A Bitter Message

A Bitter Message


A Bitter Message of Hopeless Grief
 is a dark film that follows anthropomorphized machine-beings made of metal, gears and bones through underground stone caves filled with heat and magenta.  They course slowly through dark fiery halls, interacting in morose ways, capturing and destroying lesser, more meek creatures.  To me the title of the work is over-dramatic, but the film itself has a mysterious and surreal quality to it that brings forth a grotesque beauty.  It’s depressing, yet powerful and emotional.  Should one pity these vicious creatures or hate them?

Survival Research Laboratories‘s  A Bitter Message of Hopeless Grief from 1988.  Directed by J. Reiss.

Survival Research Laboratories, founded by Mark Pauline in 1978, is more known for its live performances.  Machine-beings similar to those in the film are kinetic sculptures brought to life in thrilling displays of spitting fire, grinding motors and screeching metal all controlled by remote or driven by SRL members.  Each performance “consists of a unique set of ritualized interactions between machines, robots, and special effects devices, employed in developing themes of socio-political satire. Humans are present only as audience or operators.”  They are like crosses between MIT student robot competitions and the automobile accident reenactment scenes from Cronenberg’s movie Crash, all of them viewed in outdoor theaters by large audiences.

A Bitter Message of Hopeless Grief stands apart from Pauline’s live performances.  It captures a more sullen, almost pitiful aspect of the personalities of Pauline’s metallic creatures.  While they are wild things of strength and power, they are revealed as trapped and angry, lacking compassion and care.  Regardless, the film stays true to SRL’s focus of “re-directing the techniques, tools, and tenets of industry, science, and the military away from their typical manifestations in practicality, product or warfare.”

The film was directed by J. Reiss, also known for his work on Nine Inch Nails’ Happiness in Slavery music video.  Amongst many other projects, he has also directed music videos for The Black Crowes, Danzig, Slayer and the Kottonmouth Kings.  In 2007, he released his film, ‘Bomb It’, a documentary on graffiti and the perception of public space, featuring artists including Taki 183, Shepard Fairey, Os Gemeos and Revok.

To see more, Survival Research Laboratories currently have a ton of their performances posted up on their YouTube page online.


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