A groundbreaking film, David Cronenberg’s story about the horrible transformations wrought by exposure to televised violence wittily thematises the very problems that the director’s exploration of violent sexual imagery in his previous productions had caused with censors, Hollywood distributors and feminist groups.
Max Renn (James Woods) is a cable TV pirate, running Channel 83 out of Toronto who discovers a snuff broadcast (from Pittsburgh) that causes incredible hallucinations.
His abdomen suddenly grows a vagina-like opening into which, among other objects, video cassettes can be inserted. Scenes of a breathing videocassette and Woods extracting a gun from his stomach are not easily forgotten.
The film, in which such sadomasochistic fantasy and transgendering play key roles, ends tragically, with Max’s self-destruction.
Blondie singer Deborah Harry (pictured below) is Nicki Brand, the hostess of the “Emotional Rescue” radio show and Jack Creley is Professor Brian O’Blivion (“Television is reality. Reality is less than television”).
In many ways the most audacious formal incarnation of Cronenberg’s characteristic themes, Videodrome begins as a fairly standard commercial thriller, only to be transformed at midpoint into a subjective fantasy of the most outrageous and unusual kind.
Visually rich, Videodrome is also thought-provoking in its startling meditation on both polymorphous perversity and the interpenetration between the public and subjective realms of experience.
Cronenberg has been both praised and condemned for his fluid treatment of gender – a closing sequence in which two female characters grow penises in a kind of riposte to Max’s “vagination” was cut from the release print as too disturbing for a mainstream audience.
Even in its edited form, Videodrome remains one of Hollywood’s most unusual films, too shocking and idiosyncratic to be anything but a commercial failure.