Monday, February 13, 2012

Videodrome: The Erotic Violence

I saw David Cronenberg's Videodrome  (starring James Woods and Deborah Harry) when I was about 14.  To say it influenced some of my ideas and sexual leanings is probably a bit of an understatement.  Looking back at my life now, I can see hints of what the movie touched upon in my own fiction writing and the things that fascinate me.  Did the movie bring this out in me, or to it introduce it to me?  Probably a bit of both.

The film's plot is fairly complicated.  Max (Woods) runs a small cable station.  He comes across a broadcast signal showing some violence and torture.  Max is convinced this is what his station needs as he has grown tired of showing softcore porn.  With the help of a studio hand, they determine that the broadcast is probably coming out of Malaysia, and what it shows is something that is thought to be simulated snuff television.  Max's station starts pirating this feed.

While defending his station's choice of programming, he gets into a debate with Nicki (Harry), who is a psychiatrist.  When she sees one of the Videodrome programs she gets very aroused and they end up having sex while watching it.  Things get weirder as they find out that the program is not broadcasting from Malaysia but their own city, and Nicki goes in for an audition.  Oh, it's also not simulated snuff, either.  It's real, and it's a political and social movement that is behind it.  The goal?  Giving brain tumors to scum who like this sort of thing via the images being broadcast.  You honestly have to see it to fully understand what is being conveyed, but if you know Cronenberg's work, you know where it is going.

Snuff.  S&M.  Brain tumors via video transmissions.  For a young teen, this was gold (I even had the poster hanging on my wall).  Watching the film felt forbidden.  Seeing Harry burn her breast with a cigarette was part cringe-worthy and very erotic, and seeing her lips bubble out of the television set was nothing short of amazing.  It was a film unlike any other at the time, and it has yet to be surpassed.  It was probably also the first film I watched that clued me in to the power of transgression and subversion when it came to film. 
I have no doubt this film influenced my writing and much of the way I see the world.  I study the power of images on film.  I delve into that world of pain and pleasure and what it means to the psyche.  I can't say for certain whether or not those ideas were always in me or this film introduced them, but I can say that the film gave everything an incredibly vivid starting point and laid a foundation that is still being explored to this day.  I've spoken to a few others who have found this film to be highly influential.  Each of us has our own moments we can vividly recall.  Each of us is convinced that Cronenberg was well ahead of his time, as the Internet has gone on to prove.  Perhaps it wasn't the best film for a young teen to see, but I am very glad I saw it.