David Cronenberg’s “Videodrome” (1983) – Blu-ray Review
Release Date: 26 December 2011
1983 | 18 | 89 minutes * £17.99
Distributor: Universal Pictures
Director: David Cronenberg
Cast: James Woods, Deborah Harry, Sonja Smits, Peter Dvorsky, Les Carlson
Nearly three decades since its release, owning a copy of David Cronenberg’s transgressive magnum opus still feels faintly illicit, as if it should be kept in a plain brown wrapper and stored out of sight.
It’s a film that plays out the moral majority’s fear of the desensitising effects of screen violence. James Woods walks through it with the hollow, square-eyed glare of a man suffering from porn-related sleep-deprivation as Max Renn, head of a cable channel that’s carved a niche from extreme fare. When Max stumbles upon underground broadcasts of torture scenes, he thinks he’s found the next ratings banker. But Videodrome is snuff TV with a mind-control chaser, and Max is about to become its pawn: soon he’s slipping deeper and deeper into Videodrome-induced hallucinations.
Simultaneously sleazy and cerebral, it’s a film whose surrealist setpieces burn a brand on the brain: once you’ve seen Woods have a palpating, fleshy videotape thrust into a vaginal slit in his chest, or stroke a veiny TV to tumescent arousal, it can never be forgotten. Other scenes disturb on a more everyday level, such as when Max’s squeeze, the aptly-named Nicki Brand (Deborah Harry), calmly stubs out a cigarette on her breast. Harry’s blank-generation delivery would usually rank as non-acting, but is appropriately enervated in this context.
It’s a movie with a sense of humour too (albeit one that’s often jet-black): can you think of another movie where the sinister conspiracy hides beneath the prosaic façade of a chain of opticians, or where the bad guy excuses himself from a scene on the grounds that he “can’t cope with freaky stuff”? As Marshall McLuhan-esque “TV prophet” Brian O’Blivion, Jack Creley spits out a stream of quotable epigrams (“The television screen has become the retina of the mind’s eye”), and Howard Shore’s funereal, organ-heavy score remains some of his finest work.
The Blu-ray format is an odd home for Videodrome: like Ring, it’s a movie that feels like it belongs on VHS. Technology’s moved on, of course. Nowadays, a Hollywood simulacra of torture-porn is mainstream entertainment, and snuff footage is only a google away. But with its Philip K-Dickian focus on the subjective nature of reality, typically Cronenbergian fascination with bodily mutation, and unflinching gaze into the murky depths of human desire, Videodrome remains as potent and thought-provoking as ever.
Extras: Ironically for such a kinky film, it’s a vanilla disc! That’s hugely disappointing, considering that the US Criterion Collection release has a host of goodies – including two commentaries.
Ian Berriman http://tinyurl.com/c4odmja
Videodrome – The Television Scene
The Influence of McLuhan on Cronenberg: McLuhan, Cronenberg and Postmodern Media – Matt Barry
The influence of Marshall McLuhan on the films of David Cronenberg has had a tremendous impact on the way Cronenberg depicts the media and his characters’ relationship to the media and technology with which they interact throughout his films. Both McLuhan’s and Cronenberg’s work carries with it very strong examples of postmodernism in how media shapes and defines the individuals who use and experience that media. By examining McLuhan’s theories on media, and on television in particular, and the way that Cronenberg depicts those same ideas in his films, we can see the influence of McLuhan on Cronenberg’s work, specifically through three of his films in particular, Videodrome, Crash, and eXistenZ. Before addressing the individual films, it is important to look briefly at McLuhan’s ideas, Cronenberg’s style as a filmmaker, and the concept of postmodernism as it relates to the media.
Marshall McLuhan’s influence on Cronenberg is quite direct: Cronenberg was a pupil of McLuhan’s in Toronto. He directly learned from McLuhan regarding the ideas and theories on the emerging electronic media of the mid-to-late 20th century, especially television. McLuhan (1911-1980) is generally regarded as the most prominent media theorist of the 20th century. His work has had a profound influence on the way media itself is produced and disseminated, as well as the influence the media has had on the way people define and represent themselves through that media. His writings include The Gutenberg Galaxy, which examines the way in which media and new forms of communication affect and influence social organization. McLuhan also proposed the idea of “electronic interdependence”, in which he said that the visual culture would be replaced by an aural one. This particular prediction is debatable given the rise of video and video-based media as a result of the personal computer in the late 20th century. But it still has relevance as it relates to the films of David Cronenberg. Understanding Media was the seminal work in which McLuhan proposed his “medium is the message” theory, that it is the medium itself that is the true conveyor of ideas and should be studied as such, as opposed to the actual content being carried through that media. By examining these ideas in relation to Cronenberg’s films, we will be able to see the influence. http://tinyurl.com/88dmzgj
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