Tuesday, March 06, 2012

Videodrome (1983)

#45: Videodrome (David Cronenberg, 1983)

I like what David Thomson, writing in the 2002 edition of his New Biographical Dictionary of Film, has to say about David Cronenberg: "Anyone born and reckoning on dying needs to confront Cronenberg."

I knew I wanted to get at least one of my three favorites by him in here, all from the '80s—Dead Ringers, The Fly, or Videodrome. Even though it's going to take us six months to get through them, 50 actually ends up being kind of a short list, and sometimes you just have to pick one from among many.

I'm going with Videodrome because it was essentially my first (mind-blowing) encounter with Cronenberg, and it remains the one I seem to return to most. The television technology here—the "cathode ray tube," a term this movie loves to distraction—has since become dated, but the ideas that motivate it have not, turning so effectively and with such biting (and hilarious) wit around the idea that watching too much television, particularly with violence, is bad for you. It effectively demolishes all that—even as it implicates you the viewer in both sides of the equation, the one condemning and the one condemned—with an almost perfectly imagined high concept that riffs off of early cable TV, various tropes of sadomasochism, paranoia about corporations, and the kind of cautionary tale of which Cronenberg may well be the only one capable. In this universe, watching too much of the wrong kind of TV literally turns you into a half-addled, hallucinating, and anatomically correct VCR, vulnerable to anyone who happens along with the right kind of VHS tape (the fleshy breathing kind).

The 30-second clip at the link below gives some indication of Cronenberg's creative capacity for unsettling levels of Freudian imagery (on display full throttle in Dead Ringers). Videodrome is a terrific ride all the way—arresting, original, but not for the squeamish.

Nested symbology (parental warning and spoiler warning)

Phil #45: Smoke (Wayne Wang, 1995) (scroll down)
Steven #45: The Lives of Others (Florian Henckel von Dammarsmarck, 2006)

There wasn't any way I wasn't going to include a Cronenberg, but as discussed above there are so many I think are so good and so few that pull away and get above a certain threshold, hence, I guess, the somewhat low overall ranking. I really didn't know my audience either, which made me prone to proceeding on someone like this with caution—if the parental warning is over the top so is the clip. (This would also affect the approach I took to Roman Polanski.) Videodrome still fell in the gray shady area of introducing myself as well, as I love a movie that freaks me right out. Even if defining such an experience with precision remains beyond me, it's like the old obscenity saw I know it when I see it. Here, for example, what I love is that actually watching the violence is what makes you sick, even as you sit there watching it. Shivery. Cronenberg was one of the first to affect me with the applied freakout and I was horrified and fascinated, repulsed and attracted. Besides Dead Ringers, The Fly, and Videodrome, I could as well have mentioned The Brood, Crash, The Dead Zone, Rabid, or even, some days, Eastern Promises and some of the others. A Cronenberg top 5 would likely change all the time. In other words, I agree with me.

Phil's pick is one of those quiet gems I've loved and forgotten and it was good to see it show up here and remember it. Steven's pick is liked by a lot of people but the one time I looked it kind of bored me, all full of busy incident.


  1. I saw A Dangerous Method last night, and it's the first Cronenberg film I've liked since Dead Ringers--which, I'm surprised to say, was almost 25 years ago.

  2. I didn't care much for A Dangerous Method, which surprised me after all the good I heard about it. I have liked a few things since Dead Ringers but yeah, it has definitely been a remarkable amount of time now since Cronenberg's heyday.