MACHINE DREAMS, a 1988 West German "intellectual documentary" released to US theaters and home video in 1995, has as its conceit a sleeping narrator who sees in his "dream" (the film itself) a historical overview and philosophical dissection of "man's relationship to machine." By turns
brooding and eerie, at first compelling and insightful, the film's presentation of machines as a manifestation of human longing and desire (but also of fear and anxiety) eventually grinds into a reductionist and relentlessly oppressive mire.
An 87-minute experimental film by Peter Krieg, MACHINE DREAMS embarks on a historical and intellectual tour of ideas about machines, a wide-ranging jaunt that takes us from a 6th-century monastery (where St. Benedict set the stage for the idea of man as a machine) to the corridors of MIT and the
frontiers of artificial intelligence and "cyber-evolution." To present these concepts, Krieg casts a wide net in his choice of subjects, including interviews with everyone from German philosophers and space agency administrators to Japanese robotics designers, from London machine artists to
American military drill sergeants. We also get an eclectic stream of images, from wooden clock gears to automobile production lines, from sex acts between constructed performance machines to astronaut space walks, from a half-finished Marilyn Monroe robot to an R2D2 look-alike security guard.
Krieg, through his omnipresent narrator, presents his idea that "wish machines" (for example, space travel) and "fear machines" (for example, military arsenal) are the prototypes for all machines.
MACHINE DREAMS is more successful, and more compelling, in presenting the historical development of the idea of "man as machine," than it is in presenting its dystopian view of the ongoing evolution of man-machines and machine-men. By the time we are halfway through the film, it has more or less
played out its thesis regarding the inevitable evolution and ensuing dangers of man's symbiotic relationship with the machine. Completely devoid of a spokesperson for "the human spirit," the film collapses concepts such as artistic inspiration, love, the godhead, and the soul into what Marvin
Minsky, MIT scientist and one of the fathers of artificial intelligence, calls the "meaningless by-products" of switching from one kind of thinking in the brain to another. This is exactly the kind of Science-as-Savior, left-brain-only thinking that is taken to task in Diane Keaton's 1995 UNSTRUNG
HEROES--which makes a nice, albeit unwitting, companion piece to MACHINE DREAMS.
Besides its lack of heart, one of the biggest drawbacks of the film is the grating techno-industrial soundtrack, with out-of-focus close-ups slamming into sharpness running a close second. Nonetheless, despite its questionable production values and ponderous German angst, this could be just the
video you need on a rainy Saturday night to generate a rousing intellectual discussion on man-machine's inhumanity to machine-man.(Adult situations, sexual situations, violence.)
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- Released: 1988
- Rating: NR
- Review: MACHINE DREAMS, a 1988 West German "intellectual documentary" released to US theaters and home video in 1995, has as its conceit a sleeping narrator who sees in his "dream" (the film itself) a historical overview and philosophical dissection of "man's rela… (more)