David Cronenberg’s “Videodrome”: Exactly 40 years old and more relevant than ever

David Cronenberg’s “Videodrome”
Exactly 40 years old and more relevant than ever

James Woods falls for his television in “Videodrome”.

© imago/Cinema Publishers Collection

“Videodrome” by David Cronenberg may now be around 40 years old. However, its content is still red hot.

On February 4, 1983, David Cronenberg’s (79) science fiction dystopia “Videodrome” celebrated its cinema premiere. In a mixture of morbid symbolism and nasty body horror, which has become the Canadian filmmaker’s trademark over the decades, he devotes himself to an intellectual game: what are the most radical excesses that the media landscape could take on? In his work, Cronenberg addresses topics that are more relevant than ever forty years later – and for which the main actor James Woods (75) is now a sad memorial.

entertainment at any price

“Videodrome” tells the story of cable operator Max Renn (Woods) who is always on the lookout for the next sensational content. The more disturbing what is shown, the greater his interest. When he comes across the eponymous channel “Videodrome”, the peak of voyeurism seems to have been reached: a violent pornographic program with no recognizable plot suddenly flickers across his screen and the fascinated Max is certain that he has discovered the future of television in it .

You don’t have to look far beyond your own nose to find exaggerated and perverted forms of today’s trash TV in “Videodrome”. People who are bullied and paraded for entertainment. Attack each other verbally and sometimes non-verbally. Performing sex in front of live cams. Spectators who are fascinated time and time again in front of the screen and hope for new levels of escalation. And content that never seems entirely clear as to whether it is real or fictional.

“Videodrome” is a deep black, but not unjustly cynical distillation of today’s reality formats such as “Summer House of the Stars”, “Daughter-in-law wanted”, “Too Hot To Handle”, jungle camp and whatever they are called. The film represents the maximum continuation of today’s reality TV – similar to how Stephen King (75) did a year earlier with his novel “Menschenjagd” (filmed in 1987 as “Running Man” with Arnold Schwarzenegger) in relation to game shows. In both works, ethics has irrevocably lost the battle with ratings.

Bingen and shut up

Meanwhile, a scene in “Videodrome” summarizes the now established viewing habits on some streaming platforms: Binge-watching has even reached the homeless shelters here, instead of a warm soup there is a television in front of everyone’s nose. The new opium for the people, of which there is more than plenty available.

Main character Max is increasingly in search of his own identity and counts on external sources – like the television – to find a guiding hand in this endeavor. Today one would probably say that he relies on the guidance of an influencer, a live coach, in order to find the supposedly right path. The fact that this is almost always based on a hidden and selfish agenda is something that the consumer sometimes doesn’t realize at all or realizes too late – like Max.

Whether amateur Telegram groups or the right-wing conservative Fox News: Cronenberg shot these developments in his dystopian work 40 years ago. The “Videodrome” television program is used to radicalize and literally bend reality to suit its purposes. Ironically, main actor James Woods can also sing a song about it in real life: As a staunch supporter of former President Donald Trump (76), it spread according to research by the University of Washington No one has more proven fake news about the allegedly “stolen” US 2020 election than the actor. Apparently he never escaped the “Videodrome”.


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