Dir: Peter Christopherson
US: 20:10 min • Bootleg • 1993
Walter Beck reviews
A legendary bootleg amongst Nine Inch Nails fans, The Broken Film has been floating around trading circles for the last twenty years. An accompaniment to NIN’s Broken EP, the film became notorious for its rumored extreme and violent content; supposedly Trent Reznor’s label wouldn’t release it due to its transgressive nature. But in 2006, a DVD quality copy of the film was leaked onto PirateBay, allegedly by Reznor himself. Now any fan with BitTorrent can finally see what this short film is all about.
Opening with a slow motion black and white sequence of a man being hung, the noose is slipped around his neck, a guard pulls a lever and he plunges into oblivion as it cuts to the next scene.
The next scene establishes the rough storyline of the film: it’s grainy, home video color footage of a deranged man stalking his victims, finally selecting one. We next see the man bound to a chair in what looks like a suburbanite garage with the maniac looming over him wearing what looks like a mask of human skin. The camera then zooms into the TV for the first song sequence.
‘Pinion’ is the first musical part of the film, a strange high-quality black and white zoom down a flushing toilet. As we follow the pipes, we find that the raw sewage is being forced into the mouth of a man in a full vinyl gimp suit chained to what looks like the padded walls of an insane asylum.
Briefly cutting back to the garage, the maniac has started pouring gasoline down his victim’s throat and then begins dowsing him with it. The music then cuts in again with the clip for ‘Wish’.
‘Wish’ is a pretty standard “live” music video, the live band of Nine Inch Nails playing the song in a giant cage, of course Trent Reznor up front in the requisite androgynous leather outfit, with thousands of kids moshing, stage diving, and rioting outside the cage. In the closing seconds of the song, they finally break through the cage and start charging in with clubs.
Back to the garage again, the maniac is watching and rewinding a tape of the ‘Wish’ clip, while the victim lays there, covered with gasoline blisters.
‘Help Me I Am in Hell’ is the second instrumental clip and it’s even more disturbing than ‘Pinion’. A bald middle aged man sits in the middle of a room, eating a steak dinner and drinking wine while thousands of flies hovering around him, he eats them and drinks them without notice, while shots of another middle aged man in full BDSM gear flicker in and out.
In the garage again, the maniac starts ripping the victim’s teeth out with a pair of pliers as it cuts to the next music clip, ‘Happiness in Slavery’.
A version of this clip did appear on mainstream television, albeit in censored form. A man in a suit, played by notorious performance artist Bob Flanagan, steps into what looks like a restroom in hell, strips naked and lies down in a metal machine. The machine begins ripping into his flesh, starts tearing out his organs and then consumes his entire body, shitting out the remains. The clip ends with Trent Reznor entering the room in the same suit as Flanagan.
‘Gave Up’, the last music clip in the film, wraps the footage in the garage as the maniac strings up the victim, dismembers him, burns him with a blowtorch, castrates him, guts him, and then begins to eat him. The footage intersects with black and white film of a cop arriving on the scene and nearly vomiting when he looks in the chest freezer and sees the bloody remains of the maniac’s victims.
The film ends back with the hanging from the beginning as the convict falls through an impossibly long drop, we see a crazed smile on his face and then the rope snaps taut.
This tape is everything fans had heard about it, it’s extremely graphic and violent, one of the most transgressive pieces of art to come out of the American industrial scene. Trent Reznor’s vision is that of self-destruction and throughout the film, it’s on display: the opening and closing shots of the hanging underlying the societal consequences of violence; the instrumental clips of ‘Pinion’ and ‘Help Me I Am in Hell’ showing how one eats his own poison, be it excrement or insects; the mob rush of ‘Wish’ illustrating group madness; and of course, the grainy snuff-film like footage throughout showing the extremity of individuals who are too far lost in their own brutality.
This film is a graphic depiction of the cycle of brutality and self-destruction. It holds up the broken mirror to those who watch it as a warning of what can happen if madness goes too far: the destruction of self and society.
Outside of Bob Flanagan in the ‘Happiness in Slavery’ clip, the cast remains unknown and while several directors were credited with the individual music clips, Peter “Sleazy” Christopherson, of the pioneering industrial group Throbbing Gristle, directed the garage sequences.
If you’re a serious fan of Nine Inch Nails, industrial music, or transgressive art, this is worth checking out. For the merely curious, be warned, this is the most intense twenty minutes ever laid to film.