Nostalgia Zone: Videodrome

★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Among the category of great filmmakers, we often hear the familiar names of Lynch, Hitchcock or Kubrick. I would dare to say that David Cronenberg can and deserves to be put in this category. What Cronenberg has done in his movies demonstrates a mastery of film that more than qualifies him to be considered a director who has captured something unique in film, even to the extent of transcending the medium.

Videodrome (1983) begins with Max Renn, a TV Producer who specializes in late night X-rated shows. He spends his days buying obscure sexual and violent shows that he can release on his channel for viewers. But one day he intercepts a broadcast from an unknown source. It’s a show that defies any plot or sensibility, with gratuitous murder and sex (remember this film is from the more innocent 80’s, they didn’t have the internet). Max knows he must have it. The name of this enigmatic show? Videodrome. At once Max sets off to uncover the mystery behind the strange radio signal and who is producing it. However, Max is warned, “it has something that you don’t have, Max. It has a philosophy, and that is what makes it dangerous”. These cryptic words are spoken by Masha, the old woman who specializes in acquiring these seedy shows for Max to put on his network. But Max is undeterred, he knows the show is a sure hit. 

Max and Nicki Brand (played by Debbie Harry, the lead singer of Blondie), a psychologist he starts a relationship with, both obsess over Videodrome, consuming it like an addict takes his drug. However the more Max watches, the more strange things begin to get and we start to follow Max down a rabbit-hole where television and reality become indiscernible. 

A phrase that comes to mind when describing ‘Videodrome’ is Marshall McLuhan’s famous statement that “The medium is the message”. Cronenberg, a student when McLuhan was a lecturer at the University of Toronto, certainly picked up on this idea and made it a focal point of his art style. Time and time again we see Cronenberg use the nature of the medium to drive the message, from the confusing structure of ‘Naked Lunch’ to the obsessive and graphic portrayals in ‘A History of Violence’. ‘Videodrome’ is Cronenberg taking this idea to the extreme. In this world, television is a weapon that will determine the new order and is being fought by all sorts of shadowy organizations. 

But Cronenberg also pushes beyond this, suggesting that once someone can no longer perceive outside the medium, then it is their reality.  When Max Renn steps inside the world of Videodrome reality and fiction no longer apply. In fact, Cronenberg suggests that reality is simply whatever we perceive it as, rather than physical truth. What Max sees no longer becomes some simple illusion, it is real because he sees it as so. And as the audience we view Max’s flight through our own screens, following him each step of the way. Things we could once dismiss as hallucination becomes increasingly difficult and we are left exactly where Max is, subject to the same visual truth that attacks his senses. 

Overall ‘Videodrome’ is a fantastic film that I highly recommend. Almost prophetic, it rightly predicted the issue of overstimulation that we are left with now in this internet society. It’s a film that can hardly be done justice with words and can rightfully only be seen to be understood. Cronenberg is a filmmaker who has managed to demonstrate a quality of his medium that is simply untouchable by words. 

Videodrome is available to stream on Netflix.


Anton Rivas Pertile – UCDTV Auditor