Friday, May 22, 2015


With Arrow about to release a spanking uncut blu ray of Videodrome with top extras but a lack of deleted scenes, I thought I would repost an article that I authored and published originally on my Cronendrome site when it was live about 10 years ago.

Videodrome began life without a finished script and like its protangonist mutated through production with story arcs jettisoned, character's roles reduced, fixes in editing and last minute reshoots. These images are testament to its painful birth gleaned from publicity stills and some deleted scenes that appear in a cut, unauthorised TV version.

Subsequently deleted footage has been uploaded to youtube and I have provided live links to view these scenes. 

SAMURAI DREAMS – Max arrives at the Classic Hotel to meet the executives of Hiroshima Video to view a possible new acquisition, Samurai Dreams. He perversely asks to view the last tapes ignoring the ones that “set up the story” (introducing the theme of narrative disruption). The finale of Samurai Dreams originally showed two masked Samurai intruders; a glowering male and a black female in golden war regalia, bursting into the girl’s room and indulging in a ménage a trois. A relationship between these intruders and those torturers in the Videodrome chamber was to be established and contributes to the idea that Max’s world of hallucinations after viewing Videodrome echoes and mirrors events and images from the opening of the film. The sequence was dropped because of the producers' fears it was too explicit for the desired rating the film hoped to secure.


Another interesting mirroring moment is a a trim from the opening scene where Max is awakened by the first "talking television", here a cathode-ray alarm call from PA Bridey. Rather than cutting to Max making coffee, we see him painfully pull himself awake and look for a cigarette, finding and disgarding an empty packet. This moment mirrors the finale as the broken and "derelict" Max hunts a cigarette in the debris of the condemned ship. Subtly this mirroring suggests an idea that Cronenberg toyed with, namely that Max never escapes this room in his apartment (itself intentionally lit to reproduce the scan lines of a TV signal through it uses of lighting and venetian blinds). Cronenberg's ambition at one point (somewhat beyond the SFX capabilities of the time) was to present characters such as Nicki as wholly a video hallucination that would flicker and twitch like a TV signal. This lead at one point to Cronenberg's considering a climax that would undermine (a la eXisteZ) our whole understanding of the plot and characters of the film. As stated earlier the final ending would, as with other important plot strands of the film, mutate through many iteration before filming finished and then on into editing and final reshoots.

NiCE TO MEET YOU – SHALL WE GO TO BED? Shortly after meeting Nicki on the Rena King Show Max goes to see her at CRAM. Following the radio broadcast Max accompanies Nicki to her dressing room. After showering and banter Nicki “drops the towel” and the two make love. This scene might have fleshed out Nicki’s character and explained their ease in the next scene. Of course by showing the normalness of their relationship it makes less powerful Nicki’s S&M invitation. Harry’s performance might have been below par as was suggested at the time or Cronenberg’s preoccupation at the time of paring back narration could account for its loss. Either way it featured prominently in publicity shots and the official still set.

CIGARETTE MAX? A post-coital scene was also filmed but it seems unclear where it came in the script. Nicki seems to be wearing the red dress but it may be part of a later discarded Videodrome hallucination. Its certainly Max’s apartment and his bedroom. Again this might have been an opportunity to flesh out characterisation.

NICKI DEBUTS ON VIDEODROME – As originally conceived Nicki was to be more a villain than a victim. When she goes to Pittsburgh on assignment Max warns her to stay away from Videodrome. Later in the lab Max joins Harlan to watch the latest Videodrome broadcast. To his horror the victim is Nicki (Harlan: “What the ****? That’s the lady shrink, isn’t it? Brand? Nicki Brand?”). Nicki would later ask Max via the TV if he had received her “love-letter” all part of her “head****”. When Cronenberg decided that the revelation of Nicki’s death should be a spur, a revenge motive to align Max with Bianca this scene obviously had to go. Nicki now became a victim of Videodrome whose image had been used to seduce Max. It would be interesting to see this scene as an extra on any future DVD release of Videodrome. (B roll footage of the shooting of this scene is shown in the vintage making of documentary included on the Criterion release)

 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kcKMn3CZ1bk (30 seconds in)

Originally the footage Max is reacting to at the Cathode Ray Mission is the death of soft-core video producer Masha Borowczyk (an obvious homage to Walerian) on Videodrome before Nicki became the victim not an agent of Videodrome in his revised thinking. When the truth of the transmissions are revealed to Max in Harlan's lab, and Convex ask "Why deny you get your kicks out of watching tortute and murder?", Max actually replies "You murdered Masha Borowczyk, didn't you, you fuck. Did you enjoy that?" Look carefully and you will notice the looped dialogue referring to Brian O'Blivion does not synch well as a result of this post-production redub.


HANGING ON THE TELEPHONE After Max loses his gun in his newly discovered videocassette opening/vaginal slit, the phone rings. In the finished version a voice tells him a car is waiting to take him to the makers of Videodrome, Spectacular Optical fronted by Barry Convex. In a deleted version Max hears the voice on Nikki, her image then appearing on the Rangemaster. “I sent you a love letter. Did you get it?” she coos. “*****! I thought you were dead.” replies Max. She invites him to join her downstairs – “Come to me….come to Nikki”.These images were the most repeat in the promotion of the film despite being deleted.

PHILOSOPHY BECOMES FLESH – This scene (left) comes after the conversation with Nikki. Brian O’Blivion returns to give fatherly advice to Max, again via a TV screen:

“When they reached the point where physics became philosophy, they asked me to help them. Now they’ve reached the point where philosophy becomes flesh – and they need you. It is a good position to be in. Take advantage of it.”


THE MAX AND NICKI SHOW – Max finds Nicki in the back of the limo (below, right). She is taking him to meet Barry Convex. The dialogue is virtually the same as that given to Max by Convex’s taped introduction which replaced this scene in the final cut. When Cronenberg decided that Nikki should be a victim not an agent of Videodrome, the scene had to be recut and reshots inserted. Max’s reaction shots are the same in both cuts hence the tight frame used in the back of the limo. Debbie Harry’s performance is not wholly convincing either and may account for why it was so readily changed. Nikki questions Max about the hallucinations claiming Videodrome didn’t work on her. She wishes they had as she doesn’t like it “here” the “world as we know it”. She asks are the hallucinations “weird and incredible and sick and wonderful?”. Suddenly the Videodrome chamber appears on the screen and Max is transfixed by the images and Nicki’s arousal. Luckily they quickly arrive at Spectacular Optical. Strangely Jack Martin’s novelisation manages to combine both versions with Nicki delivering her dialogue via the TV monitor


Subsequently an image of Max and Nikki fooling with the glasses frame was included on the Criterion supplements and as a still, suggesting Nikki had a role at the meeting with Convex.

THE IMAGE ACCUMULATOR HELMET – (Mantis Head Skullpiece) Cronenberg disgarded a section of the scene with Convex at Spectacular Optical where he explains the genesis of Videodrome. They were developing zero light weapon scopes for military application. “It used a system of vidicon tubes,” Convex explains, “to create images where the physics books said there wasn’t enough light for an image to exist. The strangest thing happened to our boys…they began to hallucinate. Images began to appear that weren’t really their, images that came from their brain and ended up exciting the vidicon mosaic like an electron gun. Video hallucination, Max that we have recorded on tape.” This was disgarded possibly because Cronenberg liked the image of the flashing helmet which would be absurd for clandestine military use. That said he was initially interested in the idea that Max is still wearing the helmet through the the latter part of the film; that it is recording his hallucinations while he is unaware.


Therefore a  lot of extra coverage was done for the “assassination” scenes with Max in the helmet wearing the flesh gun. He then had the option to show conflicting viewpoints (how Max sees himself; how others do). A few stills exist of Max in this garb which in design was obviously linked to the Samurai idea and Max as some sort of 21st century Ronin.

A fleeting scene is shown in the extended TV cable cut of Max catching his reflection outside Civic TV in the helmet and being confused. He checks himself, feels his head and continues on somewhat shaken. The shooting of Moses and Raphael was one scene shot in both ways as these still suggests (above and left). This is obvious the board room and Max’s dusty jacket suggests it is after the meeting with Harlan and Convex and his “reprogramming”. In the final cut you’ll notice Max is unable to let go of the gun after the shooting (he stuffs it into his jacket then pocket). In Max’s mind it is the flesh gun that has melded into his hand.
HANDING IT TO HARLAN – As earlier mentioned, Cronenberg, uncertain about the final shape of the film made sure that there was extensive coverage of each set-up. Not only did he film Max in the Image Accumulator with the flesh gun in the various “assassinations”, he also filmed footage from other character’s points of view (he obviously toyed with the idea of showing the “real” events to counterpoint Max’s). Here is a curious shot of Harlan with a hole in his hand. The decor suggests the back room at Spectacular Optical and one can only surmise that this shot is Harlan’s viewpoint of the “hand-grenade” moment. What is suggested is that Max simply shot Harlan in the hand as he reached in to “reprogram” Max. To Max, Harlan’s hand had mutated into a ticking Freudian pun – a hand grenade; while the “real” was that Harlan was bleeding from a gunshot wound through the hand. No mention of this in the novelisation and no idea of how this would link to the explosion but fascinating all the same.

NICKI AND/OR BIANCA – One of the most interesting ideas that Cronenberg jettisoned was the relationship between Bianca and Nikki Brand. Developing on from the many dualities alluded to in the film (Apollo/Dionysus; sadism/masochism) Cronenberg toyed with a “symbiotic relationship between Nicki and Bianca”. As already discussed earlier versions of Nicki presented her as more a villian. As Max stalks Bianca at the Cathode Ray Mission (CRM=CRAM) he rips back the screen to find Nicki seated beside a computer console, wearing one of Bianca O’Blivion’s conservative outfits. The surprise twist would reveal that the women were business partners of sorts, and emphasise that Max’s perceptions of Nicki and Bianca had blurred together into one interchangable woman. “I came to Brian O’Blivion five years ago,” Nicki tells Max. “I saw what Videodrome did to him. I also saw what it could be in the right hands…your right hand Max.”

The scene continues as Max discovers the Flesh TV broadcasting an image of Bianca O’blivion, her spinsterish hair now loose and languidly tumbling over her shoulders, wearing Nicki’s seductively red dress and baring a shoulder to reveal Nicki’s scars. “We can’t stop where you are now…stuck in the middle,” Bianca explains. “Not us. Not Bianca, Max and Nicki.” Cronenberg dropped the conceit as he felt it would confuse. “I don’t mind ambiguity in a film,” he stated, “but confusion is never necessary.” Also as he had decided to reshape the story, through re-editing, re-ordering shots and reshots, it was important that the footage of Nicki, killed on Videodrome, be shown to Max at this point. Again some tantalising images from this scene have appeared in publicity material.
"BOY MEETS GIRL, WITH THE CLAY WALL MAYBE COVERED IN BLOOD" – This scene was planned as part of the finale of the film and was discussed at some length by Tim Lucas in Video Watchdog:

“I spent a great deal of time on the Videodrome set. During those visits I saw a fair amount of footage that has never been seen since; my favourite outtake was a magnificent tracking shot that dollied past all the film’s various dead characters – Nicki, Masha, Bianca (who Max shot in one draft of the script) and finally Brian O’Blivion all alive on the Videodrome set and chanting “Long live the New Flesh!” – and came to a stop of a disturbing close shot of a tortured handprint on the set’s clay wall.”

Cronenberg's first ending envisioned a post-mortum menage a trois with Max, Nicki and Bianca, each sprouting newly formed mutated sex organs. unifying in an orgasmic endorsement of the New Flesh after Max shots himself on the derelict barge. As Cronenberg realised the effects may look unconvincing and comic, citing  the failure of the alien sex scene in Roeg's The Man Who fell to Earth, he chose to leave events after Max's suicide open to the audience's imagination. Does Max truely move to the next level or has he been "brain-washed" to dispose of himself once his use as an assassin has been "all used up?" Intially it was Max himself on the TV screen instructing Max on the next steps but this, even for Cronenberg's tastes was too solipsistic. By repositioning Nicki's role in post-production, she now inevitably becomes his guiding hand onto the next level bringing a closure to her role in the film and their relationship.

To conclude, Videodrome's wealth of deleted material and narrative changes and disjoints should not be seen as evidence of a film in crisis, one "fixed" in post-production. Many other ideas were filmed and dropped including costly SFX sequences with the Teleranger TV raising out of Max's tub to confront him. All these disgarded materials add to the richess and enjoyment of a film which enacts its theme of questioning what is real through in its own production and creation.