Continuing to wend my way through the Sight and Sound Top 250 Greatest Movies of All Time. This week, it’s #210 on the list, David Cronenberg‘s Videodrome. For a longer introduction to this series and a look at the full list, just click here. And if you want a heads-up on what I’ll be watching for next week in case you want to watch along, just head on over to the Facebook page or follow me on Twitter (both of those links are also in the sidebar) where I’ll generally be posting that info later in the day.
David Cronenberg’s Videodrome is, honestly, one of those movies that I have kind of actively avoided watching since it was first released in 1983, and I’m not really sure why. I suppose at first it may simply have been that I missed it when it was in the theaters (though really at that point, I was actively seeking out anything that even vaguely looked like a horror or sci-fi movie) and then after that, when it came out on VHS there were simply other things that I wanted to see more.
But even since then, whenever the opportunity to watch it has come along, I’ve just said – at least in my mind – “No, thanks” and moved on.
I suppose it could be in large part due to the build-up of the Croneenberg “brand”. After all, he is a director who is somewhat renowned for a particular type of “body horror” that has never really appealed to me. Much like modern day directors such as Eli Roth, whose aim seems more towards seeing how far he can go towards turning his audiences’ stomachs rather than providing actual horror, Cronenberg, by reputation at least, has always seemed to fit into the same mold. Or, considering the time period in which he actually made Videodrome, perhaps he can be said to have shaped that mold to begin with.
At least, as I said, that has been a large part of his reputation, and that’s why I approached watching this film with not a small amount of trepidation.
(It was even something that the promise of seeing Debbie Harry, aka Blondie, topless couldn’t overcome, even in my teenage years when she was considered “Hawt!” and my hormones were running rampant and guiding my viewing choices as much, sometimes, as anything else.)
Anyway, with all of that as background, you can understand why it’s taken me so long to get around to a movie like this one that might otherwise seem a somewhat natural fit for me. And why it’s likely to be a long time before I actually view/write up some of the other movies on the list like Salo (which is number 228).
So, what did I think of the movie itself? Well, I’ll be honest, it had both its positive and negative points for me, but the short version is, though it certainly isn’t a movie for the squeamish, neither is it simply a movie made to push the boundaries of good taste without reason. And I suppose it is that which has given it lasting resonance and earned it its place on this list.
The basic set-up for the film is this: Max Renn (James Woods) runs a UHF television station in Toronto which specializes in outre programming, and who is always on the lookout for the next big thing which he can use to shock his audience and keep them watching. (Kids, get your parents – or possibly even grandparents at this point – to explain UHF and VHF television stations to you – it’d take more time than it’s really worth for me to do it here and now.) Upon being shown a couple of short clips of what appears to be a torture-filled and perhaps even actual “snuff” (meaning one where people are truly killed on camera) TV show called “Videodrome” which seems to be originating from Pittsburgh, Max decides to attempt to track down the creators of the show to see what he can find out about it and attempt to license it for his own station.
In the meantime, he also meets and begins a relationship with a sadomasochistic psychiatrist and radio host named Nikki Brand (hte aforementioned Deborah Harry) who seems interested not only in seeing how far she can push Max to go in their relationship, but in pushing herself further than is at all healthy and perhaps, if they can track down the studio that is producing the Videodrome show, even appearing on it as, as she puts it, a “contestant”.
It turns out that the Videodrome television show is only the tip of the iceberg, however, and that there is a much more far-reaching and much more sinister plot afoot involving physically changing people into machines, reprogramming homeless people into an army of drones, and… well, perhaps I should leave the rest for you to find out on your own.
So, did Videodrome, the movie, actually live up (or is that down?) to my expectations? Well, for the most part yes, especially when one considers the time frame in which it was made and the fact that for the most part the effects had to be done practically, as opposed to simply “adding them in post” as woud be done today. And though there can be no denying the gore and violence of the film (as evidenced by the pictures accompanying this write-up), they all appears not simply to appall the viewer but in service to the plot and to what Cronenberg (who also conceived the idea and wrote the script) is trying to say, both about society then, and about the trends that he saw coming.
So while I have to say that Videodrome is certainly not a movie for everyone, it is also not a film that is without a purpose and, for a certain segment of movie lovers who are willing to endure (or who even enjoy) an extensive level of relatively realistic gore (again, the word “realistic” needs to be taken within the context of the time period within which it was made) it could turn out to be well worth watching.