Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Long Live the New Flesh!

Last Saturday, I met Tom of Punished Butts and "terror bunny" Pinkie Pain. They were visiting Munich for a day and, happily, we found time for coffee and a chat. Be sure to take a look at their websites - both are wonderful kinky people and have a lot of fine imagery to offer. And they're film buffs, too, so naturally, that was one subject of our conversation. As usual, Stanley Kubrick and David Lynch came up, two directors everyone seems to like (everyone with a shred of good taste, that is).

One name I didn't mention on Saturday, but could have: David Cronenberg. I just watched some of his work again, and no matter how often I see it, I'm blown away. Certainly one of my favourite filmmakers and another guy I'd love to have coffee with. For me, Cronenberg is the undisputed "king of horror" of the past 30 years. Of course, he is much more than a genre director. His horror is not the easy, superficial scare of the slasher, but the intellectual kind, the dark, frightening abyss of the human mind. In one way or another, most of Cronenberg's films deal with sexuality, body modification, violence and control. How our primordial impulses are barely kept in check by the bounds of civilization. How mind and matter interact. How quickly the tenuous border between sanity and madness can be crossed (and how do we tell the difference, anyway?). How technology can change our perception of reality and, therefore, our reality itself.

In light of the subject matter, it goes without saying that kinky themes can be found here, there and everywhere in Cronenberg's movies: Shivers (1975) offers an interesting variation on the zombie film, where the residents of a high-rise apartment complex are infected by parasites that turn them into sex-crazed maniacs. Rabid (1977) features porn star Marilyn Chambers in a surprisingly well-acted performance as Rose, a girl who undergoes experimental plastic surgery and, as a result, develops a taste for human blood. After his divorce, Cronenberg made The Brood (1979), a film about murderous mutant children and a man strangling his institutionalized wife.

The Fly (1986) is a hilarious (and pleasantly disgusting) remake of the cheesy 1950's mad scientist movie (Cronenberg has a brief cameo as a gynecologist). In Dead Ringers (1988), Jeremy Irons plays identical twins who are both doctors (gynecologists, of course) and share everything in their lives, including women (easy when you look the same!) and insanity. Crash (1996) deals with car wrecks, the beauty of injury and lots of sex, in an artistically successful manner and to the outrage of moral guardians everywhere.

The list goes on and on... It's hard to pick a favourite, but if I had to, I would probably select Videodrome (1983). It stars James Woods as Max Renn, a "sleaze and violence" TV programmer who starts hallucinating and losing grip on his life after he discovers "Videodrome", an underground torture and murder broadcast. His girlfriend Niki... err, Nicki Brand (played by Deborah "Blondie" Harry) has a knack for masochism and goes off to audition for the show. But as if that wasn't good enough, one character I can really identify with is Professor Brian O'Blivion (sic!), a futurist scholar who only appears on screen because "the monologue is his preferred mode of discourse". He rambles on about TV as "the retina of the mind's eye" and how it will create new human organs in the brain. Wonderful stuff.

As for Max Renn, he realizes much too late that the makers of "Videodrome" are even more sinister than the "torture show" exterior would suggest. But by this point, he can't be sure what is real and what is video hallucination. The same insecurity applies to the viewer, and therein lies much of the appeal. In summary, we have a film that is delightfully ambiguous and paranoid, covers a philosophically interesting subject (perception, reality), has a healthy dose of dark humour, a moody brooding soundtrack and some very disturbing scary scenes. Required watching.

Those of you who still remain unconvinced that "Videodrome" is worth a rental can take a look at the following trailer. It contains some glimpses of the underground TV signal. According to a Cronenberg interview, one of the actresses got really into the whipping... And is it just me, or did Hostel copy the apron outfits of the torturers? Later on, there is an SM-themed scene with Max and his girlfriend, followed by one of his hallucinations. Flogging a TV set - if that's not kinky perverted stuff, then I don't know what is.


Anonymous said...

Mmmm, yes, one of my all-time favourite movies (big shock there). And you're definitely Brian O'Blivion! LOL

I watched it again recently and was struck by its relevance in light of the violent porn legislation. It's a powerful movie. (Incidentally, the Criterion special edition DVD has all 11 minutes of the Videodrome footage as an extra.)

"You'll forgive me if I don't stay around to watch. I just can't cope with the freaky stuff."

Bring on the freaky stuff, I say. "What are you waiting for, lover? Let's perform. Let's open those neural floodgates."

Ludwig said...

11 minutes of Videodrome footage as an extra on the special edition? Hm, sounds like I'll have to get that one, then.

I first bought the movie on VHS ages ago, then on DVD, but no special edition. *grumbles*