Monday, April 27, 2009
Definitely Not For Public Consumption
North America’s getting soft, Patron, and it’s certainly not helping that we now have a VIDEODROME remake to dread. It was just announced, or maybe I should say threatened, by Universal. Is there even a reason for this? Is this really a title that has any market value? Has the original film even gone into profit? I can’t write about every pointless remake that gets announced just like I can’t write an obit for every notable person who dies. It’s just too demoralizing by a certain point. But this one seems worth a mention not just because of the absurdity of the whole thing but because it almost seems to cross a line in the question of why some people seem to feel that these remakes are necessary anyway. Without David Cronenberg, what exactly are you remaking? And yes, I’m very aware that even he directed a remake, THE FLY, and it was the biggest box office hit he ever had. What he brought to that film made it totally valid. According to Variety, this new remake “will modernize the concept, infuse it with the possibilities of nano-technology and blow it up into a large-scale sci-fi action thriller.” Which of course is just what everyone always felt was missing from the original version of VIDEODROME. Back in ’03 when Variety ran an announcement that another remake of THE FLY was happening (fortunately, it never did) it quoted the would-be director who shall go unnamed (just like I’m avoiding naming the scribe behind the new VIDEODROME) as asking in regards to his big plan for the movie, “Why, in both films did the fly never fly?” Now, ask yourself, was that something that troubled you after viewing the Cronenberg version? Do you really consider that to be a notable omission? And did you ever wonder why VIDEODROME didn’t have more car chases?
The story of cable TV station manager Max Renn (James Woods) and the mysterious signal he stumbles across, VIDEODROME barely played two weeks when it was released at the beginning of 1983, though its influence has undeniably rippled through the years. Some people love it, some despise it (“I can’t cope with the freaky stuff”) and some acknowledge what it is going for, yet still don’t think it works. That’s the thing. VIDEODROME, just like what he did with his version of THE FLY, is such a product of the mind of David Cronenberg that it can’t be remade. Not unless that remake was being created by a filmmaker willing to put their creative self as much on the line, which would of course turn it into something else altogether. And then it wouldn’t be VIDEODROME. It’s what separates the sort of person who would make VIDEODROME in the first place from someone who decides to remake it for reasons that, money aside, totally escape me (“It has something that you don’t have. It has a philosophy.”). If it’s just money, I don’t want to know. If it’s something else, I still don’t want to know.
I’m not saying that VIDEODROME is the director’s masterwork (that might be DEAD RINGERS) but it definitely stands apart as a key work in his career, one that acted as a bridge between the lower-budget genre films he was making before (there’s a vague early 80s Avco-Embassy feel to some of the setup) and his later work which would see him going further and deeper than it is normally felt that one can go in what are usually thought of as ‘horror movies’. The film had a protracted production and post-production process as the director tried to figure out the story he was trying to tell and it’s sometimes difficult to ignore the paths the movie chooses not to go down (Deborah Harry is the female lead, then she disappears. So what really is the nature of her role?), particularly because a number of the official stills that have always been out there are of scenes that do not appear in the final cut. The film’s refusal to help you along in that sense, to be what you think it will be, even what you may want it to be, adds immeasurably to repeat viewings. I can remember long ago watching a rental copy of the film twice over one day, almost as if I was trying to figure out, what is this movie, really? What is it trying to say? What in it is real and what is just a hallucination? Is any of it real? Is there any difference? That compulsive desire continues to this day still with the occasional viewing as I find myself pondering the journey of Max Renn, thinking more about how the world has caught up with this tale and maybe even surpassed it (still, to hell with “modernizing the concept”). Of course, I look forward to the odd bits of dialogue throughout (“You know me.” “Yeah, we know you.”) and no matter what I always finding myself laughing when James Woods takes a moment to try on a pair of glasses at Spectacular Optical and looks exactly like David Cronenberg. That right there probably says more than I’ve ever fully realized.
Maybe this announcement of a remake is somehow meant to be. It’s simply part of the evolution that VIDEODROME--loved and hated, admired and despised--was supposed to go through (“You’ve gone just about as far as you can with the way things are”). More than ever, those who care will know to seek out the correct film and they’re the ones who will be willing to listen to what it has to say. Still, the idea of a remake—and we can always hope it still doesn’t happen--makes me wonder how I’m supposed to feel about the films that get made today. Do I really want to pay money for these things? Do I want to spend my time seeing them? Will I someday wind up going to films solely at the likes of the Egyptian and the New Beverly in search of something that I know won’t just consist of empty calories? Maybe this is my own form of mutation, just like in the film (“You’ll see that you’ve become something quite different from what you were”), and I’m splitting off from the type of person that would ever defend remaking this film or for a second consider viewing it. It’s a rationalization, it’s an attempt to understand someone who thinks so differently from the way I do. It may be the truth.
Long live the New Flesh…I hope.