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CRITERION

MOVIE INFO

Director:
David Cronenberg
Cast:
James Woods, Sonja Smits, Deborah Harry, Peter Dvorsky, Leslie Carlson, Jack Creley, Lynne Gorman, Julie Khaner
Writing Credits:
David Cronenberg

Tagline:
First it controlled her mind, then it destroyed her body ... Long live the new flesh!

Synopsis:
When Max Renn goes looking for edgy new shows for his sleazy cable TV station, he stumbles across the pirate broadcast of a hyperviolent torture show called Videodrome. As he unearths the origins of the program, he embarks on a hallucinatory journey into a shadow world of right-wing conspiracies, sadomasochistic sex games, and bodily transformation. Renn's ordinary life dissolves around him, he finds himself at the center of a conflict between opposing factions in the struggle to control the truth behind the radical human future of "the New Flesh." Starring James Woods and Deborah Harry in one of her first film roles, Videodrome is one of writer/director David Cronenberg's most original and provocative works, fusing social commentary with shocking elements of sex and violence. With groundbreaking special effects makeup by Academy Award-winner Rick Baker, Videodrome has come to be regarded as one of the most influential and mind-bending science fiction films of the 1980s, and The Criterion Collection is proud to present it in its full-length unrated edition.

Box Office:
Budget
$5.952 million.
Opening Weekend
$1.194 million on 600 screens.
Domestic Gross
$2.120 million.

MPAA:
Rated R

DVD DETAILS
Presentation:
Widescreen 1.85:1/16x9
Audio:
English Monaural
Subtitles:
English
Closed-captioned

Runtime: 89 min.
Price: $39.95
Release Date: 8/31/2004

Bonus:
Disc One
• Audio Commentary with Director David Cronenberg and Director of Photography Mark Irwin
• Audio Commentary with Actors James Wood and Deborah Harry
Camera Short Film
Disc Two
• “Forging the New Flesh” Documentary
• “Effects Men” Audio Interviews
• “Bootleg Video” Footage
• “Fear on Film” Roundtable Discussion
• Trailers
• Production Featurette
• Stills Galleries

• 40-Page Booklet


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EQUIPMENT
Sony 36" WEGA KV-36FS12 Monitor; Sony DA333ES Processor/Receiver; Panasonic CV-50 DVD Player using component outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Sony SA-WM40 Subwoofer.

RELATED REVIEWS


Videodrome: Criterion Collection (1983)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (October 15, 2004)

As one watches a flick like 1983’s Videodrome, it seems remarkable to consider that director David Cronenberg once teetered on the verge of turning into a mainstream filmmaker. Indeed, Cronenberg led some big-name efforts like 1983’s Stephen King adaptation The Dead Zone and 1986’s The Fly. However, he still brought his own perverse slant to those flicks, and he remains one of cinema’s most distinctive directors.

Videodrome finds Cronenberg as he transitions from simpler genre flicks into efforts with a broader scope. Max Renn (James Woods) runs “Channel 83”, an edgy cable network. They specialize in titillating material like softcore porn and various acts of violence. He always looks for new sleaze to run, and technician Harlan (Peter Dvorsky) helps him track down the goods.

One day Harlan hones in on footage of whippings and violence that also include sexual elements. This intrigues Max, who tries to get Harlan to fine-tune the rough and hard to locate transmission. In the meantime, Max meets radio host Nicki Brand (Deborah Harry) and woos her. She turns out to be into some kinky things and likes for Max to inflict pain on her during sexual acts.

Max learns more about the transmissions Harlan located. He finds out they shoot “Videodrome” in Pittsburgh, which leads Nicki to decide to go there and try out for it. Max advises against this and attempts to get deeper into his secrets. With the help of agent Masha (Lynne Gorman), he eventually learns that “Videodrome” isn’t faked; the events happen for real. Masha also warns him of the show’s philosophy and tries to keep him away from it, but he decides to find out more about it.

This leads Max on an ever-spiraling odyssey. He encounters “video prophet” Professor Brian O’Blivion (Jack Creley) and daughter Bianca (Sonja Smits) and finds out more about the effect that “Videodrome” has on him. Ever since he started to watch it, he developed hallucinations, and he learns the cause of these as well as the motivations behind “Videodrome”.

As with virtually every Cronenberg flick, Videodrome won’t be for everybody - or even many. It’s hard to imagine a Cronenberg effort without a plethora of disturbing images, and this one lives up to that concept. As Max gets deeper into the world of “Videodrome”, odd things happen to him and others. We’re never quite sure if these represent hallucinations or reality, but the film depicts them in all their disgustingly graphic glory. Cronenberg never met a slimy, nasty image that he didn’t like.

One shouldn’t dismiss Cronenberg as a simple gross-out artist, though, for he attempts films with a broader social context than that. Works that assay the cultural impact of television have existed as long as the medium itself, so Videodrome finds itself with a lot of company. Few efforts in that vein have been this distinctive and unusual, though.

It definitely comes across as one of those movies you need to watch a few times to absorb. The flick takes a few unusual twists and doesn’t go the way you might expect. On the surface, it may seem like an indictment of the negative influence of TV, but that depicts Cronenberg’s concepts in too simple a manner. It’s much more subtle than the usual view of the medium

No one will accuse Videodrome of offering the world’s most coherent narrative. That makes the movie drag a bit at times, since the movie occasionally tends to meander. Nonetheless, it remains quirky and involving for the most part. The film follows some unusual paths and presents an intriguing tale.


The DVD Grades: Picture A-/ Audio B-/ Bonus A-

Videodrome appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Videodrome wasn’t perfect but it usually looked very good.

Sharpness was excellent. At all times, the movie maintained a strong sense of clarity and definition. If any softness interfered, I failed to notice it. No issues with jagged edges or moiré effects cropped up, but the image displayed some light edge enhancement. Light grain appeared at times, all of which seemed connected to the source material. Otherwise, the print was clean, as no more than a couple of specks were visible.

Not much of Videodrome presented a challenging palette, but it nonetheless displayed solid tones. The colors usually stayed subdued, though they occasionally became brighter and more vibrant. Throughout the film, the colors looked concise and full. Black levels also appeared deep and rich, while low-light shots demonstrated nice delineation and smoothness. Because of the edge enhancement, I found it tough to decide between an “A-“ and a “B+” for this image. I ultimately went with the higher grade due to the film’s age and relatively low budget. Given those constraints, the movie looked terrific.

As for the monaural soundtrack of Videodrome, it proved less scintillating. However, that was expected, and the audio worked fine nonetheless. Speech occasionally betrayed a little edginess, but mostly the lines came across as reasonably natural and distinctive. Effects also showed some minor distortion, at least for the louder elements. Most of the pieces sounded clear and accurate, though. The synthesizer score of Videodrome remained low-key and muted through most of the movie. It presented good definition and clarity, especially in the lower registers that dominated the somber music. Don’t expect fireworks from the film’s audio and you’ll be satisfied with this good soundtrack.

For this Criterion edition of Videodrome, we get a fairly lavish two-disc set. On DVD One, we find two separate audio commentaries. The first presents remarks from director David Cronenberg and director of photography Mark Irwin, both of whom sit separately for this edited piece. The pair cover the movie well and go into a mix of useful topics. We learn about the film’s origins, influences and references as well as casting and working with the actors. Cronenberg offers nice notes about the issues that came with Debbie Harry’s status as a neophyte actress, while Irwin lets us know lighting challenges he faced with her. The director tells us about Woods’ paranoia on the set and how it affected the production. Irwin also goes into other visual design concerns and some impressions of the sets and general atmosphere during the film. Cronenberg tosses out more than a few solid production notes but also gets into the movie’s subtext as well as his place in filmmaking. The piece moves briskly and provides a very useful and compelling examination of the movie.

In the second commentary, we find remarks from actors James Woods and Deborah Harry. As with the first track, both sit separately for an edited piece. Woods dominates this consistently involving chat. Both go over their impressions of Cronenberg, why they did the film, and various experiences on the set. They talk about the flick’s place among others from its genre as well as a mix of challenges. They cover the production nicely, and Woods seems particularly good at delving into the story’s nuances and subtext. It’s another informative and lively discussion.

DVD One also presents Camera. A short film directed by Cronenberg in 2000, it lasts six minutes, 40 seconds and also features Videodrome’s Les Carlson. It’s a typically odd little Cronenberg piece that says something about the artificial nature of filmmaking.

Now we head to DVD Two and its supplements. We start with a new documentary called Forging the New Flesh. This 27-minute and 39-second program includes a mix of movie clips, behind the scenes materials, and interviews. We hear from Cronenberg (from 1981), Woods (1981), video effects supervisor - and “Flesh” producer - Michael Lennick, physical effects supervisor Frank Carere, makeup effects crew Bill Sturgeon, makeup effects supervisor Rick Baker, and location manager David Coatsworth. They talk a little about the project’s background, Baker’s history, the nature of the crew, impressions of Cronenberg, and specifics about the movie’s various effects. “Flesh” goes through the material in a rather dry manner that makes it less than scintillating. However, it covers the information concisely, and the shots from the production help make it all the more useful.

Similar topics show up in Effects Men. The segments include audio remarks from Rick Baker and Michael Lennick. The piece alternates between the pair and lasts about 20 minutes altogether. Since Baker and Lennick already discussed the nuts and bolts of their work for Videodrome in the prior piece, here they mainly talk about general subjects. They let us know about working with Cronenberg and other issues connected to movie effects. They cover the topics concisely and provide a nice examination of their fields.

Bootleg Video splits into three areas. Each presents video material shot for the film, and we see the pieces in their entirety here. We get “Samurai Dreams” (four minutes, 45 seconds), “Transmissions from Videodrome” (7:14), and “Helmet-Cam” (5:03). (The latter’s actually test footage.) It’s cool to get a closer look at the pieces. Each segment comes with commentaries. “Samurai” includes two: one from Cronenberg and one from Irwin and Lennick. That pair accompanies “Transmissions”, while only Lennick shows up for “Helmet-Cam”. Cronenberg chats about ratings issues, while the others discuss various production topics connected to the snippets in question. The commentaries help flesh out the material.

Shot in 1982, Fear on Film presents a 25-minute and 38-second “round-table” discussion. It includes Cronenberg plus fellow directors John Carpenter and John Landis. They talk about issues like influences and impressions of other horror flicks, the boundaries of what’s acceptable to show onscreen and censorship, the potential impact of movies, various themes, working with makeup effects, and some specifics of the men’s movies. On their own, each of the directors can be interesting, so it’s especially cool to get all three together. They cover a mix of good subjects in a frank and informative manner during this very good program.

The “Marketing” area includes a mix of materials. In addition to three trailers, we get The Making of Videodrome, a seven-minute and 49-second featurette created in 1982. It mixes movie bits, footage from the set, and interviews with Cronenberg, Woods, Baker, and Deborah Harry. They cover general topics connected to the movie and don’t tell us much, though the behind the scenes material is good to see.

Within the Marketing Gallery, we discover 53 images the encompass posters, lobby cards, other ads and memorabilia. Publicity Stills offers 25 shots. Neither is exciting, but both include interesting pictures.

Finally, the package includes a 40-page booklet. It starts with a Village Voice article called “Make Mine Cronenberg” by Carrie Rickey and then gives us “Medium Cool: Reflections on Videodrome” from Tim Lucas. Gary Indiana’s “That Slithery Sense of Unreality” ends the set. It’s a typically excellent booklet from Criterion.

With conspiracies, snuff films and all sorts of freaky stuff, Videodrome stands out as a weird piece of work. Happily, the efforts coalesce to create a challenging and vivid film. The DVD offers very strong visuals plus unexceptional audio and a collection of solid extras. This Criterion edition of Videodrome gives us a rich look at a complicated flick.

Viewer Film Ratings: 4.3636 Stars Number of Votes: 22
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