…or How I Know I’m a Film Snob
Arguably the least entertaining movie I’ve ever had the displeasure of seeing; I was forced to sit through two screenings of this movie for a film class I took my freshman year of college. The movie was to me, at best, compelling in its sexual perversion and uncanny corporeal transformations-James Woods growing a vagina? Nice. Raping James Woods's vagina with a betamax tape? You'll just have to see for yourself.
I liked the movie even less as I spent hours trying to sift through the indecipherable supplementary reading to write my paper. McLuhan and Baudrillard, mostly-and endless discussions about simulacrum, and the “medium is the massage.” I’ve warmed up to McLuhan (hell, I even read him for fun over the summer), but I found the class (seminar style) to be filled with mostly inane, Wikipedia-quality discussion. And who could be blamed? We spent all of three classes on McLuhan, and we were taking a film class to boot-nobody signs up for a film class to sift through byzantine sentences by postmodern hacks right? It’s half engineers looking for an easy liberal arts class to fulfill a requirement.
Cursory treatment of Videodrome and McLuhan aside, I am absolutely staggered by how much I have warmed up to the movie. If the film class did anything (besides forcing me to read psychoanalytic inanities about Hitchcock movies) it moved me from the passive viewer of escapist entertainment to active, analytical critic. I noticed this shift in thought halfway through the course, and Videodrome made this quite the meta experience.
I like Videodrome more for what I’ve learned from it (in terms of the way I watch movies) than its content or somewhat garbled message. Other noders have already provided far better synopses of this movie than I could ever hope to write, but I’ll use Walter’s point to jumpstart my criticism:
In terms of keeping the viewer entertained, the movie fails (unless you’re like me and like seeing James Woods with a vagina), although there is more to the movie than that. Cronenberg effectively, through clever shots, reminds us that we are watching everything, and everything from the perspective of Max. He effectively questions perception, to the point where we are unable to distinguish fact from fiction. What we perceive as reality is our subjective view-the viewer is made conscious of this by framing events through Max’s perspective and framing the tapes Max watches so the viewer is aware of the television. He channels (so to speak) McLuhan (I think I recall reading that Cronenberg studied under McCluhan in college)-what with the making love to the television and all (the medium is the massage?). Eventually the events unfold towards the middle in which Max is given an induced hallucination by Barry Convex-the rest of the movie is ambiguous-is everything from that point a hallucination (we don’t see him take the device off, although it appears that he has returned to reality, or what he has left of it).
This on its own is quite a cogent movie, McLuhan in a different medium, if you will. What defies all logic, and has confused me to no end in the year that has passed since I first saw it, is the concept of the “new flesh,” which is not worth even thinking about unless you plan on seeing the movie. It makes up a significant portion of the movie, unfortunately, and the closest I can come to explaining this bizarre philosophy is that it seems to be related to the final singularity Frank Tipler talks about in his Omega Point theory(I guess). Oh, and then of course there's the complete non-sequitur of an ending.
But onto my larger point, the reason I’m a film snob is that, in spite of (or perhaps because of) not understanding a significant component/theory of the movie, I have a Videodrome poster hanging in my room. As mentioned earlier, however, I rationalize it by telling myself that my understanding of McLuhan vindicates me in this regard. And from what I can tell, it does. So, then, my overall idea is that I'm drawn to movies I have a tenuous grasp of at best-because if I barely understand a lesser known movie I've studied for over a year, it'll sound impressive, and who knows enough about McLuhan to debate me (in everyday life)? Do other movies I like fit this pattern? No. I guess I need at least one extremely esoteric movie, and a boring one to boot (because if you find it boring that can only mean that you don't get it, right?).
I’ve analyzed the movie several times over, and all I get out of it is either a mindfuck (mild reaction) or existential crisis/despair (extreme). Oh, and word to the wise, avoid academic papers on Videodrome-it’s all postmodern drivel-read McLuhan and Baudrillard-really, it’s all you need. Really.
Before I forget, this should give everyone a good laugh http://www.elsewhere.org/pomo/