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JACK MARTIN
based on a screenplay by David Cronenberg
Videodrome


click to enlarge

New English Library, London, 1983
(176 pages)

dedication: To those who feel the pain they see


First off, my apologies for the lack of sleeve notes on this one - there are some, but my copy of the book has the back ripped to shreds (© Blondie) and I can't read what's there. In their absence, let me quote from the very excellent and highly recommended Radio Times Guide To Films (BBC, London, 2000):

With its subject matter of screen violence, this remains one of David Cronenberg's most personal, complex and disturbing films, even if it doesn't always make a lot of sense. James Woods is the amoral cable programmer who gets drawn to a sickening sadomasochistic channel called 'Videodrome', which turns out to have a much more sinister purpose. Cronenberg uses this framework to explore his favourite themes (new technology fusing with the human body, voyeurism, the links between sex and violence) and, although the plot begins to unravel, the startling imagery and Woods' fierce performance make for a deeply unsettling experience. The supporting cast includes Blondie singer Debbie Harry as Woods' girlfriend. (p.1529)

That's about right as far as it goes, but there are a couple of minor points I'd like to clarify. Firstly, the pirate TV show Videodrome that Woods' character (Max Renn) stumbles upon is not strictly speaking 'sadomasochistic', since the victims are women being beaten senseless against their will - there's no masochism here; this is snuff TV.

Secondly, I'm not sure that Dr Nicki Brand (Debbie Harry's character) is actually Max's girlfriend. Her real interest is in Professor O'Blivion, a shadowy McLuhan-type figure who philosophises about the dominance of TV in modern culture and the man who may or may not be behind 'Videodrome'. Until she finds him, however, she's happy to dally with Max a little, playing some neat little games of pain.

To be honest, that's one of the great attractions of the film. If you were born after, say, 1970, you may not realize just how huge Debbie was back in the days when she was iconic not ironic. She was the Madonna of the post-punk era, probably the biggest pop star in the world in 1980-81, certainly the biggest-selling face on posters and the most ubiquitous voice on pop radio. And on the back of this kind of success, she decided that in her second film (following 1980's Union City) her idolized body would be seen cut, burnt and abused in the name of sexual thrills. Extraordinary woman.

The other great strength of the movie - arguably Cronenberg's finest - is his usual obsession with the flimsiness of the human body, the instability of the membrane that separates the internal and the external, the way that subjective experience and objective reality can bleed into each other. In Videodrome this takes even more literal form than it normally does in his movies.

Obviously, not all of this works on the page, but this is one of the better film novelizations you'll find on this site. The story - as the Radio Times Guide suggests - is a bit wayward, but that suits both a film and book that live on the borderline of dream. And, losing out on the visuals, Jack Martin (a pen-name of Dennis Etchison) compensates by taking the exploration of extreme sex further than the film is able.

Surprisingly recommended.

fisting
David Croneberg gets inside James Woods' character


ARTISTIC MERIT: 3/5
ENTERTAINMENT VALUE:
4/5
HIPNESS QUOTIENT:
3/5
see an alternative NEL edition
click to enlarge
my thanks to Malcolm Prest for the scan
from the maker of...

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