WHO: James Woods, Sonja Smits, Deborah Harry, d. David Cronenberg
WHEN: 28 September 2008
WHICH: DJ Lamont Cranston
Man, is TV producer Max Renn having a weird time. His head of piracy has tapped into a Malaysian feed of a half hour of torture and murder called Videodrome and Max can’t tear his eyes off of it. It’s the new thing, just what he’s been looking for, the perfect addition to Channel 87’s roster of “softcore pornography and hardcore violence,” but the more he learns about Videodrome the stranger things get. His masochistic girlfriend runs off to audition for the show and never comes back; she shows up on a tape of the show and swallows him through the TV screen. He wakes up to find the director he sent to investigate the show dead and tied up in his bed. He tracks down the creator of the show and he’s dead, his brain blown apart by an enormous brain tumor, but immortalized on thousands of hours of prerecorded videotape watched over by his creepy, creepy daughter. The show’s producers contact him and try to record his hallucinations, then decide they’d rather use him as a video-programmed assassin. He grows an enormous video slot in his stomach that really looks a LOT like a vagina. THEN things start to get weird.
There are a lot of similarities here with Cronenberg’s other films, especially Naked Lunch. James Woods and Peter Weller might be the same character, baffled and frustrated by their decaying and fragmentary perception of the world; both Max Renn and Bill Lee are forced into subversive, destructive roles by conspiracies that may or may not exist, and both eventually break away through their own destruction. The same body horror fills both films, Naked Lunch‘s sphincter-beetles prefigured by Videodrome‘s enormous VCR vagina. Videodrome oozes style and weird cult cachet – which is great – but it’s kind of unsatisfying in a way that, say, Naked Lunch isn’t. Naked Lunch keeps up a jittery feeling of unreality all the way to the end by always suggesting an outside viewpoint, but Videodrome doesn’t. Once the movie commits to Max’s version of reality – once the paranoia becomes justified and factual and Max’s hallucinations become more and more the dominant viewpoint – a lot of the ambiguity and interest leaks away, or anyway I got less interested. I liked the paranoia, the sense that there was no way of knowing what was true and what wasn’t, and once that took off it was all giant vaginas and bloody death.
Which, you know, is cool and all, it just wasn’t as cool.
–DJ Lamont Cranston