I keep debating which is my favorite David Cronenberg movie. I love almost all, if not all, of his films. 'Scanners' will always hold a special place in my heart. I think it was the first of his films I ever saw. Outside of 'Scanners' though I keep going back and forth between 'The Fly' and 'Videodrome' as my favorite. Each one is different so I can't decide. It might even come down to which one I watched last. Now by choosing a favorite that by no means diminishes the other film in my eyes. Nor does it take away from any of his other films. It's more of a if I had to choose one because if I didn't I would get my foot smashed or something kind of thing. Eh ... that was kind of lame. Anyway, if I had to choose one then it would come down between these two.
These two films are very different. 'Videodrome' in many ways is Cronenberg's most "Cronenberg" film in my eyes. The first time I saw it I was like,"What the hell did I just watch?" I didn't understand it yet I was completely enthralled and fascinated by it. Once I understood it (or at least I thought I did) it worked all the more for me. I also think it was ahead of its time with its use of video and how it impacts people's lives. Even moreso now with the million of cable channels and the internet. The same can be said for his much underrated 'eXistenZ' which was a few years away from the explosion of interaction gaming.
'Videodrome' has the imagery and gore that is prevelant a lot in early Cronenberg films. Led by a strong performance by James Woods this is also his most character center driven of his early films which might be why I lean towards it. The main fault (and this is completely minor in my eyes) is that there tends to be a disconnect from the characters in his early films. We follow the characters along but I don't feel a connection with them. Perhaps Art Hindle's character in 'The Brood' possibly being the exception. However, Woods' character Max goes through the sense of confusion that we the audience are going through. Making it a much easier film to digest because we feel more akin to Max in that sense.
Max (Woods) works at a small TV station that tries to compete with the bigger stations by playing things the others won't touch. Usually revolving around sex and violent programming. One night a pirate signal comes in that he retrieves of a woman being tortured. Obsessed with it he tries to track it down only to slowly fall into a different reality as the signal from this is changing him both literally and figuratively.
As with any of Cronenberg's films they are always different the second time you see them. That is why I think his films are more popular today than in their initial release. The manipulation of the mind and body (or flesh as he often likes to refer to it) is very apparent in this film. The fascination with the sexual side is also a running theme and the character of Nicki Brand (played very well by singer Deborah Harry) is a great example of Cronenberg's use of sex to help tell his stories. Max's desire for Nicki helps drive him further into the search for Videodrome.
This film just works on so many levels especially the more you see it. The very last shot is both haunting and freeing. The various levels at work can be discussed and debated endlessly. However, the film itself is one that is the most Cronenberg in one sense but also one that is very accessible as well.
No doubt that David Cronenberg's most commercial and straight narrative film would be 'The Fly'. Even moreso than 'The Dead Zone'. However, that doesn't mean it does not have the usual Cronenberg themes and ideas. It just happens to be his most accessible film. A case where his aesthetic and a commercial property came together perfectly. The themes of the manipulation of flesh and sex and of course gore all lead to an outstanding film. One that proves you can tell any story you want in horror. On a very basic level it's the story of two people who meet and fall in love. One comes down with a life threatening illness which causes much strife and eventually leads to one deciding to help end the suffering of their diseased lover. Now, in the horror world you tell this story by having two people meet and fall in love. Only the ailment isn't cancer or AIDS or something along those lines. Instead the person starts to turn into a giant mutated fly. All of the elements are there but by adding the horror element you introduce your story to a lot more people. Ones that may not sit through a drawn out depressing drama.
It's shot well, acted well, written well. The effects in the film by Chris Walas are amazing. Although the effects in all of his films are done well. He has worked with some of the masters - Dick Smith, Rick Baker, Chris Walas.
Another great aspect of all of David Cronenberg's films is his musical calaboration with Howard Shore, who most recently won an Academy Award for his music for the 'Lord of the Rings' films. The music is so great in all of the films but there is something about the score for 'The Fly' which is just as moving and tragic as it is in its horrific moments.
Now, granted I watched 'The Fly' more recently so I am leaning towards that one. I think mainly because it is one that has stayed with me for so long. I saw it in its release back in 1986 and I loved it from that moment onward. I think a lot of it does have to do with the love story aspect of it which works so well. I'm sure if I watched 'Videodrome' tonight I'll say that one. It's a tug of war that's for sure. You can never go wrong with any David Cronenberg film though. Much like a good bottle of wine his films only get better with age. Now that says something.