If there's one point I keep returning to in this series, it's that midnight movies are fundamentally different from regular movie screenings. Otherwise, I'd just be writing about going to see The Avengers or whatever every other week. Part of that is the content of the movies themselves — movies with homicidal Japanese teenagers, haunted houses, throwbacks to modern and cult classics — but that isn't necessarily the whole picture.
The devil, as they say, is in the details — and Satan was all up in this weekend's brilliantly executed screening of David Cronenberg's body-horror classic Videodrome.
Before I get into that, let's talk feeding writhing video cassettes into James Woods' stomach, shall we? Videodrome is only the second — third if you count Battle Royale — film in this year's midnight movie series that you could objectively consider as part of the “high art” side of midnight movies. That culty subsection of cinema that includes Eraserhead, El Topo, Rubber and so on. Videodrome wallows in the cheap-thrills underbelly of exploitation films, but it does it knowingly and with purpose. But what is it about these artfully made dramas that primes them for the midnight movie circuit?
Videodrome tells the story of Max Renn, the president of a Canadian UHF station that specializes in television programs of the ultraviolent and hypersexual variety. It's the kind of channel that you might see on in the background of A Clockwork Orange, completely wanton in its disregard for decency standards. Renn eventually stumbles across Videodrome, a program that features no story or character development — just torture and murder in front of an electrified clay wall. And it's about at that point when the TV starts talking to him and his chest turns into a Georgia O'Keeffe painting.
So, you have a couple of things at work here for why Videodrome exists and excels as the sort of thing you'd watch in the middle of the night with a handful of strangers. First, it's a genre movie. Videodrome isn't particularly scary, but it is definitely a horror film. This is a movie where James Woods shoots people with a weird, deformed gun hand and gropes a breathing television. It's disturbing, to say the least. But, if every genre movie was fair game for midnight treatment, that would mean a future where the Hostel movies are valid midnight fare. I do not wish to live in that future.
There has to be a second factor in there for why these dramas are included in a genre (loosely speaking) that has increasingly become party to the godawful progeny of terrible filmmakers and comical nostalgia. And I think that factor, invariably, is a strong element of surrealism. Once Max starts to hallucinate, Videodrome turns into this kind of bizarre, captivating nightmare. It has a dreamlike quality that you can see in Possession and more modern films like Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas (incidentally, the first Belcourt midnight movie I ever saw). I think that the weird phantasmagoric feeling these movies impart is the real key here. It's why Videodrome works and why A History of Violence, a much more straight-forward Cronenberg picture, might not.
Though, if all else fails, it never hurts to have a dude's head explode.
But then there's another component: the setup. And, boy, did The Belcourt really kill it on the set up this time around.
First: “The New Flesh” was the perfect body-horror cocktail. I had to video Pat explaining it, because otherwise the whole thing would've gone completely over my head. The shooter was equal parts whiskey and blueberry/cinnamon consommé, with simple syrup, bitters, a teeny bit of xanthan gum for added effect and honey gels in the bottom. It looked like blood and, to quote Pat, was “viscous and unsettling” in its texture. And it tasted like science. Which, if you're wondering, is a good thing.
But then there was the preroll, which had been missing from the previous two screenings. But, instead of scrounging up commercials and Cronenberg-y music videos or whatever, the theater put together a baffling, creepy collection of distressed videos, old TV cast-offs and the sort of strange fare you might expect to see while watching a UHF or cable access channel on 'shrooms. Videos from Everthing is Terrible, Klaus Nomi, a sex chatline called “Suburban Submission,” insane exercise videos, a bit of Scanners, something about a “power tower.” It looked like a cross between raw inspiration for Tim & Eric and Harmony Korine curating a found footage festival. The clips gave way to the image of our host, Jason, warning us about the strange film that was ahead of us — aping the highfalutin speechifying of Professor Brian O'Blivion.
Then, straight into trailers — which were kinda upsetting in their strangeness too. All real movies that were really playing at The Belcourt, they drove my date to demand when this night would start making sense. I confessed that I could not say and I think that is the clearest sign that The Belcourt did an amazing job of putting everyone off their game — which is exactly where they wanted us. David Cronenberg would be proud.
The New Flesh
- A word of wisdom: When convincing someone to come with you to see Videodrome (or any other early Cronenberg works), be sure to warn your companion in no uncertain terms about how gross and weird it gets. Because Videodrome gets pretty gross and weird about halfway in. For more recent Cronenberg films, you can flip from “gross and weird” to “surprising amounts of male nudity.”
- What's up with the weird computer graphics in the Videodrome trailer?
- The trailers I mentioned, by the way, were for Daisies, Wake In Fright and Miami Connection. If you're into dadaist feminism, I highly recommend Daisies (screening next weekend). And I cannot wait to see a new wave band full of ninjas kick some serious ass in Miami Connection.
There will be no midnight movie next weekend. The Belcourt is taking some time off to focus on their nD festival, rolling ahead on that weekend. I, meanwhile, will be at a wedding and Midpoint Music Festival in Cincinnati. Look for photos on Nashville Cream in due time.
Next Month: We definitely do not talk about Fight Club. Honest.