At the Movies with Alan Gekko: Videodrome “83”

At the Movies with Alan Gekko: Videodrome “83”

MPAA Rating: R/ Genre: Sci-Fi Horror/ Stars: James Woods, Debbie Harry, Sonja Smits, Peter Dvorsky, Leslie Carlson, Jack Creley, Lynne Gorman, Julie Khaner, David Bolt, Reiner Schwarz, Lally Cadeau, King Cosmos/ Runtime: 89 minutes

I feel it must be said that if ever there was a director who knows how to make the strange and unusual into a true work of art I think David Cronenberg would be at the top or at least near the top of that list aside from perhaps David Lynch. Indeed here is a man whose career has consisted of movies that go from bizarre to slightly less bizarre and then all the way into just plain odd. Yet even though I used to think that the brilliant updating he did on The Fly with Jeff Goldblum would be the one work of his I would be constantly drawn to watch time and time again, I can safely say that I was wrong. That is because even though The Fly is wonderful, it’s also simply an excellent updating of some cheesy yet iconic prior material. The movie at the heart of this review however, came straight from this iconic director’s little gray cells, and what a concept this is. Indeed made and developed in an era when both VHS and Betamax were still competing for the hearts, minds, and wallets of consumers, and TV still owed some kind of debt to public access channels, it must be quite difficult for you, the 21st century reader to imagine just what the world in the year 1983 thought of Videodrome. Close to 4 decades later however, and this movie is so close to reality it really baffles me that neither Sony nor Toshiba have never tried to hire Cronenberg on as a consultant to help them figure out just what the response will be to their specific consumer-based format plans. Indeed filmed in a style very reminiscent of fellow oddball extraordinaire David Lynch, it really is an ode to the skill Cronenberg has in regards to storytelling that this movie works as phenomenally well as it does. It’s also an ode to the level of accuracy that is present in the film that, despite all the remakes and reboots being developed, no one in their right frame of mind is even wanting to attempt to re imagine, remake, or reboot Videodrome and that’s because some things simply can’t be done more than once especially when the first time turns out as iconic as this.

The plot is as follows: Videodrome introduces us to a man by the name of Max Renn. Max is one of the owners/ operators of a tiny cable access station that has chosen to distinguish itself from the competition by providing to its audiences what the rest of the TV world either can’t or won’t. By that I of course mean the delightful concepts that are soft-core pornography and hard violence. However one day while meeting with one of his colleagues who helps him by hacking into highly illegal pirated broadcasts via satellite dish, Max stumbles upon a TV show that seems to be quite the mesmerizing blend of S&M, torture, homicide, and other things of a rather tasteless nature. To many people this would all be deplorable, but to Max he is both captivated and convinced that he has now seen what could give his network the advantage over their competitors for the foreseeable future. To that end, Max is able to find out that the broadcast’s signal is originating in Pittsburgh and proceeds to do some covert investigating in regards to just who is the party behind its creation. It isn’t long though before we see that Renn’s interest is becoming more in the realm of a fixation. A fixation that soon starts causing Max to develop hallucinations that, the more he digs, the more they begin becoming more realistic, more wild, and more dangerously blurring of the line between just what is illusion and what is real than he could ever have imagined….

Now even though this is a film which is quite difficult to both wrap your head around as well as place yourself in the narrative of, I still feel that this is a film which is astonishingly more relevant nowadays than it was when it was made and released in 1983. This is because, if nothing else, I feel like the debate in regards to just what are the results of a human being watching sex and/or violence in the name of “entertainment” is a topic that has been the focus of both continual debate and exploration. Yet within this film, I feel that this topic is dissected and looked at through a lens comprised of a specific volume of quite potent disgust from the director as we see him place the main character in a living nightmare, really expose him to deplorable and graphic in the extreme sex and violence on TV, and then asks us to be a witness to the effects that this material begins to have on Max both physically and psychologically. However it must be said that as an analysis on the amount of influence that mass media can have from a social perspective, this film is not the most clear or easy to comprehend in the world, but that doesn’t dilute from how fascinating and intriguing it is all the same. Yet even though Cronenberg could have done a better job at making what he wanted the viewer to know significantly less complicated, I also feel that he most assuredly deserves high praise for distributing this film in his distinct style even if the majority of audiences will most assuredly be confused by the proceedings in the narrative.

With that being said, I definitely feel that in a cinematic experience that is as vivid of a trip down the proverbial rabbit hole of madness as Videodrome truly is, the film is going to have to possess a solid and dependable lead in order to get the audience to want to take the journey in the first place. Indeed much in the same way that Cronenberg needed to find a performer who could portray going crazy due to terror in The Fly and found that in both Geena Davis and Jeff Goldblum, you cannot ask audiences to buy into a weird conspiracy wreaking havoc on a man both mentally and physically unless the man in question is portrayed by an performer who is willing to commit 110% to the material. Thankfully this movie got James Woods and he is just plain and simply terrific. Indeed from about half an hour in all the way to end, the things that you will see happen in this film will blow your mind and are completely unbelievable, but we as an audience wind up accepting it if for no other reason than the fact that Woods is terrific at making it possible to believe. Indeed his initial skepticism evolving into full-bloom horror which then segways into terrified belief is the wonderful foundation that the rest of the movie is built on. Indeed while there are many a film out there that were made and designed so they could put as much of the spotlight on a specific Hollywood icon and suffice it to say that even though this is one of those for Woods, be shows that he’s more than willing to make the film work no matter what it asks him to do throughout the film’s runtime. Indeed it’s safe to say that the James Woods of the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s and the James Woods of here lately really do seem like a pair of distinct individuals which really is a shame because, politics aside, he really is a terrific actor and this film is a fine showcase of that.

Now it’s safe to say that the supporting cast of this film all do a decent enough job. This of course starts with Miss Deborah Harry who actually manages to showcase that she had the skill to actually be a decent actor. Not because of anything really groundbreaking or noteworthy other than the fact that she does a fantastic job of aiding the film by upholding her distinct niche in this deadly mirage and keeping it airtight. Also of note is Sonja Smits who does a wonderful job of throwing more curves into this film’s out-of-left-field premise as the daughter of a key person behind the development of the titular program. Indeed even though these 2 fine actresses really do play second fiddle to Woods for pretty much the entirety of the film, they still bring quite a bit to the narrative to the extent that it is difficult to see this story working as well as it does without then. Also doing a great job at adding to this film’s multiple enigmas is Jack Creley as a guru with ties to the program and who, it’s definitely worth pointing out, only appears via video screen. Suffice it to say then that if Woods operates as the pinball in this acid trip of a pinball machine, then these 3 supporting cast members are the bumpers off which he pings around in his quest for answers. Suffice it to say that in that regard, they all do wonderful, and they are far from the only ones. Indeed this film literally has an ensemble of performers who a viewer really truly starts craving more from in terms of screen time based off just what they manage to bring to the table as it is.

All in all it is safe to say that if I wanted to do so, I could tell you every little detail of just what exactly goes on within this film, and it would still in no way, shape, form, or fashion be enough to get you ready for the complete and total absurdity and oddness that occurs. Indeed what this film will show you is both macabre yet arresting, the narrative is absolutely weird in all the best ways, and the continual referring to the “new flesh” proves to be a philosophy that will disturb and chill the watcher long after the credits begin to roll. Indeed this film suffice to say is the very dictionary definition of contradiction because even though I find this cinematic experience completely captivating, I also find it thoroughly apprehensive in a lot of ways. Yet ultimately the most intriguing thing about this film is something a defense lawyer I knew once told me: “if you cannot convince them, confuse them”. Suffice it to say that I definitely think this film, due to its bizarre narrative and symbolism, and that could only be inspired by an individual who sees the world in a way that no one else is able to, is the very poster child for something that is both convincing and confusing. Thus when you have achieved that then I think you have accomplished something truly extraordinary when it comes to telling stories in this particular genre of filmmaking. On a scale of 1-5 I give Videodrome a solid 4 out of 5.