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The Machinist: Breaking the Rules (2005)

Video  |   |  Documentary, Short  |  7 June 2005 (USA)
7.2
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Trevor, a machinist, has not slept in a year. Fatigue has led to a shocking deterioration of his physical and mental health... See full synopsis »

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(as Nacho Cerdá)
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Credited cast:
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Alain Bainée ...
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Carlos Fernández ...
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Julio Fernández ...
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Xavi Giménez ...
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Scott Kosar ...
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Antonia Nava ...
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...
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...
Herself (as Aitana Sánchez Gijón)
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Trevor, a machinist, has not slept in a year. Fatigue has led to a shocking deterioration of his physical and mental health... See full synopsis »

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This documentary is featured on the DVD for The Machinist (2004), released in 2005. See more »

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"It's not what you say that counts...."
9 September 2011 | by (New York, New York) – See all my reviews

"...it's what you don't say". This tag-line from a game show ("You Don't Say") I used to watch as a kid sums up my reaction to this by-the-numbers behind-the-scenes promo for Brad Anderson's THE MACHINIST. A DVD without extras spells instant disappointment for today's movie fans, so this 25-minuter was tossed in.

I didn't enjoy Anderson's much-touted feature film. It is a shaggy-dog puzzle movie, obviously in the currently popular vein of Chris Nolan's work, but so mannered and insistent on directing the viewer's gaze (in the creepy fashion of Ed Wood/David Lynch and their insistence on foregrounding arbitrary objects) that I was quickly turned off. Filmmaking, past the academic stage that Brad is clearly trapped in, needs to breathe, and not permitting the audience some freedom is a big mistake. We're trapped in the protagonist's nightmare and mistreated for the duration (hey, SAW and its sequels are just around the corner).

But we learn from the scriptwriter that a healthy admiration for Alfred Hitchcock is at work here, and of course the Master of Suspense was also the master manipulator. Making-of footage shows painstakingly how the crew kept re-dressing Barcelona's streets to make them sort-of stand in for L.A., and we see how complicated effects, such as Michael Ironside's bloody accident on the job getting his arm caught in his machine are created. Yet the documentary intentionally keeps begging the question: why?

The answer is simple: in an era when most films are made in assembly line fashion, but lack the panache and naive qualities of the original Dream Factory of Hollywood in the '30s and '40s (before the consent decrees and breakup of the whole system), there is a premium based on unusual or at least offbeat scripts. Anderson emphasizes that this is the first of his films that he did not write, but does not explain why. Was he prematurely reaching a creative dead end? Or as I would infer, is this merely a "stunt" film, a gimmick taken to its reductio ad absurdum conclusion but at the audience's expense?

The final reel of the feature film neatly (too neatly in my book) explains most if not all the red herrings, mis-directions and oddball details of the previous 90 minutes, so the viewer can understand the story of our hapless anti-hero. But getting there begs so many questions - is this meant as anti-entertainment? Is its unrelentingly morbid atmosphere just another horror movie trope? Are we just supposed to nod our heads and admire the screenwriter and helmer's cleverness?

No, one would need to look behind the scenes, really behind, not taking in the spoon-fed "promotional featurette" like this one. Why did a Spanish production company and its canny executives end up backing this project instead of some U.S. (or Canadian for that matter) indie? Did it really make sense to fudge everything for shooting in Barcelona, in the ancient fashion of international co-productions/tax shelters/runaway productions (Canada, anyone?) and other funding gimmicks that have nothing to do with creativity whatsoever? Is "faking" Barcelona for L.A. a creative act in itself, as the self-deluded filmmakers on display in this short seem to imply? Or is it just another case of irrational behavior (a la the misguided Dogme craze of a decade or so ago) that will have movie buffs 30 years from now collectively scratching their heads as to the point of such trivial pursuits.

Biggest question mark here is of course the ongoing saga of Christian Bale and his legendary combination of masochism with a need to show off. After this film and Werner Herzog's RESCUE DAWN we know Bale will submit himself gladly to self-abuse in pursuit of his acting "craft". But just watch him in PUBLIC ENEMIES (and on DVD in its insipid "making of" short documentary) and we see Bale's painstaking research and dedication leading to a deadly dull performance.

The man could do with a large dose of mockery as was once irreverently handed out (back in the '50s) when Brando and other Method Actors went over the top. Watching THE MACHINIST some 7 years after I was merely impressed by its phoniness -with Brad and Christian both mistaking, in nearly infantile fashion, a kind of tactile "realism" for truth. The confidence game being perpetrated in the movie (and carefully covered up/papered over in this phony, rah-rah featurette) is obvious to any serious film enthusiast.

Jennifer Jason Leigh in her interview cut to the chase: she liked doing this film which she interpreted as a study of insomnia. Yep, stripped of its patina of artsy effects, the self-delusions of our sleepy anti-hero amount to little more than that.


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