Sunday, January 31, 2021

Videodrome (1983)

Everybody likes movies that predict the future, and sci-fi directors have a knack for it. The details may be a little fuzzy, but David Cronenberg’s broad strokes paint a bold picture of anarchic content creation and distribution, which some critics say is the Internet. That’s a stretch. I would say that Videodrome predicted some parts of Internet culture, but to its original audience it was just another romp through Cronenbergian delusion.

No, Videodrome is not the Internet. It’s the future, and the future is the past. Nostalgia lets us live in the moment because we can pin that moment down to a fixed point in time and space. This moment, this vision of the future, is as classic as they come.

I think it’s as fair to compare Videodrome to the ‘net as it is to compare movies to video games. Cinema like Videodrome seems to exist to be picked apart by political Internet critics, and video games seem to exist as movies for manchildren. There is a grain of truth to these comparisons. Apples and oranges are, after all, both fruit. But really, Videodrome is just a sci-fi movie, whose prophecy is accidental. Internet doesn’t come through a TV, and Cronenberg isn’t a typical futurologist.

The movie stars a dude who does a lot of blow and works in New York’s Hollywood. His TV is his best friend, and he can tune in to all kinds of pirate channels. One popular channel is Videodrome, which he describes as “no sex, just torture and murder”.

Revealing any more of the plot would diminish the viewing experience. The title evokes industrial imagery, like Kazakhstan’s Cosmodrome or Full Moon’s Videozone. Rather than sending puppets to space, the grand conspiracy is about conquering the human condition, as in the famous line:

Long live the new flesh.


The dude must really love his TV. This kind of direct visual symbolism is one way of playing for the back of the house, and that is rare for sci-fi art films. It’s weird enough to be art, yet strong enough to be understandable. This isn’t “safe”, it’s niche. David Cronenberg has an audience of cinephiles and sci-fi aficionados, and they munch this stuff down like popcorn. Thanks to the ‘net and computer effects, niche sci-fi is an everyday thing these days, but could you imagine seeing this in 1983?

When a film is ahead of its time, people call it a classic. I call it a good time at the movies. Regardless of its artistic merit, Videodrome is a fun movie for just about any mature audience to watch.