"The most accessible version of the new flesh would be that you can actually change what it means to be a human being in a physical way"
"I was trying to make a film that was as complex as the way I experience reality. I think it's very ambiguous, charged with all kinds of energy, and very complex. But I wanted it to be like that because to me that's the truth...I knew the movie was going to be complex and dangerous. I knew it wasn't going to be an easy sell or buy for a lot of people. But I may never get another chance to make an expensive movie that does that because obviously it's difficult for a lot of viewers"
"It wasn't the kind of film where you just know when you've got it. It was slippery"
Since They Came From Within (Shivers 1975), Cronenberg's independently financed "cerebal shlock" had made brilliant box office. Each subsequent film had netted impressive grosses culminating in an American box-office number one with the telepath war epic Scanners (1981). Cronenberg's talent had not gone unnoticed by the the big American studios. As a result Universal were anxious to fund Cronenberg's next project offering the budget and distrubution necessary for Cronenberg to break into the mainstream. They were excited by the potential of the project: an original Cronenberg script which tapped into the zeitgeist of the exploding home video market; special effects by Oscar- winner Rick Baker; sassy pop icon Debbie Harry in a major role; and the then hotly sought talent of James Woods in the lead role. So excited were they that the project went before camera before a final script had been produced (Cronenberg had shown his versatility under pressure with Scanners, rewriting the script throughout filming so what was there to worry about?).
Network of Blood rechristened Videodrome began principal photography in mid-October 1981. It would eventually be released in February 1983 after one of the most torturous productions of Cronenberg's career and then be pulled from cinemas after only two weeks. Bewildered cinema audiences were not ready for the film's heady cerebal mixture of disturbing imagery and intellectual rigour. The film's frothy head of shlock sensationalism and easy satire gave way to a dark soliptic treatise on the self and the limits of knowledge. It was unnerving fayre for the popcorn-munching mass.
This article sets out to examine the film this key Cronenberg work (possibly the key work) in depth, discussing the film's ideas and the background to the production. The version referred to throughout is the full Director's Cut available on DVD in the US (the UK version has trims and uses alternate footage). One of the fascinating aspects of the film which in itself adds to its ambiguity and complexity is how Cronenberg extensively shaped the film in post production. As Cronenberg felt his way through a script that he was constantly rewriting, many scenes were filmed that would be eventually discarded . Others were covered in alternate ways to allow flexibility in the final editing. Add the fact that reshoots were also needed to shape the final narrative to Cronenberg's satisfaction, means there are many "Videodromes" which have survived through stills, an alternative TV cut prepared for US Cable broadcast in the late 80s (similar to the notorious cut of Gilliam's Brazil) and Jack Martin's novelisation of Cronenberg's script. I will refer to these sources throughout as they highlight the creative decisions Cronenberg made in shaping the final piece and cast light on many ambiguity.
PART ONE ONLINE SOON