I’m writing a review of a film, I’m putting that review on the internet. It’ll be briefly read by a bunch of people, they might give it a like, they might skim over it. They’ll move on, they’ll read other reviews, they’ll stop reading after a while. They’ll go on other sites and apps, watch some videos, read some social media posts, maybe even post things themselves. When they get off the internet, they might watch some TV, listen to some music, play a video game. Then it’s time to sleep. Meanwhile, I’ll have done the same. I’ll post this review, read some others, then browse the internet, maybe consume some other media, then go to bed. Tomorrow will be similar. Of course, not all of life is so media-focused. We wake up, we have work to do, people to meet, food to prepare. But how much free time is spent now engaging with a world of constant media, information, and technology? This review will become nothing, a blip in the ocean. Pixels on a screen that will soon be playing a video, typing a message, taking a picture. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, but this world, one where reality is confined to a series of screens, is the perfect place to find a horror hellscape. Our reality is only what we perceive, so at a point in time when technology began to allow us to record and alter our media, Videodrome shows us a world without objectivity. It’s just perceptions and predictions, a world of screens that makes reality itself the least real thing of all.
Videodrome is about the power of media, centring on the rise of television and video. The 1980s was an era which allowed home media to blossom, allowing pornography and graphic violence to be watched whilst never leaving your home. The boundary of societal extremes was been pushed. People wanted (and still want) something seedy. Entertainment, especially violet entertainment, is so often masochistic. People like to hurt themselves. Videodrome shows a world where people are desensitised to their media and through that they are literally dehumanised. In a society where media becomes more and more ubiquitous, everyone becomes more and more accepting of what was once unacceptable. To some extent, this relates to the old battle of whether the media contains too much sex and violence. But that’s a sideshow, of course people like to watch those things. If the media controls us by showing too much, it could surely change us by taking it all back.
How do we consume media? Television has more possibilities than actual reality, anything that is real can be filmed. So how do we know what’s true when we look at a television screen? Television is the retina of the mind, what we see on it becomes our experiences. That’s why media as a whole can shape our reality, change how we see things. Most media is made to churn a profit, but what about when someone attaches a philosophy instead? What if television could be used to push an agenda, to be a societal cure? Videodrome presents a show with no plot and just violence, a rewarding punishment for those who enjoy watching it, and a more literal punishment from those with a philosophy. This is snuff television, blurring what is real and what is fake. Yet this blurring of reality onscreen is matched only by the blurring of reality around those who watch it.
The early 1980s was an era where developments in plastic allowed films to make their metaphors appear real. Videodrome‘s central metaphor, of a violent television show transmitting actual illness, is perfectly reflected in the film’s grim body horror. Perversely though, death and violence here is entwined with sex. There’s no denying the kinkiness on display. Getting sexual with a television, the sex here is outsourced to the imagination and the media. More than just sex, control itself is given over to the media. It shapes our thoughts, we re-enact what we’re told, what we see on the screen. People can be programmed, ideas recorded and then played back. The video world isn’t a metaphor for reality here, the reality is a metaphor for the video world. In a world where ideas come from a screen, where everything conceivable is limited to a screen, our lives just become pale imitations of what we see. The world of Videodrome falls apart, leaving a man alone with just his hallucinations.
Videodrome is enigmatic, mysterious, a film in the gap between plot hole-filled mess and deliberate ambiguity. It has beautiful, beautiful gore and an inventive look at the world around us. If I was so compelled, it might make me want to chant “death to Videodrome, long live the new flesh!” But then I’d just be another person mistaking something onscreen for something real. When you really think about it, do any of you truly know who am I? You know how I present myself on Letterboxd, but when does anything I write become more than just words? You’re reading and understanding, but you’re only getting a glimpse of me. We’re all only getting glimpses of each other when our only contact is through screens. We perceive so little genuine reality through these screens. Maybe that’s a bad thing. Maybe not. Either way, you’re going to read this review, move on, and continue consuming the same old media. How do I know? Because I’m a sheep like everyone else and going to do the exact same thing.
The UHD from Arrow Video is jammed packed with extras. Tim Lucas supplies a commentary track, there is a plethora of archival documentaries and interviews alongside newer ones, deleted and alternative scenes from the TV version and the complete uncensored Samurai Dreams. Trailers and Cronenberg’s short film Camera are also in the package. The booklet is a hefty one with booklet featuring writing on the film by Justin Humphreys, Brad Stevens and Tim Lucas, extracts from Cronenberg on Cronenberg, and a brand new roundtable retrospective with critics Alexandra Heller-Nicholas, Cerise Howard, Josh Nelson and Emma Westwood. The limited edition contains a poster and art cards.