Movie Review #747
Directed by David Cronenberg. Produced by Claude Héroux for Guardian Trust Company and Victor Solnicki Productions, produced by Filmplan International, produced with the participation of CFDC and Famous Players Limited. Written by David Cronenberg. Starring James Woods, Deborah Harry, Sonja Smits, Les Carlson, Jack Creley, and Peter Dvorsky. Credited cameos: Julie Khaner, Jayne Eastwood. Uncredited cameo: David Cronenberg as Max Renn in helmet. Distributed by Universal Pictures in wide release on February 4, 1983. Rated R. Runs 87 minutes. (Unrated USA release: 89 minutes.)
“The battle for the mind of North America will be fought in the video arena — the videodrome. The television screen is the retina of the mind’s eye. Therefore the television screen is part of the physical structure of the brain. Therefore whatever appears on the television screen emerges as raw experience for those who watch it. Therefore television is reality, and reality is less than television.”
— Jack Creley in the role of Brian O’Blivion
“Videodrome” features one main plot device: a TV program that exploits murder, torture, and little else. The program has yet to be seen by the public, but its inhumanities have been filmed and recorded on videocassette privately in the city of Pittsburgh. “Videodrome” is set in Toronto, and it concerns Max Renn (James Woods), a cable TV programmer who believes in the show for its ability to boost his company’s Nielsen ratings. (Let’s face it, reality TV of any kind finds it easy to attract and corrupt its audiences.) But Max soon regrets his decision, upon discovering that the horrendous, violent acts seen onscreen are not the least of the evils going on in the making of the program. Each viewer of the program is just as much a target as those who are getting flogged on camera.
I will refrain from spoiling a word more about the clever tale of “Videodrome”. It makes gripping an audience look easy, enough that I’m dying to watch this again. (As I likely have previously mentioned, I don’t usually watch movies more than once.)
“Videodrome” is a lot more bizarre than it sounds from my basic outline of the plot. There’s simply no way to define the film as one specific genre. We can call it a Canadian film, or a cult film (better yet, a cult classic), but it’s most fittingly a black comedy, a dark science fiction, a body horror, and an erotica. The movie I’m attempting to describe actually leans further toward “fable” than “fairy tale.” It’s far-fetched, stylish, warped sci-fi, but in a way, it’s also highly accessible. This is essentially David Cronenberg’s “Videodrome”, an audacious satire on the evils of television. Quite often, actually, the film condemns reality TV; given that reality TV had just risen in the 1980s (“Videodrome” was released in 1983), it’s way ahead of its time.
But Cronenberg doesn’t tame “Videodrome” nearly as much as Sidney Lumet tamed “Network”. That’s what’s so great about the movie: we can never guess its next move, because the script is wildly unpredictable, ingeniously crafted sci-fi. (Even in the overlong finale, the movie has our attention.) The movie’s one downfall is its terrible special effects, the creation of Rick Baker. Actually, given that this is an ’80s movie, the dated special effects seem to add to all the fun. ✴
– Alexander Diminiano