It seems somewhat fitting that David Cronenberg’s Videodrome is soon to be released on Blu-ray, as the 1983 cult ‘classic’ takes a revolutionary look into the progression of the moving image, in a similar vein to the enhancement of film that Blu-ray quality provides to past material.
Max Renn (James Woods) is head of a small, ineffectual television channel called CIVIC-TV. The channel is desperate to obtain the most controversial material to broadcast, in order to gain viewers and spark debate. Thanks to his operator, Harlan (Peter Dvorsky), the pair manage to pick up a signal from an unknown area they initially believe to be Malaysia, airing a show named Videodrome.
The divisive show plays against a grainy, orange background, consisting of female victims being viciously tortured by a group of masked men, and eventually being brutally murdered. There is no plot or reason as to why this is the case, but Max is perversely captivated by the show. He believes it to be the future of television – and the footage that will earn his station the attention he craves.
Max soon begins a sexual relationship with the sadomasochistic Nicki Brand (Deborah Harry), who is turned on by Videodrome, and when learning that it is in fact broadcast form Pittsburgh, USA, decides to set off and audition to be on the programme. However, as Nicki fails to return home, Max decides to research the supposed game show before understanding that the material presented is entirely real and the torture authentic.
Max begins to crave Videodrome, as if it were a drug, hallucinating disturbingly and slowly beginning to go stir-crazy under the spell of the sadistic footage. He therefore decides to contact Professor Brian O’Blivion (Jack Creley), whom he believes to have knowledge of the show, as he seeks to discover the real background to this tyrannical device. However, what he discovers is that Videodrome is a callous and malevolent conspiracy to control the minds of its viewers. Max must therefore attempt to beat off his addiction to the show and learn how to destroy and control Videodrome, before it’s too late…
The idea itself is imaginative and innovative, with an intriguing concept that seeks to expose a socio-political message, of the dangers of television and graphic images, and how influential they can be on a viewer’s mind, whilst also looking into just how perverse an audience’s taste can be and the dangers it can lead to. However, whilst the concept is exciting and potentially absorbing, Cronenberg’s final product is inane and inexplicable in its portrayal, deeming the feature frivolous and perplexing.
Such powerful messages are most effective when seeming natural in their approach, but Cronenberg’s attempt to be radical seems contrived, as he forcefully strives to delve into why the public have such a yearning to witness shocking footage, tapping into a natural human instinct that can be traced as far back as public executions, and even adapted to contemporary society, where people willingly view genuine beheadings online.
Yet, despite the strong message portrayed by Cronenberg, the feature falls short within its over-exaggeration of the influences such graphic images can have, as despite the sadism of Videodrome, the consequences on those who watch it seems unrealistic and far-fetched. Of course, it’s supposed to be theatrical and over-the-top, but perhaps too much so, thus devaluing the message represented. It seems as though Cronenberg is forcing his point across, attempting to push boundaries, yet up against a brick wall.
It is overly-sensational, as the dangers of Videodrome are continuously pushed, but never actually explained, making it difficult for the viewer to comprehend exactly why it has such an impact on those who see it. Considering just how often the characters mention the word ‘Videodrome’, it isn’t actually elucidated very well.
Whilst the film is attempting to be ahead of its time, the story is also just that one step ahead, with various jumps in the plotline, providing little build up or explanation. One minute everything is fine, the next Max is inserting tapes into his stomach, yet we aren’t exposed to how or why this actually occurs. And as the film progresses, it only proceeds to become more peculiar and eccentric, deeming it more confusing, and therefore less enjoyable.
When a film struggles to make much sense, you often look to the acting as a saving grace, hoping to take that, at the very least, away from the feature. However, this too is substandard, particularly from both Woods and Harry in the lead roles. Some of the dramatic lines, such as “See you in Pittsburgh” and “Long live the new flesh” would have even sounded better had they been coming out of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s mouth.
The film appears very dated, certainly stuck in the 1980s, which hinders its impact as a newly-released Blu-ray disc.
It appears that Cronenberg splits viewers down the middle, as he boasts a devoted, loyal following, who adore the work he produces. However, there are those that simply don’t get it, and the argument for both sides is equally as strong.
The Canadian filmmaker has since toned his subversive style down a little, with more subordinately themed tales, appealing to a broader audience. Features such as Eastern Promises are more accessible and, on the evidence of Videodrome, that’s probably for the best.
You can see why there are those who admire his work. It’s extremely revolutionary, as he exploits the body horror genre for all its worth. His influence is also apparent, noticeably on the recent Charlie Brooker series Black Mirror. Yet, where his work suffers is from the need to appear profound simply for the sake of it.
The film also appears very dated, certainly stuck in the 1980s, which hinders its impact as a newly-released Blu-ray disc. Blu-ray certainly adds a sharpness to the visual experience, but that’s about it. It’s certainly more effective when used on contemporary features, predominantly of the action and adventure genres. The visuals, as well as the idea, are very ‘80s, and the film should really play up to that as a potential strength, and use its quite dated look to its advantage rather than attempt to restore it. The visionary ideas and the predicting of a not too distant future, combined with the gory horror sequences, are what have created its notorious cult following, and it should really just remain that way, thus deeming Blu-ray rather inconsequential.
Videodrome just seems quite daft and sensationalist, and although attempting to combine a host of genres, such as eroticism and horror, whilst offering a social message to its viewers, it fails to truly encapsulate any of them significantly. Struggling to find the balance between political realism and science-fiction supernaturalism, Videodrome appears like a crossover between Japanese horror-movie classic Ring and Terry Gilliam’s Brazil, yet without being anywhere near as good as either.
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