Videodrome, 1983, rated R, 90mins, 35mm Archival print, 7pm Jan 25th at the Bytowne Cinema
Anyone familiar with pioneering Toronto television station City-TV, particularly its daring, fly-by-the-seat-of-its-pants incarnation in the 1970’s and 80’s, will recognize the inspiration for the fictional CIVIC-TV station in David Cronenberg’s Videodrome. CIVIC is where Max Renn (James Woods) works as a producer seeking out the most provocative programming to drive up the ratings, always keeping an eye on finding the next big thing to scoop the competition. It’s this search that leads Renn to uncover an international conspiracy involving a mind- and flesh- altering signal hidden within violent images originating from the United States.
Videodrome still has the power to provoke philosophical reflection and disturb in equal measure nearly thirty years since its release. Like many of Cronenberg’s early films, it’s constructed around tropes of out-of-control technology, physical mutation, and sex and violence as social contagion. It’s the triumphant culmination of the first phase of his career, blending elements of science fiction, horror, and film noir in a deftly executed mix of genres. It’s noteworthy for being the first film where he started getting respect as a filmmaker of real intellectual substance, and not just a shockmeister intent on delivering cheap gory thrills.
For Canadian viewers, the fact that the film is set largely in an identifiable Toronto, and makes such great use of uber-Canuck references like Moses Znaimer and Marshall McLuhan, makes it all the more fun. Oscar-winner James Woods, always an interesting actor, makes for a compellingly flawed anti-hero, and he shares the screen with a cadre of fine supporting players, including rock star Deborah Harry, Sonja Smits (CBC’s ‘Street Legal’) and the perfectly-cast Jack Creley (Dr. Strangelove and TVO’s ‘Write On!’), who plays the McLuhanesque video-theorist Dr. Brian O’Blivion. To that we say: Long live the New Flesh!