates with a menacing tone that threatens to seep into ones own consciousness; it proves that it can. The reds used in the color palette, the soundscape mismatched to strange cuts of surreal material filmed at a crispness that focuses on the actors’ flesh with the weight of skin’s actual pulp; it echoes as a reality.
This is a film about frightening facts and paranoia, the Cold War of the mind, the need to feel in control, and the concern that as society gives us better control of our world, it has unlocked new demons. This is the sentiment in flux since the atomic bomb. Videodrome was made during the Reagan administration and before the end of the Cold War. It was released during a young generation of millions of people who had abandoned much hope of the idea of there being a guaranteed future and instead turned to sensation– electric sex, S&M, punk music and drugs.
Through the lens of science fiction all of this history is dealt with and the cries from this sense of doom are heard loud and clear. Our hero is barely a hero at all. In fact if this film were to be about good and evil and not just the possibilities of control, then the daughter of Professor O’ Blivion would be the real hero as the instigator of The New Flesh. It is a seemingly anti-viral scramble of Videodrome into an assassin of Videodrome agents. Does it enter through the optics with signals sent to the genes? Does it mutate or propagate an idea? Does it rest in the cells to benefit future generations via epigenetics? It remains unclear as to the purity of the idea of The New Flesh. Whether it is a preservation of nature, or a prosperous form of the Videodrome used to forward society (a singularity of sorts), or whether it was just as corruptible as Videodrome– a coup of one nasty dictatorship for another under a guise of new viral government.
The success of this film rests in its tone. Its tone is the reason it has survived as a part of the Criterion Collection. It is the reason popular writer, Jonathan Lethem, includes it as #5 on his list of top ten favorite films. It is the reason it is mentioned in parody during the first James Woods episode in season 4 of Family Guy. To understand this tone, refer back to the importance of sex to the experience. Why has Cronenberg spent twenty or so minutes of film before ever mentioning the danger and philosophy of Videodrome? I believe it was the extra special craft to construct the full experience of the film to be one the audience was partially creating. The first 20 minutes bring the viewer into the world. They suspend their disbelief and Max and Nicki begin to play. The up and down confusion of arousal and pain is not their own, but the danger in their arousal is shared with the viewer who is then informed that through sexual violence a tone has administered a terrible beast into Max’s brain. Sounds normally associated with pleasure and images of beautiful lips become jarring, sexy but with an anticipation of horror behind the pleasure.
If you haven’t seen the film and would like to, or if you’re overdue for another viewing, you can find it streaming on Netflix and on YouTube. And don’t take my word on all of this tone business, here is the top rated YouTube comment on the film:
“Videodrome is one of the most original movies I have ever seen. It’s provocative, surreal and yet very realistic. Even as a kid, when I would be playing a video game and the screen was paused, there was some eerie, creepy feeling that something really scary would pop up after a while, or the weird feeling that something bizarre was wriggling around in the nooks and crannies of its programming. Videodrome perfectly exploits and represents this fear of the unknown regarding technology,” Kemonokami.
As for the remake, if nothing else it could elicit a revival of the original to theaters and I would happily oblige.
The first time I saw the film was in the fall of 2008. I’ll never forget arriving to the university library, rain beading and rolling off my coat as I returned the DVD and soaked in the scene of twelve hunched, coated figures, each to their own cubicle with their own TV in the film and reserved media room. It was the same scene as the TV junkie den where Bianca O’Blivion spoke of her service reconnecting the city’s derelicts to the world’s mixing board: Television.
By Ben Olsen 9/15/2011