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David Cronenberg, Canada, 1982

Rating: 3.0


Posted: April 5, 2005

Is man’s obsession with excess and indulgence in technology jeopardizing his very existence? Is it possible to become so immersed in a cesspool of violence and sleaze that one ceases to acknowledge the lines defining reality and hallucination? Look, I don’t know about all that, but Videodrome does pose these issues, and I think it is fair to suggest that someone with a leaning toward these concerns could probably formulate a cogent thesis on how it deals with them. Thankfully, I have no such leanings.

Here’s the breakdown: Max Renn (James Woods) is a slime merchant running a cable station that broadcasts pornography and otherwise explicit programming. Renn is always trying to stay ahead of the curve, trying to find the “next big thing” in his line of business. Like, say you bring tapes to this guy of wild orgiastic sex rituals in hopes that he will purchase them for his channel, he’d probably just yawn and tell you to come back when you have film of robots having intercourse with corpses. The dude’s hardcore, and he wants to make sure that he not only gives the public want they want, but also can show them what they want before they know they want it.

Renn comes into possession of what he believes to be a pirated signal from Pittsburg, a show called "Videodrome," which depicts torture, murder and other generic gruesomeness. The more Renn watches, the more he becomes obsessed with it. (Kinda like Laurence Station's obsession with Deuce Bigelow: European Gigolo.) The lines between reality and imagination become blurred. In one scene, Renn actually inserts a gun into an opening in his stomach, and then is able to retrieve it later -- at least, that’s how he perceives what happens. (It’s a David Cronenberg film, people! I’m doing what I can!)

Along this twisted journey, Renn meets Nicki Brand (Debbie Harry), and the two begin engaging in unusual behavior -- like piercing flesh with needles, or the scene where Nicki extinguishes a cigarette... on herself. Renn’s hallucinations (breathing TV sets, videotapes that pulsate) eventually begin to overwhelm and become his reality. When he finds out exactly what "Videodrome" is... it’s too late!

Now, while this might sound far-fetched, I'm here to tell you folks that it can indeed happen. While laid up with a sprained ankle and broken remote, I was once forced to watch a 9-hour Jake And the Fatman marathon on a fuzzy 19” black and white TV. After I was healed, I went to a local Denny’s and threw a lawn dart at Dabney Coleman, who was snacking on some hash browns in a corner booth. (At least, that’s what the police report says. I have no memory of it.)

Videodrome was released back in 1982, long before the Internet and the computer revolution that we take for granted today. In a way, the questions it poses are actually more suited to our “on-demand” society than to the time in which it was made, and for that reason I guess the film does retain some relevance. But these issues are best left for monocle-wearing intellectuals, or in the case of Shaking Through's own wanna-be Laurence Station, “pseudo-intellectuals.” (Come on, people, the man used the phrase “uninhibited digital funk-fest” while reviewing a Beck album! Clearly, he needs professionally prescribed medication!)

At the very least, Videodrome provides you the opportunity to see a young Debbie Harry, and a creepy James Woods. These days, you can only see a creepy James Woods. If you wish to engage your mind with weighty questions of reality and technology, go see the Matrix films. If you wanna see a dude pull a gun out of his stomach, check out Videodrome. You won’t be judged by me!

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 Clemenza's Ratings Key:

 5.0: A drop of bliss

 4.0-4.9: Touchdown!
 3.0-3.9: Close, but...
 2.0-2.9: Box of Rocks
 1.1-1.9: Time bandit
 0.0-1.0: Soul scarring
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