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exponentiation ezine: issue [7.0:culture]

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Film: Videodrome
Director: David Cronenberg
Release: 1983

"The Television screen is the retina of the minds eye" - Videodrome

Videodrome is an acid trip of a film that reflects parts of the philosophy of Canadian media ecologist Marshall McLuhan as well as French post-modernist philosopher Jean Baudrillard. The film stars James Woods as tv executive Max Renn, who specializes in showing dirty and smutty underground films on obscure late night television channels. The film is directed by the ever pervasive and perverse David Cronenberg, who also directed William S. Burrough's "Naked Lunch" as well as an array of sci-fi/horror films like "The Fly," and "Scanners."

Videodrome follows the story of Max Renn as he seeks out new and shocking entertainment to show on his late night television station. Renn is an amoralist who thrives on personal gain, no matter what the expense. Renn, however, doesn't believe what he is showing on tv is real, it's all just entertainment. But things get strange for Renn as he discover's a new shocking program, Videodrome. Videodrome is a shocking late night feature shot with a candid camera and featuring lewd acts of bondage, S&M and murder. Renn becomes so obsessed with Videodrome that he demands to find its source and creator. However Renn soon discover's Videodrome is real and it begins effecting his life. Over time the media enterprise Renn thinks he is controlling slowly starts to leak into his world to control him. Videodrome becomes reality and begins infecting his life, so much so that he begins having hallucinations that he is becoming an extension of his television and vcr set.

The film takes up some ideas from Marshall McLuahan, the Canadian philosopher who dubbed the term "the medium is the message" to describe the all pervasive influence of a media technology upon its environment. In the modern era the media has become our environment and we live partly in a simulation of information transformation and dub it "reality" (i.e. "reality" tv). The medium itself has the power to shape the way we think and act. Those of us living in media cultures are so indoctrinated with media sources that we don't even question or challenge their authenticity. We have lost the ability to trust our eyes because "it's all just entertainment" or "it's not really real." But in essence the medium works to effect and shape us, making it very real. In Videodrome we find a film that blurs the line between "reality" of the physical world and the "reality" of the media world. The two become so intertwined that after a while, like the character of Max Renn, we can't tell the difference. This is where the philosophy of Jean Baudrillard comes in, with his idea of hyper-reality and simulacrum. Videodrome represents a hyper reality, in that what it presents to us becomes more real than real.

Max Renn's character lives in the world of technology so much so that it takes over his consciousness. We are unsure if the hallucinations he starts to have after viewing Videodrome are pure fantasy, or if they are in fact things that are occurring. In his search for the source of Videodrome, Renn discovers the tapes of Dr. Brian O'Bliveon, a media ecologist who has died in body but who has transferred himself into an infinite series of videos, of which Max Renn discovers and plays. Many of the tapes are addressed exclusively to Renn and are philosophic explorations of the power of the new technological mediums and their ability to control our living space so much so that we live more in them than we do in the physical world around us. O'Bliveon reveals to Renn a secret about Videodrome, that it is in fact a weapon designed to take over mass consciousness by enveloping the brain with a tumor that creates hallucinations. This is a rather Cronenbergian twist as many of his films blend the line between biology and technology and show how the two effect and interact with each other.

By the time Renn learns of Videodrome's secrets it is too late. Renn, over time, is taken over by Videodrome and begins to change into a technological unit fit to fulfill Videodrome's desire to become the new reality. A secret cabal of Videodrome's creators contact Renn and attempt to load him with a videotape in order to program him to fulfill their needs. Renn resists but eventually is overcome and is essentially downloaded with data. His body eventually becomes melded with a gun hand that shoots ectoplasm that dissolves the body of its victim. This motif is a common one in Cronenberg's films as he often likes to deal with biology and the body. What more perfect territory to explore than the body and its relationship to our disembodying technologies such as the television and the computer? An interesting twist occurs in the film however as the Videodrome program subverted Renn's downloading process and actually reprogrammed him to kill its creators. By the end of the film we are left only with Videodrome and its material offshoot, Max Renn, just before he kills himself to enter Videodrome. The film ends with the iconic line "long live the new flesh."

The film's use of the term "new flesh" hauntingly predicted the internet boom of the 90's and its slew of online gamers giving over their bodily existence to "the game". With the internet and television more and more people are now spending large portions of their time in a disembodied intellectual medium. The medium itself has the power, like Videodrome, to overtake us and shape us in its image. Television has become the basis of reality for many in our culture. Show a teenager a picture of gore from a film vs real gore and they might tell you the real gore looks fake. In fact such psychological tests have been done and the startling results are that those who have become indoctrinated by media are less likely to tell the difference. Media technologies shape the way we view the world and essentially make up "the new flesh." Videodrome uses both the film medium and the sci-fi/horror genre to encapsulate philosophically complex ideas relevant to our modern technological age and its obsession with disembodiment. By using horror and sci-fi elements Videodrome effectively works as a shocking film that leaves images in your head that contain philosophic weight. Cronenberg is an interesting director who leaves a love hate relationship in many viewers, this one included. But the challenge is worth it as there are ripe rewards to be found in the problems and issues Cronenberg's film raises.

Long live the new flesh! - Gestalt


Film: A Clockwork Orange
Director: Stanley Kubrick
Release: 1972

A Clockwork Orange, an adaptation of the highly acclaimed novel written by Anthony Burgess, is one of the best and surely the most controversial movie made by Stanley Kubrick, one of the greatest film directors of the 20th century. The movie deals with themes of morality, role of the individual in the society, his free will and choice between good and evil and whether his humanity is lost when the society deprives him of that choice. Banned in many countries for its realistic scenes of violence and disturbing message, A Clockwork Orange tackles the heaviest problems of society with sardonic wit and satire which leaves nobody indifferent.

A Clockwork Orange is a story about a vicious young man named Alex who, together with his gang, sets out into the nights of London beating, raping and robbing people without the slightest remorse because he is drawn and fascinated with "ultraviolence". Under Alex's ruthless and decisive leadership, the gang becomes notorious for their crimes. During one of their nocturnal rampages, Alex kills an old woman and is then betrayed by his gang, which leaves him to the clutches of the police. Sentenced to 14 years in prison, Alex finds himself in a situation from which he desperately tries to escape. After serving a few years in prison, Alex hears about the experimental Ludovico Treatment Technique, which is designed to suppress the desire for criminal behavior of the individual by injecting him with a serum, that causes him excruciating pain whenever he tries to act violently. Now being "reformed," Alex returns to society with uncertain future and many obstacles in front of him...

With the brilliant Malcolm McDowell in the lead role, the actors are successfully portraying characters who fell lost and disillusioned in the declining society. Using innovative filming techniques, the director Stanley Kubrick made the movie as a dreamy journey by effectively using wide fisheye lenses and slow and fast motion in certain scenes which further break the illusion of reality; the story is seen through Alex's perspective and it is set in futuristic England. Almost all of the scenes were real locations, successfully showing the bleakness of a dysfunctional society.

The slang language used in the movie is called "Nadsat" and it consists of Slavic words (for example "droog" and "britva" translate as "friend" and "razor") and it greatly contributes to the movie's uniqueness, so does the revolutionary soundtrack of Wendy Carlos, comprised mostly of reworkings of classical music with the Moog synthesizer which add a futuristic as well as familiar and archaic flavor.

The critique in the movie is multilayered, satirical and sharp. Its primary targets are the society and the natural state of man, which is, according to Kubrick, brutal and violent and any society based on the false picture of that nature is probably doomed to failure. That is why the society is going berserk and oppressive, which artificial and mechanical methods try to "produce" the goodness in the individual by forcing him to act that way, so he also becomes artificial and mechanical, like the title of the movie suggests. He showed the two extremes of man's natural state and society's "civilizing" methods. The society tries to quickly and easily resolve its deepest problems, but concentrates only on the effect, not the cause. Its exceedingly bureaucratic nature is masterfully and humorously shown with long scenes of characters involved in protocol, signing multiple copies of forms, which further illustrate its incompetence. The movie, made in 1972, also criticizes behavioral psychology (which was popular at that time) which dehumanizes the individual and treats him like a robot whose faults can be fixed with the "stick and a carrot" approach.

The satirical criticism of complex and deep issues of the society, as well as its innovative language, filming techniques and musical score continues to amaze, and upset critics and audience to this day, which serves as the best recommendation for seeing this movie. - Draugdur


Film: Conan the Barbarian
Director: John Milius
Release: 1982

The Sword and Sorcery genre is filled with all kinds of ludicrous garbage, that commonly ends up being a bad excuse for nudity and cheap ketchup effects. But as with movies in general, there are still a few gems out there of worth to seek out. "Conan the Barbarian" is one of them. Arnold Schwarzenegger plays Conan, the innocent child that sees his family being slaughtered by a vicious warrior cult. Enslaved and used for hard labor, Conan grows up to become a strong and powerful man, eventually turned into a battle figure for his lord. One night when set free, Conan begins exploring the world around him and prepare to fulfill his destiny: to take revenge upon the warrior cult leader that killed his family and wiped out his tribe.

"Conan the Barbarian" is an edgy mix of war, passion and religion. Its narrative is loosely based upon Nordic mythology and seems to defend those values as a contrast against the mystic "snake cult" that is responsible for the death of Conan's tribe. This cult develops into a "worship of the flesh," which together with its submissive and materialistic character, becomes a symbol of Christianity and its inverted spiritual understanding of the world. Conan and his god Crom defend the pagan belief in "steel," that is, the power of war, strength and courage.

While the movie clearly wants to portray the conflict between these two religious worlds, it never holds water as a philosophical or artistic creation. Most effects are horrible, the dialogues are many times laughable and there's little of any sympathy for the characters involved. As an existential drama it is dodgy and confusing. A lot of scenes sweep the narrative over with bland scenes of sword fights and poorly simulated sex scenes. On the other hand, this is also where this film seems to provoke a sense of immersive experience. It's bold and fierce without becoming too pretentious. It has something to say but often uses clumsy ways of saying it.

While it's impossible to deny the B-grade factor of "Conan the Barbarian," the lucid but creative and beautiful passages of positive human desire and its equivalence in uncontrollable destruction, turn this violent, robust piece of cinema into a cheap but powerful epic that displays and confronts us with a belief in individual destiny and heroic sacrifice. - Alexis

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