Whatever Happened to the New Flesh?

*OMG Let's Edit Over and Over Dept: Tom Spurgeon is back online, but it seems he took down an interview with Eric Reynolds of Fantagraphics that was up there when I first posted this morning, probably so he doesn't murder us all with his backlog of fine content. You'll have to take my word for it that the chat let loose some good news: Olivier Schrauwen, of the excellent My Boy, will have a new 15-page story in MOME Vol. 12. Oh wait, now it's up again.

Granted, Vol. 10 isn't even out yet, but there's no sense in dawdling with the anticipation...

*I watched a movie the other night: that friendly old favorite Videodrome. Which I'm now going to spoil, since it's been a quarter of a century and all.

One of writer/director David Cronenberg's signature works, it's your garden-variety tale of a thrill-seeking television executive who grows a transmogrification vagina in his chest after watching an underground snuff broadcast developed by a media theorist as a means of prompting the next evolution of humankind but co-opted by the military-industrial complex as a honeypot with which to convert moral undesirables into programmable mutant assassins which nevertheless conquer death itself to live as post-human beings of pure media.

They don't make 'em like that anymore, 'they' being Cronenberg himself - just as the austere interplay of skin and ink in Eastern Promises has fully replaced that guy striking Dragonball Z poses and peeling his face off at the end of Scanners, so has the low-key viewer complicity tweaking of A History of Violence supplanted the full-bore, no-prisoners assault on metaphor that was the director's 1983 opus. I'd forgotten how goofy Cronenberg could get in those early works. Like, 'James Woods in a torture chamber whipping a television set' goofy. On the other hand, the final confrontation at the eyeglasses trade show is right up there among my favorite Cronenberg scenes, and it's no less outrageous.

If anything really jarred me, it was the distinctly parodic tone to some of the early, 'normal' scenes, such as a talk show roundtable on violence in the media in which Woods and co-star Debbie Harry wind up flirting over the Freudian implications of Harry's red dress while another guest appears only via a television set propped up on stage because he's far more real as a broadcast anyway. It goes without saying there's no relevance at all to such a theme in an environment where people 'communicate' by posting monologues-as-essays into the ether from behind adopted fantasy names that come to replace their birth names in primacy among select societies. Every time someone calls me "Jog" to my face I feel a vagina growing in my belly as well. A happy one. Did I mention the part where James Woods inserts a handgun into his tummy? Such is the subtle power of this film.

Parts of the movie do get a bit creepy. There's a total aestheticization of self-harm going on, from 'cutting' to suicide, and Cronenberg doesn't even try to couch it in terms of masochism or anything. But then, that's part of the film's provocation, I suppose - the New Flesh will render notions of 'harm' obsolete, and possibly erase the concept of human morality from the lexicon, and that's suggested to be a really good thing. But there's always terror surrounding the transformation; if Cronenberg's continued fascination is with mutation, the anxiety of the Self and the individual's relationship with society, he always hits on the pain in moving from one phase of being to the other, which I think is what keeps his films humming with human concern, and maybe accounts for their continued popularity.

It's a sly film. It really flatters genre fans, placing their interests in fantastic and extreme content on the direct current to evolution, while making sure the real dastards are those who make real weapons to do real harm to others, outside of the movies - note the scene in which Woods' magical stomach transforms an evil assassination briefing videocassette into a hand grenade, literally fused to a villain's hand. And if that type of visual pun isn't enough, just try and count all of the nods toward viewing on display: eyeglasses, doors, mirrors, cameras, screens, everything. The film's themes surely work better when you see it on your own television, and accept Cronenberg's invitation to watch along with Woods and grow into something new by shooting yourself in the head like they do on tv, if you're not too disgusted.

Oh, unless the whole movie is really about a dying madman of excess conjuring the world’s most elaborate rationale for his terrible taste in entertainment; that ambiguity is left open, and (even better!) it doesn't feel like much of a cheat. It's just more worry over the next step, freezing the uncertainty over the New Flesh into our very Old Flesh bodies. I may be more real to you right now than I would be in person, but I scratch my ass all the same.

I watched the Criterion dvd, so there's lots of extras too. I always like seeing how odd films get marketed, and the Videodrome team seemed to have split their chances between a typical horror-type trailer and a Blondie exploitation fan-favorite 'New Wave' trailer, powered by the mighty Commodore 64. The US posters had a quote from Andy Warhol comparing the film to A Clockwork Orange, which seems both really right and really wrong. My favorite was a UK newspaper spot that played the old dueling reviews game, urging viewers to make up their own minds. Except, all the 'bad' quotes were of the "BARBARIC ATROCITY UNLIKE ANYTHING I'VE SEEN" style, which the ad people must have known was as good as a rave for the likely audience...