I am incredibly lucky this month, because I got to see my favorite movie, by my favorite director, on the big screen and in 35mm. It really doesn’t get much better than that. This is truly the optimal way to view this particular entry in the Cronenberg pantheon, as it centers around a grimy looking, hallucination educing snuff film. All the cracks and burns in the image, and all the sizzles and blips in the sound; did nothing but enhance the experience. I was even fortunate enough to experience a break in the film, which required a quick repair before the the viewing could continue. It feels strange to enjoy a screening failure, but it felt like I was getting to take part in what is, for the most part, a lost experience in the modern theatre. To split with digital, for tonight. Thankfully, I did not find myself in the shoes of Max Renn afterward. Or at least, I have not had a VHS tape shoved into my torso just yet. By the way, if you have not seen this movie, the rest of this post will not make a lick of sense. If you don’t have mild sensibilities, watch it and get back to me.
To save myself and my friends from hearing me say all the same things I’ve said about this film before, I’m just going to focus on a couple of tidbits that stuck out to me this go around. I have watched this movie a fair number of times, and even written an essay about it for a master’s course; but every time I see it I still manage to pick up on something I didn’t notice before. And every time I also end up re-evaluating just exactly what it is that happened to Max Renn. Really, Brian O’blivion or Barry Convex either one could be the “bad guy” of the film. We really have no way of knowing, and we only know for sure that Max is the plaything of both teams. Much like Cronenberg’s eXistenZ, the good guys and bad guys of the story get very tangly because we cannot trust our protagonist as a reliable set of eyes to view the narrative through. The movie ever more frequently lapses into Max’s hallucinations it progresses, and there are a number of points in the film that could be the source of a deus ex machina moment.
With that said, I wonder…
- What happened to Masha?
When she begins to look into Videodrome, she warns Max that the people involved are incredibly dangerous and that he aught to leave it alone. She doesn’t try too hard to convince him, but her concern seems genuine. Later, she appears in Max’s hallucinations. First as he whips a breathing television, of which she is on the screen, in the clay room of the Videodrome television program. This happens when Barry Convex asks Max to wear an apparatus that will allow him to record Max’s hallucination. The thing is, we never see Max take the helmet off. This hallucination follows him home, where we see Masha a second time, dead and bound in Max’s bed. When Max calls in his friend for help, it is revealed that nothing is in the bed after all and that Max imagined the whole thing. So, what are we to make of this? We never actually see Masha again other than during these visions. It is entirely possible that she, like Nicki Brand (played by Debbie Harry), was killed by the creators of Videodrome in order to help bring Max into the fold. Or perhaps she is an agent, placed in Max’s life to eventually lead him down his path. She would not be the first character in the film to serve that purpose. I only find it curious in this instance because we never again see the character “in person” once Max starts sinking his face into television screens and losing handguns inside his own stomach.
- Why did Barry Convex disintegrate into a pile of goo?
Whether he is the “good guy” or the “bad guy”, Barry Convex claims to be the creator of Videodrome, and in addition helps distribute “inexpensive glasses for the Third World and missile guidance systems for NATO.” The purpose of Videodrome, according to Convex, becomes very fuzzy. But in short, it seems that Spectacular Optical wants to destroy people like Max himself, who distribute “filth”. If the battles of the future are to be fought in the video arena, as Brian O’Blivion claims, then Optical has the upper hand. Videodrome allows them to control Max like a puppet, up until the point that he is deprogrammed. I bring all this up because I question whether or not Convex even exists. If Max has been having incredibly realistic hallucinations from the first time he watched Videodrome, who’s to say that this ever happened. I cannot come up with another plausible reason that Barry Convex would literally melt into a pile of pulsating tumors as a result of being shot. And if Nicki and Masha were both killed and used to suck Max Renn further into the hallucinations, why not Barry too? If this is the case, then he is a literal manifestation of Videodrome itself. He ain’t real!
I love this movie, guys. I really love this movie.
Challenge fulfilled: Body Horror
Bonus fun: Check out these comment cards from a test screening of Videodrome. It’s just not for everyone…