Tuesday 10 May 2016

Film Review: Nine Inch Nails – 'Broken'

Dir: Peter Christopherson

The 'Broken' movie is one of those mythical artefacts of modern alternative culture. Never officially released and widely bootlegged in various incarnations the explicit film accompaniment to Nine Inch Nails' 1992 EP of the same name was a holy grail amongst fans. However in the post broadband world of the 21
st century web it has periodically become available to download and distribute electronically. First to the net came the digital rips original early versions derived from existing bootleggs that missed the odd piece of footage. Then came the torrent by the anonymous “Seed0” (widely believed to be the NIN front man himself Trent Reznor due to this post on the band's site "12/21/06: Happy Holidays! This one is a guilt-free download. (shhhh - I didn't say that out loud). If you know what I'm talking about, cool.") who also freely gifted a number of rare treats such as the 'Closure' DVD version to fans through The Pirate Bay. This version of the film released by "Seed0" appears to be complete and in DVD quality which saw a resurgence in its distribution in the NIN fan community. And now the short film has found its way onto archive.org the time seems right to review it.

So what exactly is the 'Broken' movie? Well it is a short 20-minute long film shot partly cinematic and partly in the style of found VHS footage which connects the promotional videos from the 'Broken' EP (directed by Eric Goode, Peter Christopherson, Serge Becker, and Jon Reiss receptively) with a vague but graphic narrative. It' doesn't sound so bad does it? We've all now seen the videos for 'Pinion', 'Help Me I Am In Hell', and the universally banned 'Happiness In Slavery', and while dark and explicit by music video standards, they're no more un-watchable than a lot of horror films out there. The 'Broken' movie does take things a few steps further though.

The director is credited as Peter 'Sleazy' Christopherson of Throbbing Gristle/Coil fame, and aside from a brief cameo appearance by Trent Reznor on the television scree, the other actors identities are conjectural. The film opens with a manically grinning character about to be executed by hanging and as the trap door opens the footage cuts to amateur looking film of someone driving around. The “n” from the EP cover and the title “Broken” are shown as a glass overlay on the footage. The car approaches a young man and the film cuts to him tied to a chair gagged and being forced to watch a TV as the video for 'Pinion' plays.

The scenes begin to escalate in severity between and sometimes in the middle of the music videos with the young man being forced to drink from a jerrycan, being revealed with a dark substance smeared on his face, implied sexual violence. The finale of the film sees the killer finally mutilate and kill the young man in a frenzied manner while footage is shown of two cops searching the premises uncovering a previous victim and a sign saying “Trespassers Will Be Eaten” set to the music of 'Gave Up'. The footage cuts back to the execution as the character of the killer drops with an very long rope down a black shaft until the rope tightens. We then get the “n” from the EP displayed again and after another 30 seconds of black screen we see the killer's head comically flying across the screen.

The violence shown is sadistic and graphic, but the effects are very much of their time and reminiscent of the low-budget video nasties of the 1980s. The film as a whole frames a darker narrative that can't help but affect future listening of the musical content of the 'Broken' EP. And while the sexual slant to the on-screen violence is certainly cringe-inducing, many Hollywood films in the years since have shown much more crude and visceral scenes.

Nine Inch Nails completeists will no doubt already have this release burned to a DVD already. But for those of a curious nature, this isn't some great mystery that underpins the 'Broken' and 'Fixed' EPs in any significant way. It is a dark oddity, a curio, and morbid footnote. The eerily shot amateur style VHS footage with it's rapid glitches and washed out colours is a strong counterpoint to the slick shot cinematic monochrome that frames it. From a technical standpoint it is a very well shot and well-edited piece of film, though the interstitial footage's reliance on graphic depictions removes any need for deeper analysis beyond what is seen. As a horror-exploitation film it is as an interesting piece with limited appeal. But as a lost/unreleased part of Nine Inch Nails' crazy early years it will always have a draw for their considerable fanbase. 

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