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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.
David Cronenberg has turned out a lot of films that range from the
bizarre to the slightly less bizarre to the stupefying. I used to think
that his update of The Fly was his masterwork, as it certainly is an
improvement over the original in every sense of the word. Videodrome,
however, is entirely his idea, and what an idea it is. Filmed at a time
when VHS and Betamax were still at war for market share, and television
was still beholden to some standard of public service, it is hard to
imagine what the public of 1983 made of Videodrome. Twenty-three years
on, it looks so prophetic that it is truly a wonder Sony or Toshiba are
not employing Cronenberg to attempt to anticipate consumer reaction to
their consumer format ideas. Shot in a Lynchian shoot-first,
work-out-story-later manner, it is testament to Cronenberg's skills as
a storyteller that the 'drome works as well as it does. It is also
testament to the film's accuracy that in this era of so-called reality
television, nobody in a remake-crazed system is trying to remake
Of course, in a film with a theme as speculative as Videodrome, one needs to have a reliable performer. Just like you cannot portray someone going mad with fear a la The Fly if your actor is not up to snuff, one cannot portray a weird conspiracy without an actor of James Woods' calibre. Everything that occurs on the screen from about thirty minutes in is utterly unbelievable, but we buy it because James is so good at selling it to us. His disbelief graduating into terror graduating into acceptance is the rock upon which Videodrome rests, and the respect he gained from me in my recent viewing of Once Upon A Time In America went through the atmosphere during Videodrome. So many films are made with a singular star as its entire focus. Sylvester Stallone made a few, but Woods demonstrates he is more than up to the challenge here. The James Woods of the 1980s and the James Woods post 1990 are really two different people, or so one might think after seeing a film from both groups.
The support cast are mostly adequate, with Deborah Harry demonstrating she could have been an actor. Not that she does anything particularly brilliant here, but she also manages to keep her part of the illusion solid. Sonja Smits helps twist the plot beyond its already unrecognisable shape as the daughter of one of the conspirators in the Videodrome experiment. While these two are secondary to Woods, they also add so much to the story that its hard to imagine the film without them. The world was changing in ways none could have imagined at the time, and as Harry's musical career was left in the cold as a result, her image in this film is iconic of an era. Jack Creley is puzzling as a guru tied into the conspiracy who appears only in video. To cut a long story short, Woods is a pinball, while Harry, Smits, and Creley are the bumpers off which he bounces. In that task, they do a brilliant job, and they are far from the only ones. Videodrome contains a literal cavalcade of actors one wishes they could see more of, just based on their moments here.
The summary in a previous comment says it best: "I don't think I could provide spoilers if I wanted to". I could tell you everything that happens in Videodrome, and it still will not even slightly prepare you for the utter bizarreness to be beheld. The imagery is both disgusting and strangely compelling, the story is beyond odd, and the references to the "new flesh" that pop up like skin cancer cells in the final reels are a mantra that will haunt the viewer long after the film is over. The constant images of videotapes and televisions flexing out to either imitate organic material or swallow the hero whole. It is the ultimate contradiction, that I can find this film so utterly compelling yet so utterly repulsive. There is an unofficial motto among defense lawyers: "if you cannot convince them, confuse them". Videodrome, thanks to its surreal imagery and story that could only be inspired by divergent thought, is both convincing and confusing. Such is the ultimate achievement in storytelling.
Fortunately, the question of whether one can separate their perception of reality from the fantasy they see depicted on a video source has been answered already. It isn't really even a question that needs asking here, as it has long been answered by film. No, Videodrome is about something more, although exactly what that is could be anything David Cronenberg desires. I chose to see it as an example of one man getting so wrapped up in his ideas or fantasies that they utterly distort his reality, an idea subtly hinted at when one character describes his hallucinations causing him a brain tumour rather than the other way around. The new flesh is the idea that drives a given machine, always mutating and altering itself. However you choose to interpret the story of Videodrome, I think the consensus we can all come to is that it is just plain odd. Most of us will never really see the things shown in Videodrome if we take a mix of heroin, crack, and LSD then wash it down with drain cleaner.
It is mostly for these reasons that I gave Videodrome a ten out of ten. You have not stretched your imagination far enough if you are completely repulsed by its imagery. Do yourself a favour and see it now. Long live the new flesh.
James Woods plays a scuzzy, low-life TV producer (the kind of character
plays exceptionally well and that you've come to love from prior
performances in films like 'Salvador') who gets hooked on watching a
snuff film channel, but soon he discovers everything is not as it seems to
be and that the transmission wasn't broadcast at all but actually a tape
which brainwashes him into acts of self mutilation on his body, soon he is
finds that he can hardly even control himself or his body.
A great first half with terrific performances from the three leads, steps up a gear or two in the second half. A highly creepy and original movie that just gets weirder and weirder! Highly recommended. Peter.
Videodrome is truly a surreal experience. I do not want to include too much information as that would spoil the film for "virgin" viewers. If you are familiar with Cronenberg's work, you may have an inkling of what you're in for. Videodrome can drive one to the brink of madness, and then tell you you've been there for an hour and a half. From scene to scene you can't tell what's real and what is in James Wood's imagination. It's utter insanity, but it's great at the same time. This film is a good companion piece with Cronenberg's Existenze. When you can wrap the audience up in your movie, you have accomplished something few have. And David Cronenberg seems to do that time and again. Cronenberg is not for the faint of heart, definitely.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I love this movie! When I first saw it in 1983, I had no idea what it was
about. Back then, we didn't have words like "virtual reality" and
"cyberspace," at least not in every day usage but the concepts were
beginning to filter in due the popularity of video games.
But what we didn't know then, and what we couldn't have guessed were the dangers in even the concept of a "virtual reality." Once one starts down that line of reasoning nothing can ever be taken for granted. What Philip K. Dick warned us about in the 1960's was brought to the screen in the 1980's by David Cronenberg.
When television prophet, Dr. Brian Oblivion, opines "television is reality. And reality is less then television" he is heralding in our current age where the line between fantasy and reality is almost fails to exist.
Videodrome is the story of war for the mind. On the one side, representing control is Barry Convex, who wishes to shape the world by controlling what people see. Convex is a glasses salesmen who essentially tells us he is the Devil in using the words of Lorenzo de Medici, "love comes in at the eye" and "the eye is the window to the soul" as his formula for control: First you tempt with the forbidden fruit, then, when your victim has bitten, you take their soul. This is done via the organ of the eye because the mind will take as fact whatever the eye shows it. This is why it is so essential today for the faculty of critical thinking to become damaged via such institutions as the public school system and television.
Unfortunately, the opposing side does not seem to offer freedom, but some other sort of control. A kind of confusing, chaotic and recursive control. Dr. Brian Oblivion, the inventor and first victim of Videodrome is murdered by Convex prior to the movie, and now exists only in the virtual world of video tape. For 1983, this was the best way to convey the virtual world, as only kids played video games and most computers barely did 64K of memory. The bad thing about using videotape to represent the virtual world was that tape does not convey the fluidity of the convention.
But I digress, for Oblivion, freedom seems to be some sort of unending recursive loop, the kind you get when you hold two mirrors in front of each other. The Oblivion side does seem to be trying to help, at least, as the Doctor's daughter, Bianca Oblivion runs the Cathode Ray Mission, that tries to "patch" the indigent back into society by serving them a generous supply of orange juice along with their TV.
One of the reasons it is difficult to tell who the good guys are, or even if there are any good guys, is that the story is told through the eyes of Max Renn and Max is cynical little man, played expertly by James Woods, whose only concern is taking his porn cable channel to the next level and maybe getting Nicki Brand into bed. Max allows himself to become a pawn in this war and by the end of the movie it becomes clear that Max has left his humanity behind.
Sex and violence form the back drop of the movie, especially perverted sex. At least twice, Max is offered "nice" sex to show on his cable channel and both times he turns it down. The importance of perverted sex and perverted violence as a plot point is that it opens certain neural receptors in the nervous system that allows the videodrome signal to get in. The bad guys in the movie, Convex and Renn's video pirate, Harlen, both moralize against this perverted sex and use it as a hook to get Max "infected" with the videodrome signal. "Why would anybody watch such a thing" one of the bad guys preaches to Max. This was particularly effective when I first saw the movie at the age of eighteen. I wondered if the videodrome signal was encoded in the movie.
I believe Videodrome will go down in history as the first of virtual reality movies and is still one of the best. It not only predicted the chaos of our current time, but also the lone nut assassin epidemic that happens with increasing frequency, but as the model for Dr. Oblivion, Marshall McLuhan, said: ESP is old hat when effect precedes cause.
Videodrome remains one of the best offerings from Cronenberg but is not for everyone.
I first saw 'Videodrome' around '84 or '85 and it impressed the hell out of
me. I thought then that it was ahead of its time, and after watching it
again a few days ago (and there have been many, many viewings in between) I
STILL think it is. In fact it gets more and more contemporary and relevant
as each year goes by. Cronenberg went on to adapt difficult cult novels by
William Burroughs and J.G. Ballard, which wouldn't have surprised any of his
fans, as ideas from both writers, and the late Philip K. Dick have pervaded
his work from 'Shivers' to 'eXistenZ'. (Probably even before that going by
descriptions of early efforts like 'Crimes Of The Future' which I
unfortunately haven't had the opportunity to see.) But Cronenberg, unlike
say the Wachowski brothers, isn't just repackaging science fiction ideas for
a new generation of movie goers, he is a genuine original.
'Videodrome' still knocks me out every time I watch it. This innovative mix of science fiction, sex, violence, surrealism and horror has lost none of its punch over the years. I have enjoyed most of Cronenberg's movies, and think he is one of the most underrated directors currently working, but 'Videodrome' still seems his purest and least compromised work, and the movie that most successfully and memorably represents his vision. Simply one of the greatest and most important movies ever made.
It takes the slightest peeks at his career to figure out David
Cronenberg ("The Fly," "Dead Ringers," "Naked Lunch," "The Dead Zone,"
the upcoming "A History of Violence") is a director who is not to be
toyed with. I forgot to add in his 1983 horror movie "Videodrome," and
there is a reason for that, which I'll talk about later. His works
provoke intelligent thought, and terrify those who can't comprehend it.
His films stimulate, offend, and move those who care to watch them with
an open mind.
Allow me to (try) explain. I won't bother to go into detail about the plot. A sleazy, lowlife TV producer named Max Renn (James Woods) rapidly becomes obsessed with an unusual television signal, which in turn begins to warp his perceptions of reality. Get it? Nah, of course you don't. You're not going to let a one-sentence plot description and, if you own the Criterion Collection DVD, the three essays included deter you from watching it, are you?
You're also not going to let scenes of grisly torture, unspeakable violence, murder, "flesh guns," human VCRs, exploding cancer-deaths (poor Leslie Carlson as Barry Convex), pulsating video cassettes, Deborah Harry in S&M and morphing televisions turn you away, are you? What's more, you're not going to let Woods's effectively "wooden" performance here (his sticking his face into a "living" television) turn you away either?
I won't even try to pretend I understood what was going through Cronenberg's mind when he wrote and directed this picture. I also won't pretend I understood the essays included with the DVD (and I don't think the writers did either). It's warped, it's perverted, it's depraved, and it's insanely intriguing and fascinating. The masses are frightened by "Videodrome" and with good reason. "Videodrome" is Cronenberg's dastardly take on mass-media consumption during a time when television was afraid... afraid to be real. Media violence had not yet become a major issue in America and hypocritical politicians weren't condemning it. But keep in mind this film was made in '83, years before the mind-blowing reality-morphing of "The Matrix" (1999).
There's a little more that I think I can get away with in describing the plot, and Renn eventually traces the signal to Pittsburgh, and is introduced to the station's enigmatic programmer Brian O'Blivion (Jack Creley) and his daughter Bianca (Sonja Smits). He learns of the bizarre nature surrounding Videodrome, and the fate of those of who watch it. As he becomes more and more obsessed, he finds it nearly impossible to turn it off, or turn away. Then those mutations and hallucinations Cronenberg is famous for start happening and when that does, things become nasty and the queasy may want to keep a finger on the fast-forward button. It's no secret Cronenberg loves torturing his protagonists and here, the "new flesh" wants to live long and Woods has the nice warm body perfect for it - he becomes a literal media assassin with a vaginal slit in his stomach that doubles as a programmable VCR and also has a handgun fused to his wrist - he's a virtual slave to Videodrome.
Lastly, the eerie, driving score by Howard Shore swells up during the film's most intense and surreal moments, the most lovely being Woods's lovemaking with his television. I always watch Cronenberg films at least partially for Shore's music. Now I know why Cronenberg selects him for his soundtracks.
"Videodrome," I think, has a lot more relevance today than it did 22 years ago. It's more visceral than gross, is quite brilliant, and doesn't spare us graphic violence and gore. It's alive, it's "Videodrome."
This surreal, mind-bending thriller is quite possibly the strangest and
most provocative film that cult director David Cronenberg has ever
Manager of a cable television station stumbles across a mysterious, sadistic program that begins to induce horrific visions for our hero. But what does it all mean?
Videodrome is a film that has long divided critics and audiences alike. Andy Worhol declared Videodrome the Clockwork Orange (1971) of the 80's, yet Roger Ebert called it one of the LEAST entertaining movies ever. Well, that's Ebert for ya. I however adore this film and gladly hail it as one of the most unique psychological thrillers ever! Videodrome is a film that was quite ahead of it's time when it came out. Most of Cronenberg's films have some kind of warning to society and with Videodrome the warning is about the power and influence of the media upon the human mind.
The story is both engaging and haunting. Cronenberg's direction is slickly-done as always giving this film an atmosphere of dread and mystery. The special FX, courtesy of makeup master Rick Baker, are stunningly good. Who could ever forget the scene where Max loses his gun... inside his stomach.
The cast is good, James Woods does a dynamic performance, as does attractive supporting stars Sonja Smitts and Deborah Harry.
Videodrome is a film quite unlike any other. For those who enjoy good mind-trip cinema, it is a must-see. One of Cronenberg's finest films.
*** 1/2 out of ****
Wow! My favorite actor and my favorite singer in the same movie! Deborah
Harry (of Blondie fame) gives a great non-blonde performance as an
"emotionally energized" radio show host, and James Woods is a scummy
business-minded owner of a seedy TV station.
Like "Brazil" or "Twelve Monkeys" this movie will make you think, and even though there isn't really much violence or horror, your mind will fill in the parts that aren't there. The ability of a movie to do this makes it a must-see alone. You constantly ask yourself "is this real?" just as the main character is asking the same thing.
One thing about this movie is that they never really answer a lot of things. As we watch the main character go in and out of reality, the audience is never quite sure what is really happening either. They never tell us. They never truly explain who is behind Videodrome, or even what happens to James Woods. If you didn't like the ending of Network or Twelve Monkeys, then you won't like the lack of explanation here either.
Lots of underlying messages here too, involving television, pornography, and technology - all of which are more significant today than in 1983. Note common themes such as the head in a box. Excellently made film, the only thing that would have made it better is more story.
Videodrome (1983) was a bizarre film that David Cronenberg made before
he become a "director-for-hire" for his next couple of films. He takes
a cerebral look at the ever popular fad of pirate satellite feeds and
small-time t.v. channels. It was during this time that video tapes and
satellite t.v. were becoming popular. Cronenberg decided to uses these
and make a very strange and clinically sexually film. As with all of
his films the sex seems mechanical, neither stimulating or sensual.
James Woods stars as the part owner of a small t.v. station who pirates satellite feeds and scours the world for erotic film and programming that he could use for his station. That is until one day he stumbles across a video feed that he wished he never had. He slowly becomes addicted to the perverse violence and sex that he witnesses on the tapes. But soon his life and those around him will be changed forever. Debra Harry co-stars as Woods love interest who slowly enjoys the tapes, more so than Woods.
Videodrome is a film that has to be seen to be believed. Yes, it's one of those films that has built up a following over the years and a reputation. This is one of the films that deserves it. However I must warn you that this is a Cronenberg film so thinking will be necessary when viewing it. The effects and visuals are quite the show. Croneneberg keeps his theme from the past films such as Shivers, Rabid and Scanners. We must welcome the new flesh!
This film is available in an R-rated and Unrated versions. For full enjoyment please watch the unrated director's cut. If you watch the R-rated version not only will you miss out on all of the cool visuals and effects but you'll be pretty much confused
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