Giles This contains spoilers for Videodrome, though it is very much written for those who have seen and are familiar with the movie. Given this, no attempt at a plot summary is made. Script excerpts are taken from on-line transcripts at Script-o-rama , for Videodrome and Naked Lunch.
I am indebted to The Rule of Metaphor by Paul Ricoeur, as a helpful, though often difficult, guide on the subject. Some do not wish to attempt to examine the mysteries of why a certain film works, especially if it has this kind of memorable power, disturbing or otherwise; that this is like sealing beautiful flowing smoke in a glass.
The hyptnotizing, electric flow ends with the entrapment, and there is perhaps something unfeeling as well — this kind of examination can be close to trapping insects in jars, and plucking their wings off.
I know all this, and I look closer anyway 1. What follows are my brief explorations of Videodrome. As with all explorations, they are unfinished. The first thing to be looked at might be the quality so often remarked about this movie, its prescience.
That it features a man who becomes obsessed with a virtual reality, to the point that he can no longer distinguish between the real and his hallucinations, this all is taken as an anticipation of our internet dominated lives, now.
Properly placed, Videodrome is not a prediction, but simply a reiteration of past themes. Because nothing happens as a result of that.
And so I think that was what I was really doing then. And his thoughts, and his presence, and his prophecies, which were quite astonishingly accurate, I must say, so for me to…I was really trying to…to distill something of the zeitgeist of the time, I suppose, and also make something that was entertaining and sexy and perverse, I think. Which was, I remember as a child, we had an antenna that would rotate, to pick up, each station needed the antenna to rotate to get the best image.
After all the television stations had shut down, you could sometimes pick up some strange signals, from…now, in Toronto it would be mostly from America, maybe Buffalo. Maybe from New York.
And those signals were very weak, but you could pick them up late at night. And you would see things, but it would never be clear. And it was very mysterious. And sometimes very disturbing. And so I used that experience with Videodrome. In other words, old technology at the time. I even have scenes of a satellite dish, and so on, but of course when I was doing it, it was an antenna, not a satellite dish.
There were no satellites. And it was just that idea of picking up a mysterious, forbidden signal. That somehow you had access to, via accident. Mostly, child pornography and so on. That the images condemn you, immediately.
And that, even though you just sat in your room and clicked to access them. But you were condemned by doing that. One should note the key element in the TV signals picked up from across the border, and that is the lack of control. We have perhaps the exact inverse of the contemporary internet, which is defined by the search engine google, along with content filters like facebook and twitter, whose orderly and authoritative results arguably disciplined a wild and unruly place.
Whereas the Videodrome signal is something like an unnamed ghostland, unknown and invisible to all atlases. It exists as a result of technology, and yet it also has the qualities of a hallucinatory vision which might seize a character, and whose meaning they must decipher, whether it has an implication for the here and now, or a portent of the future. This, of course, is a near exact description of the visions of another movie, which resemble old TV transmissions, the transmitted warnings of Prince of Darkness.
Given that Videodrome is seen as a prescient vision, it might be useful to look at someone else from the very same time whose work is seen as predicting the internet, though that was not his intent, either. Ptolemy demonstrated the mechanics of the steam engine, and there was nothing technically stopping the Romans from building big steam engines. They had little toy steam engines, and they had enough metalworking skill to build big steam tractors.
It just never occurred to them to do it. I was just the first person who put it together in that particular way, and I had a logo for it, I had my neologism. The neologism, the one Gibson put together, was cyberspace, before there was anything substantial outside of his fictional world that the name could be applied to. In this same interview, Gibson mentions his strongest influences: Lunch has been named by Cronenberg as his favorite book, and he, of course, took on the Sissyphean task of making it into a movie.
Again, however, we are not speaking of A simply leading to B. This is how I see Videodrome: Burroughs had little involvement with hallucinogens, and the images of Lunch do not feel like any attempt at reproducing the experiences of such drugs, but at conveying a specific physical and emotional sense. A gay man, a drug user of the time must have felt like a hunted man, and so the protagonist of Lunch is someone literally hunted: The images are unreal, but not without purpose.
The repulsive figures of the Mugwumps and Reptiles are visions of the addict himself, his flesh in a state of accelerated decay, his body deforming into something others consider monstrous, and about which he is indifferent: On stools covered in white satin sit naked Mugwumps sucking translucent, colored syrups through alabaster straws. Mugwumps have no liver and nourish themselves exclusively on sweets. Thin, purple-blue lips cover a razor-sharp beak of black bone with which they frequently tear each other to shreds in fights over clients.
These creatures secrete an addicting fluid from their erect penises which prolongs life by slowing metabolism. In fact all longevity agents have proved addicting in exact ratio to their effectiveness in prolonging life. Addicts of Mugwump fluid are known as Reptiles. A number of these flow over chairs with their flexible bones and black-pink flesh. A fan of green cartilage covered with hollow, erectile hairs through which the Reptiles absorb the fluid sprouts from behind each ear.
The fans, which move from time to time touched by invisible currents, serve also some form of communication known only to Reptiles. During the biennial Panics when the raw, peeled Dream Police storm the City the Mugwumps take refuge in the deepest crevices of the wall, sealing themselves in clay cubicles, and remain for weeks in biostasis. In those days of grey terror the Reptiles dart about faster and faster, scream past each other at supersonic speed, their flexible skulls flapping in black winds of insect agony.
The Dream Police disintegrate in globs of rotten ectoplasm swept away by an old junky, coughing and spitting in the sick morning. The Mugwump Man comes with alabaster jars of fluid and the Reptiles get smoothed out. The air is once again still and clear as glycerine. The Sailor spotted his Reptile. He drifted over and ordered a green syrup. The Reptile had a little, round disk mouth of brown gristle, expressionless green eyes almost covered by a thin membrane of eyelid. The Sailor waited an hour before the creature picked up his presence.
It is perhaps helpful to look at this imagery next to that of the excellent memoir of addiction, White Out: Though the book goes through the expected arc of such experience — introduction, addiction, descent, and many attempts at recovery of a pre-addicted life — it never falls into the monotony of detailing the endless days of addiction as if such dull accounting is charged with interest to the outsider, but effectively conveys this difficult life through often surreal images.
We have it in early description of a dealer: The thick sun of June gets trapped, pools, and grows cloudy.
Proto-organisms form in the cloud of wood-color, heat, and sheet-light. We have it in this monologue about invisible spirits and creatures as a junkie injects, as intricate and solid a world as that imagined in Lunch: He held the syringe before all of us. I could never have afforded a shot like that. It should have been in a museum. He felt expertly along his neck till he found the pulsing vein. There was a black tattoo of a cross running down his neck and the vein pulsed along the cross.
He slid in the needle and pressed down on the syringe. To soil itself or not to soil itself. The sin is not the inducement. Even unto the pit. Every unrighteous and unclean spirit. A thousand spirits curled up in a spoon.
That first night of kicking, I imagined I was living in a castle. A blizzard was raging outside. I knocked on the massive oak door of the castle. I heard the slow sound of the bar being raised and the door swinging open. The friendly warmth rushed out, strong friendly hands pulled me, fainting, inside. We have everything you need in this castle. The walls are strong; the enemy will never get in.
And we have enough supplies to last for years in here. They showed me to a room high in the walls. A big fire roared in the fireplace. A clean, white bed piled deep with cushions lay in the corner.
I stood for several minutes gazing at it. I repeated the contents of this room in the castle over and over to myself.