Residency         Rooms         Podcast        Collaterals          Files         Guests         About         EN FR    

Mutations and rebirths.

Analysis of Videodrome (1983) and Tetsuo (1989)

Andrea Ravasi is a writer and critic. He writes for several specialised online magazines, pursuing his passion for cinema and music.
Author - Andrea Ravasi
Published: 16th Feb. 2
Translated from the Italian.

Body and cinema, two inseparable entities that have been grateful to each other since the earliest days of the seventh art. From the late 1800, the human glimpse on the screen has been the main reason for astonishment and attraction for the viewers facing the genesis of moving images. Those reactions were consequent not only considering the body in its actual reproduction on the screen –– inherent in rendering representations of the everyday, certifying reality and defeating death –– but also its manipulation.

For most pioneers, cinematic tools were modern versions of the expedients and tricks they used to fascinate their audiences. There, the body itself was already the major seduction. Just think of Meliès’ early phantasmagorical works and the astonishing inventions he was able to experiment through cinema.

Over time, with the development of editing and the array of camera plans, cinema has increasingly moved towards a complete deconstruction of the body itself. Such mastering has survived until today when great filmmakers use it to study and analyse our modernity. These include David Cronenberg and Shinya Tsukamoto.

Two iconic works by these two great artists are certainly Videodrome (1983) and Tetsuo (1989).

Videodrome is probably the Canadian filmmaker's manifesto and watershed work, even though it had such a complicated gestation that Cronenberg began working on it in the early 1970s –– when he wrote an initial draft entitled Network of Blood. In this movie, Cronenberg takes to the extreme his considerations around the body. But above all around cinema, mass media and their effects. The film is a hallucinated and labyrinthine trip, but at the same time lucid and methodical. It brings a thousand references, from Burroughs in The Electronic Revolution to Debord and Macluhan, with hints of some theories concerning the power of communications, such as that of Agenda Setting.

Cronenberg tells the story of Max Renn, president of the small TV station Channel 83, who –– while searching for new programmes for his platform –– comes across a clandestine transmission broadcasting images of torture and ill-treatment, in which he gets completely subjugated. Thus begins a journey searching the source of this broadcast, which will lead him into a state of complete uncertainty where he cannot perceive what is real and what is not. Because, to quote Professor O’Blivion, one of the characters in the film: "The television screen is now man's only true eye ... Television is reality, and reality is less than television”. Cronenberg's film focuses on images and their consumption by intensely investigating the spectator's role in front of them. Viewers are led to reincarnate in a new flesh by becoming one with the television screen, capable of modifying their psychological and physical state. Throughout the movie, the uncertainty over what is real and what is not is a constant. Each scene has masterly constructed thanks to the brilliant choices made by the author. Cronenberg applies this incertitude to the language of cinema, introducing different points of view in the narration. As in a macabre dance, the director leads the spectator to doubt or accept what he sees by frequently changing the point of view.

However, we are not confronted all the time with an omniscient narrator, and the fact that the film opens with Max half-asleep in front of the TV is not accidental. Cronenberg seems to suggest that the whole thing could be the product of Max's imagination: a very long dream or hallucination in which he is the protagonist. Even the more surreal ending, in which James Wood decides to 'reborn' by committing suicide right after he sees himself doing it on television, would suggest such an interpretation. This might raise the question of what kind of role we assume when bombarded by images. Is it active or passive? However, this issue does not undermine the strength of the director's analysis. In fact, his investigation is ready to explore the ambivalent relationship of repulsion and fascination that the spectator's body feels when faced with those images in front of her/him. "Long live the new flesh!”.

Mutation; this is the primary axis in Cronenberg's cinema that has given prestige and honour to the so-called body horror — capable of rewriting its dogmas and making philosophical, political and extremely rich in meanings the vision of the body, its alterations and deformations.

Considering ourselves as viewers in front of the moving image, we participate as living bodies in a state of emotional and sensitive alteration through our hearing, our sight and generally through our mind. We are the first examples of what Cronenberg himself would describe as liquefaction between body and technology.

This same hybridisation is at the heart of Tetsuo, an exceptional first production by director Tsukamoto. Here the director mixes video-clip aesthetics anticipating the influence of video games on cinema and bringing to light the strength and vision of a specific type of oriental cinema (widely unknown at the time). The plot seems to be a pretext, a trace that flows into the purest art. And society is analysed along with its deepest dichotomies and its contrasts down to the bones, in a vortex of revelatory images that remain rooted in the viewer's mind.

Tetsuo takes a lot from the analysis carried out by the Canadian director in Videodrome and The Fly, as well from Burroughs's vision of technology and Ballard's concepts of man-machine. All these references are remixed together in a metropolitan cyberpunk picture, shown via the excellent black and white photography.

Metal, metal, metal is what Tsukamoto shows us, from which the body can hardly distinguish itself. In fact, the body emerges for its more human characteristics, in a world where technological science has now absorbed and alienated everything that defines us. Paradigmatic is the scene of the sexual act as a real mechanical and instinctive gesture that leads the protagonist to penetrate his girlfriend to death with a penis that has become a giant drill. This movie is a new and shocking way of suggesting how humanity, as we know it, has reached the closing credits, leaving space for "a new flesh". Game Over.

© The Room Projects