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, 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.”