PrintE-mail Written by Dominic Cuthbert

If reality is indeed less than television, then David Cronenberg’s undulating opus exists in the netherworld between dreamscape and rationality. For Channel 83 CEO Max Renn (James Woods), his first encounter with the Videodrome signal ushers in a hallucinogenic journey into the cognitive heart of darkness, programmed by cancer and corporate greed like a venereal riff on The Manchurian Candidate. Since its release, Cronenberg’s television musings have snowballed to encompass all mass media, for a decidedly more political and prophetic story some thirty years later. But perhaps mass media is politics, and politics less than mass media.

Channel 83’s CIVIC-TV showcases softcore pornos and violent movies to win over viewers hungry for something fleshy and red, rather than outwardly competing with the larger networks. Renn, a television libertarian, believes it’s a cathartic and healthy outlet for our violent and sexual fantasies that might otherwise manifest in reality. His sleazy network is providing a public service, and he believes this public to be after something altogether more visceral. Having a pirate on your payroll is advantageous, especially as Harlan (Peter Dvorsky) is able to access all kinds of provocative broadcasts. When he first introduces Max to a new recording, 50 seconds of plotless torture, Max realises that Videodrome is just what his punters are after.

Despite the irony of watching Videodrome on Blu-ray, Arrow’s release has scrubbed up tremendously, with the restored high-definition digital transfer allowing the viewer to pick out individual fibres of Woods’ jacket and appreciate the bright picture quality over various gloomy DVD iterations. The attention to restoration, however, has led to the work of Rick Baker and his EFX team put under the most unflattering of circumstances. The moment Woods’ pistol biomechanically morphs with his hand, an effect which the team were never satisfied with, looks particularly dated with the cold digital gaze glaring at it. The scene in which corporate despot Barry Convex (Leslie Carlson) is devoured in a mass of tumours, on the other hand, is still eye-wincingly effective.

Woods’ Canadian lilt and heavy hooded eyes add to the character’s ambivalence and the wonky moral line he walks. Co-star Debbie Harry is terrific in her first feature film role after striking out on her own from Blondie. The supporting cast especially, many of whom are first introduced on television screens, really help to sell the strangeness of the movie. Julie Khaner’s affectionate assistant Bridey is a ray of sunshine in the otherwise violent cathode ray nightmare, with Peter Dvorsky providing some light relief with great timing and sharp delivery. While Sonja Smits is charismatic and commanding as the daughter of Videodrome architect Brian O’Blivian (Jack Creley).

Visual metaphors and motifs echo throughout the films surreal turns, blending sex and violence with what begins as a smudge of sauce on a photograph and culminating in the bloody effects. It leads, in no small part, to the innumerable ways to read the film’s events, with the ending taking on different meanings depending on your own interpretation. Author and critic Tim Lucas argues that the film is circular, with the suicide pre-empting the beginning, and the beginning forever doomed to repeat the suicide.

The glut of special features illuminate the production and durability of the film, with the 1997 BBC documentary Cinema of the Extreme and the roundtable discussion with Johns Carpenter and Landis are particular highlights. The deleted scenes, taken from the dreadful TV cut, offer a more tangible sense of Videodrome and its origin. And then there’s the inclusion of Cronenberg’s early works, which anticipated the wonderful weirdness to come.

Special Features: Audio commentary / Cinema of the Extreme documentary / Forging the New Flesh documentary / Fear on Film roundtable discussion / Brand new interviews / Four of Cronenberg’s early works / Camera short film / Four featurettes / Deleted scenes / Trailer / 100-page hardback book


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