31 Days of Horror – October 30th – “Videodrome”

Admittedly this movie made the list because I’ve heard enough people talk about it that I more wanted to check it off the list than I had real draw to it. Not that I had a negative outlook on it from the onset. I just wanted to clarify that I had no real pull towards this movie. I can take James Woods usually in small enough doses and at this point I am aware of David Cronenberg enough to know that at some point in his film I’m going to be thoroughly disgusted at some form of his practical makeup and effects in the film. So while I didn’t have any specific negative outlook on the film, all of the lower notes about this movie were most definitely present.

Videodrome IMDb

I will say that I wasn’t fully aware of anything to do with the plot of this movie. I was in the dark, even from what people had gone on and on about this movie. The more that I think about it, the more I think I have to realize that while I was aware how often this title came up in various forms of conversation I was a party to, beyond recognizing the name and major players of the film I was nearly completely ignorant to anything else regarding this movie. While I won’t just come right out and say the movie was a bad film, I think I’ve concluded that I’m not necessarily Cronenberg’s audience. At least not in a particular sense. One of the things I’m well aware of in the directing community is that many films that written and directed by the same person stem from a place that is very personal to that writer/director. There are talented individuals that only fulfill one half of these roles and are still armed with a flair for whatever they are doing and even perhaps a bent they want to skew the messaging with in the end. But the limitations one finds by only fulfilling the role of writer OR director means that someone else is at the helm of some portion of the narrative. A writer has a strong voice in the subject matter that shows up on the screen but the director is the one who ultimately commands the visual representation of that voice. A director has control of the final product that people end up seeing but with the source material not being their own, they only have limited ability to capture the heart of the intended message. And any instance where the source material is an established intellectual property then you are extremely beholden to the fan base and their existing understanding of a world they’ve created with that writer. So being the lone individual to both write and direct a movie lends itself to a measure of control that is not the standard when it comes to most movies. Being that Cronenberg was sitting fully in the driver’s seat of this production, it was his vision all the way through that he was intending for the audience to experience. As long as he was capable enough in visually representing his own ideas well enough, whatever his messaging was would live up there on the screen.

I think if you’re going to come at this film from a casual observer’s perspective you walk away with one main word. Weird. It’s a weird movie. I knew it would be. Regardless of having no understanding of what the plot was, James Woods is a guy that shows up in a lot of weird movies and David Cronenberg is a guy who directs a lot of weird movies. So I had to adjust a bit to prepare for a weird movie. But I think that’s why when you get to describing a movie as a “Cronenberg Film” you’ve already sort of mapped out the intended audience. People that are clamoring for his works may subscribe to whatever ideology he likes to inject into his films at large or just enjoys the lens by which he sees the world. I completely understand that and when I say the film is weird, I would like to request that it be taken as a neutral sort of descriptor. I know weird could easily have a negative connotation, but there is a space in which weird is just the word you have to use to describe something because it’s notably peculiar. I really don’t want to critique this film based on what I think Cronenberg was attempting to say. He may have come out in other venues and said specifically the point he was attempting to make through his art. And he’s more than welcome to do that. I don’t disagree with his ability to do that. Additionally, I’m the one that showed up and watched his movie so I’m not going to whine about not liking whatever he has to say. There are movies that provoke my thought. I enjoy those films quite a bit. Some movies just have a way of pulling you both into and through a couple of hours worth of story and by doing so they also push you to try and see what that story was trying to tell you. Sometimes it’s up for some kind of interpretation. Some movies are left with open endings for you to decide what happens. Some movies are ambiguous about a final decision or what certain elements of the movie were supposed to elicit both mentally and emotionally. Other movies have an agenda. The exposition on screen is a means by which a series of interconnected propositions are meant to push forward an ideology that the film is centered around or deals with in some form or fashion. It could be directly or in directly. The film could be an example or a metaphor. When you begin to get into the realm of breaking down elements in a movie that have multiple meanings or symbolic ties to all sorts of other things, it opens other forms of discourse about that film.

I will say that in some instances I sincerely enjoy taking a film and dissecting in in this manner. A significant portion of doing this is typically another person. It’s usually a more pleasant experience if you enjoy a film of this nature with somebody who has some measure of similar ability to digest film in this way. I’ve often found that lopsidedness in discussions about film can be fruitless and sometimes unhelpful. A disparity in understanding just puts the two viewers in different places on the spectrum of interpretation. When this is accidental, meaning that one person was not picking up on some of whatever cues were potentially present, it just becomes confusing to try and break down the emotion in a scene. Not that there’s an inability to understand the film but if you take a scene straightforward and another person looks for hidden meanings in that same scene, you can arrive at the end of that piece of the film with two very different ideas of where the movie is going. If you just take the images and sounds you are hearing at face value and enjoy the story on the surface, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. Deeper meaning to a film does not have to be voluntarily implied by anyone involved in the film making process. Some movies are just straight forward stories. And when you get right down to it, it’s not hard to begin ascribing ideologies and attributes to things that were never intended. Something could hit one viewer as emotionally magnificent. Full of relatable depth that draws out complex notions about any number of feelings particularly relevant to that participant. The other person could watch the same scene and simply laugh at a well placed joke and take nothing deeper away from that portion of the movie. Neither person is watching the movie incorrectly. This isn’t a place to further divide people. It’s a portion of the magic that is intrinsically inherent in film. You can see a film and have it move you tremendously. Or you can watch a film and feel absolutely nothing about it. If I take all of this personal notation to the interpretation of film back to the one in question, I definitely feel like Videodrome has a number of very central themes and ideas about the progressively captivating medium that is media. I know I could probably go out and probe the internet for things that Cronenberg has said about the film personally. I’d wager I could sift through countless hours of other people breaking down their experience with the film. Testimonies and commentaries may run wild surrounding this film. My biggest problem by the time I was done with it is that I just didn’t care about the messaging because in the end I didn’t really care for the movie.

I suppose, to a degree, I’m just writing my own escape route more than anything. I’d imagine if I really wanted to be a glutton for punishment I could indulge any number of individuals for discussion on this film and I have no doubt that some very well thought out narratives could be established through several different series of well curated, factual thoughts. I’m even open to the notation that I could even have my mind changed on whether or not this film is enjoyable. I don’t doubt that because it has happened to me before. The thing is, right now I don’t care to change my mind on it. It doesn’t discount the fact that the film was crafted impressively enough. The story is interesting in that way you tell people something is interesting because you don’t want to expound into something less appealing in description. What it comes down to is this movie is not for me. Cronenberg in many instances is not for me. James Woods, in several instances, is not for me. There’s just not a lot for me to take away from this film as far as enjoyment goes. And I think what I’m trying to really highlight is the fact that this doesn’t have to take away from someone else’s enjoyment of the film. It’s not pandering that’s meant to try and assuage some measure of guilt I have. If anyone asked me point blank I’d tell them that I didn’t like the film. Personally it’s just weird and I don’t enjoy it. But I won’t deny that a film like this has garnered the fans it has because Cronenberg has a remarkably deft hand at creating visually impressive films with practical effects and complex story lines that are thought provoking. I’m not trudging back up Slotherhouse like it was some diamond in the rough that I didn’t give a fair shake. It was a horrible movie. It was poorly crafted with unskilled actors and a ridiculous premise. It was hastily assembled on a low budget meant to find just enough distribution to hopefully oversell the campiness of the film and make money off of people’s proclivity to ingest cinematic garbage if they think it’s silly enough. I’m not trying to conflate that film with Videodrome. I understand why some people enjoy Cronenberg’s work and align with his line of thinking in this film. It just doesn’t do it for me so I politely bow out of the fan club.

I think that’s my big takeaway from this movie. There’s a difference between a movie I didn’t like and a bad movie. Now I don’t like a lot of bad movies. But there are movies that I like that other people would call bad because they didn’t like them. And I think that’s where we get into murky territory. Ascribing that a movie is bad because you didn’t like it is an emotional response to the movie. Noting that you didn’t like a movie but being able to appreciate the fact that other people would easily find it far more entertaining is disagreeing with what you’ve watched but respecting that real effort and attention was put into a project that just wasn’t for you. Which I think is a class we need to remember to make space for when it comes to some movies. I don’t think it’s all of them. In one of my favorite Bill Murray movies, “What About Bob?” he poses a binary category that breaks down humanity in a particular respect. Those who like Neil Diamond and those who don’t. In the film, Murray uses this epithet to explain away why his marriage failed, more than likely establishing a lack of culpability in the dissolution of his matrimonial state. But it’s a kind of either/or situation we place a lot of things when really there’s no need to map out where everyone falls on every single movie. I don’t love or hate every movie I’ve ever seen. Heck, even this whole endeavor through October I’ve been ranking how these movies hit me on a scale. It’s all on a spectrum as is. I know some people love to throw out iconic movies and put forth the idea that you either love it or you hate it. It’s all anecdotal. “A Christmas Story” is a classic example. “Oh man, you either love that movie or you hate it!” is something I hear every holiday season when it comes up. I happen to have a great affinity for it. But I’ve also met people that liked it just fine but had no strong feelings one way or the other. And I didn’t feel the need to press. Why? Because I just enjoy sharing in the experience. Even now as I get to the end of this review and this experience as a whole, I know I knew these things because it’s my brain that’s putting these words here for you to read. So all this was my thoughts on the subject as it’s always been. But sometimes I have to put things down like this to even get at the heart of a message I didn’t know I was trying to get out. Videodrome as it stands is probably a 3.5 for me. I know some people might gasp at that. Some people might ask me what Videodrome is. Some people might think I’m silly in general for taking the time to watch and write about it at all. That’s the beauty of it. It’s the perspectives that come together. You might think I’m an idiot for undervaluing such an iconic work and iconic director. You might think I’m wonderful for finally echoing something you’ve been saying for forever. You might be wondering how you got on this page when you were looking for a garlic bread recipe and why you’ve read this far into my review of a movie while your lasagna is overcooking in the oven right now. You’re welcome for the reminder by the way. Go take it out before it’s burnt. But the beautiful thing about movies is they bring us together in different ways at different times. While we might not agree on Videodrome, you might LOVE What About Bob so we’re not total enemies right? That’s the thing. It’s easy to find those lines that divide us. Like a bad sitcom where new roommates find themselves quadranting themselves off with duct tape barriers as they argue over who owns which half of the microwave, it’s not hard to bump into those invisible partitions where we arbitrarily assign division. Personally I think I’d rather have a spirited discussion with someone about this film only to search for other movies we DO have in common to build a bridge instead of burn it. I think we’d all be a little better off if recreational things like movie watching didn’t put us in opposite camps but allowed us the freedom to find the spaces where we overlap the most and figure out where we are the same. So I know I’ve gotten on a bit of a philanthropic soap box in what was meant to be a somewhat expectedly shorter review of an early 80’s horror flick, but I’m happy we made it here anyways. So whether you love Videodrome, hate Videiodrome or have never even heard of Videodrome, why not use it as a springboard to find some other movie lovers you might not normally associate with and spend some time looking for the films you connect on instead of the ones you don’t. That’s my piece on this one as we near the end of spooky season unofficially. Until tomorrow night when we finish all this up, I’ll catch you on the flip side.

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