So last night I’m just sitting around doing very little with my free time, bored out of my mind when out of the sky comes a white shining horse come to save me from the despair and loneliness that a twenty three year old single dude with no personal life might have – that horse, that beautiful horse came in the form of a personal favorite of mine: Videodrome. A film I suspect many reading this should be pretty familiar with. Watching this film on that evening got my ticker turning and I thought: ARTICLE TIME! Since I don’t have much else rolling around in my brain. Especially nothing I can squeeze almost a thousand words out of. Well, for those unfamiliar with this film essentially Videodrome is a very simple story… for the first twenty minutes. Telling the story of a man named Max Renn who is the president of a small TV station that focuse mainly on the most sensational forms of entertainment they can track down. Max even has his video pirate friend tracking the videowaves in hopes of finding bizarre television shows in foreign markets. One night, Max finds just what he has been looking for. A show called Videodrome. A gameshow of sorts, except no prizes… or questions… or anything really resembling a gameshow format. I call it that because the characters in the movie sometimes do. Videodrome is live torture, in a clay-encased room usually followed by the murder of the “contestant”. No plot, no meaning, just death and humiliation. Max is astounded, and his newly found girlfriend who dabbles a bit in sadomasochism is in love. The pirated signal at first seems to be coming from Malaysia, but it is soon found that it’s really just a delay and Videodrome is being produced right here in America. As Max sets out to find out just what Videodrome is, he begins to have hallucinations. As things progress, it gets worse, until Max’s life is so blurred that he nor we the audience can any longer tell what is fact, what is fiction and where the lines between reality and fiction had even started before their blurring.
Videodrome is a classic in what I refer to as cinema of the absurd, it’s a form of filmmaking that doesn’t neccesarily have to make any kind of conventional sense – but is told in such a distinct and astonishing way that it entrances the audience. Videodrome is one of the few films I can sit down and watch backwards and forwards, then start the whole process over again. It is a tough cookie to crack, and I don’t believe I understand the plight of our lead character Max now any more than the first time I originally sat through it. However I do understand that this film may be Cronenberg’s greatest work and one of the best North American films produced in the eighties easily. Essentially, later in the film it is revealed that Max now has a tumor for reasons I won’t get into – but the tumor is what is producing these visions and in the process draws away the ability for both Max and the Viewer to grasp even the tiniest fraction of reality from what is going on within the film. Cronenberg created a sense of paranoia and confusion unlike any other film I can think of, but his vision of men with giant vagina-like caverns on their chest and television sets that breathe could have been inspired by the works of Fellini, David Lynch or Luis Buñuel. Unlike Fellini or Buñuel however, Cronenberg lets his audience get a taste for the normal, lets them sink into their chairs expecting a thriller and doesn’t pull out all the weird stuff just for the sake of creating underlying messages. Cronenberg tells a story and warns audiences about our culture and the reliance on television and technology at the time. In that sense, I find it a much easier film to sink into and try to understand.
Cronenberg and David Lynch are filmmakers that seem tied together in fans eyes, I suppose because both are North American and have a tendency to make films within this cinema of the absurd genre. Cronenberg has created more films that follow a straight and narrow plot structure, however films like the before mentioned Videodrome and possibly even Existenz to some degree – they have stuck with fans so much that the two just have to be linked together. Lynch however has dedicated his artistic output to this absurd form of cinematic structure. With films like Lost Highway, Mulholland Dr. and his most recent feature Inland Empire. All films follow a somewhat structured narrative for a short amount of time, before the entire world and climate change around our characters. Films like MD and Lost Highway can actually be understood to some degree, if you can piece together the scenes to try and understand what has happened, what is happening and where things are going. Built like puzzles as film, David Lynch proves to still be one of the most exciting and intriguing directors thirty years since the release of his completely bizarre debut Eraserhead.
There are many filmmakers belonging in this category, the previously mentioned Fellini, Buñuel, Takashi Miike (only occasionally), Shinya Tsukamoto and many others have delved outside the norm in terms of structure and they are just as welcome on this list of other great filmmakers. I essentially wrote this article to express my love for this small genre of filmmaking. Call it what you will, absurdist, expressionist, experimental, etc. What it comes down to though is storytelling in an unusual fashion and that to me is what cinema is all about. Anything to engage the audience in a deeper fashion and craft a story from nothing. In the end, if a filmmaker does that – there’s not much else more you can ask of them.
– Joshua Samford