Friday, October 28, 2011

Videodrome (1983)
CANADA --- science fiction

Dir: David Cronenberg

Technology has vastly expanded our horizons and imagination in the late 20th Century and on into the 21st Century. The industrial revolution had nothing on the computer age. What was birthed through incremental thoughts of vast communication in the current space age, has become a massive link-line to being able to create a dimension as knowledgeable as the ancient library of Alexandria to man's first doomed accordance of a mission to reach the heavens with the tower of Babel. Now we have the power to link with each other by the swift press of a button, be it by picture, words, and voice. The accelerated rate of technology is somewhat disconcerting to many. Some recent psychologists theorize by bringing us closer together, it actually distances us. An interesting concept. However, having a separate identity in a completely virtual setting is something relatively new to the world. Through the use of video games and alternative identities on the Internet in various forms, the idea of having a new virtual life has come to pass.

David Cronenberg is mostly known for his body horror masterpieces in unique art house science fiction and horror films. He did, however, step into the world of science fiction when it became necessary to compose an essay on a subject matter that tied into his main theme of horrors of the body. Back in the early eighties everyone who was anyone began to notice that technology was beginning to become more and more advanced than they had ever dreamed. The preordained year of "1984" was fast approaching, and it seemed that, while Orwell's dark dystopian novel hadn't quite come to fruition, the foundation for such a future existed. Cronenberg as well as other filmmakers (Terry Gilliam with "Brazil"), found ways to incorporate the idea of "1984" in their own films. "Videodrome" is loosely cut from that vine.

Taking place in contemporary Toronto, the film is about a kinda Al Goldstein-esque cable access television producer, Max Renn, who's always in search for the next bit of sleaze to push on his network for ratings. His CIVIC-TV Channel 83 Cable 12 needs something new, and the soft core porn they do televise isn't enough to keep the viewers. Thanks to a nerdy cohort of his named Harlan, he comes upon a show called "Videodrome" via a snowy satellite transmission from "Pitts"burgh in the U.S. of A. The show features masked men beating and torturing unknown persons in a red room covered in clay. Renn is instantly hooked and has a producer friend of his try to track it down. Meanwhile, he meets the lovely radio talk-show psychiatrist Nicki Brand (played by Blondie lead singer Debbie Harry), who has her own counter-culture demons that, much like "Videodrome", Renn becomes instantly hooked on her too. They meet at the taping of a televised talk show discussing media with a media guru named Prof. Brian O'Blivion (a character based on media theorist Marshall McLuhan); who happens to appear via a  television on the set of the show. Max and Nicki later hook up when she reveals she's into BDSM, and later she tells Max she's taking a vacation to Pittsburgh to check out Videodrome herself.

Not long after, Max' producer friend tracks down some info on Videodrome, and she reveals it is not just a show but real. She gives him a lead with naming Brian O'Blivion as a direct contact. Max heads to a place called Cathode Ray Mission, where homeless derelicts can come in and watch television. Prof. O'Blivion's daughter Bianca runs the place, and Max inquires about meeting the professor to discuss Videodrome, but she insists he will only send him a taped message. Soon later, he does get a tape from O'Blivion, and this is where, as they say "the fun begins".

The rest of the film swings into a high speed technological nightmare for Max Renn, as he witnesses O'Blivion murdered by Nicki Brand. She, however, seduces him through the tape as his television set comes alive and is almost physical in nature as Renn presses his face into the image of Brand's lips on the screen, a scene that would later inspire the "tv witch" Sadako from "Ringu". Max ultimately realizes through O'Blivion's message that Videodrome has caused a physical tumor in the brain which causes him to hallucinate. The hallucinations increase, but to add fire to the gas a corporation named Spectacular Optical are the ones responsible for Videodrome in the first place, and soon Max is drawn into a web of technological conspiracy that will cause him to risk his life "in this world" to survive.

"Videodrome" was and is a cyberpunk masterpiece. It's predictions of cyberspace and even video game interactivity are unnervingly accurate. On the outside looking in, the film is an essay on violence and sex and the result of such on personal reflections on the populace who consume them. However, at the same time, the film managed to go a step further, by predicting through the science fiction elements that pornography and violence could be so interactive that the media would ultimately consume the viewers. Through the use of the Internet, pornography has reigned as king. However, that is only one facet. The communication of being able to have another life through the cyberspace or through games such as "World of Worldcraft" or "Second Life" allows for much much more than that. What began as entertainment is capable of becoming a lifestyle. Cronenberg would return to the notion of video games specifically with his film "Existenz", but "Videodrome" laid the foundation for correctly advising us through cautionary social commentary the dangers of such media consumption on a society that feeds on animalistic nature.

Such tiny predictions such as the use of "windows" throughout the film cement the theme. This actually predated Microsoft's popular program, but other there are other hints such as the characters being bathed in blue light as such we can be from the television sets or computer monitors. Max is subjected to being used like a walking videocassette player, which the villains insert a "program" to utilize him as an assassin. This is more than a little preachy of the times when media was blamed for vigilantism, but looking around in the 21st Century, the programming seems to have continued. No coincidence that Nicki Brand first meets Renn in a red dress, which she calls "stimulating"; as stimulating as the "red" room featured on "Videodrome". She also becomes the sensual commodity of Videodrome to seduce Max into their will, how telling of the "American Idols" or "Top Models" of this generation. Let alone the rampant pornography of the Internet. "Videodrome" has become a quintessential cyberpunk cult classic for many reasons. Much like its predecessor like "Alphaville", it inspired such films as "Tron", "Blade Runner" or "The Matrix". Cronenberg managed to invoke a theme from his first film "Shivers" about "New Flesh", which must be somewhat inspired by the bible. Surely, in this film Bianca O'Blivion even paraphrases the bible in talking about "the word becomes flesh", a passage specifically talking about Jesus Christ. This ultimately reprograms Max Renn as the cyberpunk hero destroy the rising Orwellian power of Videodrome before it's too late.