Tuesday, October 28, 2008

It Began with Videodrome

While shopping for bargain movies, Moviestop was running a sale on Halloween movies. Spooky DVDs. They had the usual (and I asked, "how many copies of Evil Dead will they rerelease?"), but their sale also extended to box sets of Mario Bava (which I received last year for Christmas) and Dario Argento (two out of four of the films being good I passed it up). My treasured find was the Criterion Edition of Videodrome, David Cronenberg's 1983 film about brain tumors, subliminal terror and horrific hallucinations. Having seen this about ten years ago, I was wanting to reexperience the film on my big TV from this pristine print. The tape I'd watched was the "uncut" video released years ago which I'd bought used from a store in Times Square that is now the TRL studio for MTV. This was a gift for my brother so I never had the chance to revisit it. He was going through his sculpting/special effects phase so the film had intrigued him.

So, here I was revisiting old school Cronenberg. I've always loved his early work because of the cold and clinical, quasi-futuristic ambiance that those older movies had. I love that they were low budget but well made (and in all the years his style has not really changed; the budgets have gotten bigger but the movies still move at the same space). The recurring leitmotifs (i.e. brain tumors, subliminal terror and horrific hallucinations) revealed that Cronenberg may actually be a frustrated science fiction writer. I've never felt his films were out and out horror (even with The Fly). There's more science and speculative themes than there are horrors. Sure, they're filled with venereal goo but it's the speculative ideas that make them more science (fact) than horror. He also prophesied corporate immorality, mad doctors and their obsessive patients (i.e. plastic surgeons and silicone obsessed augmentations; the New Flesh?) and pharmaceutical madness.
But most of all I return to his films because they remind me of the immediate alternate present of J.G. Ballard and Philip K. Dick. It was no wonder he was set to have directed Total Recall (but as the original "We Can Remember it For You Wholesale" story). But it is strange that of all of J.G. Ballard's work he chose to direct Crash. It seems that his early films (Crimes of the Future, Shivers, Rabid and The Brood) riff on scenarios from Ballard stories: crumbling high-rise domiciles, corrupt institutes of questionable medical practices and long stretches of deserted roads like the vacuous pathways of the mind.

In the coming days, being further intrigued and realising I'd never seen Shivers, I decided to catch up with the rest: Stereo, Crimes of the Future, Shivers, Scanners and even Crash and Naked Lunch.

And yes, dammit, it makes me realize how sequential and thematically related they all are, even that they take place in the same universe. Mostly. I would say eXistenZ takes place in the same world as Videodrome; the drug company in Scanners could be the same one from Shivers and Rabid which eventually become the future corporations of Crimes of the Future; Oliver Reed's character from The Brood could be a doctor in that universe as well. But as I see it, it was probably Videodrome that broke Cronenberg of the framework he used before and paved the way (the mental landscape) for everything which followed.


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