With grotesque, memorable imagery, David Cronenberg's "Videodrome" illustrates the ways in which media is used to gain power, wield influence, and even ruin lives.
Much like the anchor of any noir film, Max Renn (James Woods) has questionable morals and his story involves a series of shadowy machinations and chance meet-ups to get what he wants. In this case, it's a quest to find recorded raw performances of violent/sexual experiences to improve the ratings of his small Canadian TV channel and the channel's hacker showing him a pirated broadcast of Videodrome, a series of hyperviolent snuff films. Naturally, he goes to great lengths to find out about the origins of this broadcast.
Videodrome empowers Max to become more in touch with his fantasies in real life with Nicki (Deborah Harry) and an S&M, ear-piercing scene predates and shames anything in "50 Shades Of Grey," and then before you know it, Max is rubbing his stomach with a gun while watching TV and his stomach opens up to reveal a sort of vagina that swallows his gun and then seals itself shut. Maybe none of this happened—people who watch Videodrome hallucinate and the viewer’s perception of what they previously considered reality detoriates, like a cancer, until they ultimately die from a tumor.
But soon enough, Barry Convex (Leslie Carlson), a creator of Videodrome, reaches out to Max and takes control over his mind by violently jamming a fleshy videotape into Max's new vagina, brainwashing Max into murdering the daughter of the other creator of Videodrome, Brian O'blivion (Jack Creley).
Max is now an unwilling pawn in a war between two factions of philosophy relating to the power of TV: Convex believes television makes people impure, weak, and mindless and he wants to weaponize TV by broadcasting Videodrome so that everybody watching will slowly die of the tumor it induces, while O'blivion has a religious, cult-like following that celebrates the over-stimulating effects of TV. Both unite around the idea of TV as being such a great and powerful experience.
Along with being the key "body horror" film, "Videodrome" continues to feel contemporary. Cronenberg's media critique easily extends to the internet, where I'm sure literally any imaginable sexual/violent taboo is challenged in both fabricated and real performances that are easily accessible and where binge-watching Netflix and viewing things—and really, just about everything—on small portable screens is commonplace. For many who grew up with the internet, it became a technological extension of our conscious and subconscious minds—an information-based, annexed sexual organ thought of as a private place where many turn to explore their "unspeakable" sexual fantasies.
It is not as private as it seems though, even less so after recent legislative adjustments to net neutrality which makes it easy for us to be played like fleshy VCRs. FCC chairman Ajit Pai recently announced a proposal to rollback the Title II net neutrality order. Among other things, this proposal would allow internet providers to favor certain websites and businesses over others in what could kick of a shady media war like the one in "Videodrome."
Meanwhile, James Woods, the star of "Videodrome,"
has become a forever-Twitter-ing right-wing tough-talker ("Watching the #SorosVermin rampaging makes the #ClintonCollapse even more important. We now realize her election would have been Armageddon," Woods tweeted recently about the March For Science) absorbed by the media he's tethered to, not unlike Max Renn.
"Videodrome," directed by David Cronenberg, screens at the Charles Theater on Apr. 27 at 9 p.m.