Fixed
May 7, 2013 3:26 PM   Subscribe

"This was never meant to be so easy to watch" NIN art director Rob Sheridan on the controversial Broken video which surfaced briefly on Vimeo this week.
posted by Artw (45 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite

 
When I was a teenager I had a collection of NIN videos on VHS (an official release) that included "Broken". It was pretty intense, as I recall. I had no idea it was this "legendary".
posted by brundlefly at 3:44 PM on May 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


I was just thinking about those videos yesterday. This is one of four VHS tapes my best friend still owns (he's decided to get rid of any physical media he can). The other three are the pre-fucked-with Star Wars trilogy.
posted by The Great Big Mulp at 3:46 PM on May 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


Friends passing around the Broken video in junior high probably accounts for a good deal of my fucked-up sensibilities when it comes to movies. HUGE influence on me. I think it should be mandatory viewing in 8th grade classrooms. (Okay, not really. At all.)
posted by naju at 3:53 PM on May 7, 2013 [2 favorites]


"I want you to stay away from it! Those mondo weirdo video guys, they've got unsavory connections, they play rough. Rougher than even Nicki Brand wants to play... You know, in Brazil, Central America, those kinds of places, making underground videos is considered a subversive act. They execute people for it. In Pittsburgh, who knows?"
posted by Artw at 3:55 PM on May 7, 2013 [16 favorites]


When I was a teenager I had a collection of NIN videos on VHS (an official release) that included "Broken". It was pretty intense, as I recall. I had no idea it was this "legendary".

Are you thinking of the music videos for the Broken EP that were released with the Closure compilation (Happiness in Slavery, Pinion, Wish)? To the best of my knowledge (wikipedia seems to agree) the Broken video never had an official VHS release.
posted by tracknode at 4:05 PM on May 7, 2013


I knew about the Happiness in Slavery video because I was familiar with and admired the work of Bob Flanagan. Still had no desire to see it even though I would have been in on the "joke" (that some of this was really happening to Flanagan with his full consent) -- the direction it reportedly took things was just too lurid for me.

Had no idea about the rest of this collection. Holy crap, WTF were they thinking? I really enjoyed NIN and some other 90s industrial music for a time, but this cultivation of a snuff film aesthetic really turned me off and greatly diminished my desire to listen to it after I started becoming aware of it. Maybe that's what they were going for, to turn off squares like me in order to keep the scene hardcore and "pure"?

For what it's worth, I'm really glad NIN didn't stay stuck in that cul-de-sac.
posted by treepour at 4:06 PM on May 7, 2013


tracknode: "Are you thinking of the music videos for the Broken EP that were released with the Closure compilation (Happiness in Slavery, Pinion, Wish)? To the best of my knowledge (wikipedia seems to agree) the Broken video never had an official VHS release."

Hmmm... That looks like what I had. Maybe I'm confusing tapes. I know I saw the thing around then.
posted by brundlefly at 4:10 PM on May 7, 2013


Holy crap, WTF were they thinking?

Reznor was in a dispute with his label, TVT, at the time. The story goes he did everything he could to make the Broken EP commercially unviable as a fuck you them. Hence the music videos that could never possibly be shown on MTV.
posted by tracknode at 4:15 PM on May 7, 2013 [2 favorites]


Part of me understands that this is art - difficult, unappealing, questionable art. Exploring darkness is part of the deal when you want artistic freedom. But the other part of me (especially on a day 3 women are freed after being held for 10 years in Ohio) questions why bother? Why make torture and hate and snuff look sexy and glossy? It's not.
posted by helmutdog at 4:16 PM on May 7, 2013 [9 favorites]


This is probably as good a place as any to remind everyone that "seed0" [read: Trent Reznor] has released Broken in a HQ DVD format for download via TPB.
posted by hippybear at 4:17 PM on May 7, 2013 [8 favorites]


I think Trent Reznor was just in a really fucked up place. The album after that was basically a suicide note.
posted by empath at 4:17 PM on May 7, 2013


Huh. I'm pretty surprised this is somehow legendary. Honestly this is the first I've even heard of the NIN video – but... lots of industrial bands did stuff like this? Skinny Puppy, anyone?
posted by furiousthought at 4:28 PM on May 7, 2013 [3 favorites]


I ran with an older crowd as a kid because I was weird and morbid and goth, which resulted in being presented with the opportunity to watch the full version of "Broken" when I was 11 years old. It was early 1994 and I was in the very deepest throes of my as-yet unyielding love for Trent Reznor. Initially, I felt triumphant -- I'd only heard rumors, and couldn't believe someone had actually found it! But the "Broken" film was billed to me -- apparently quite accurately -- as "basically a snuff film, but not real, exactly, so don't worry because no one actually gets hurt!" What the hell? Why would anyone in the world want to watch anything like that, ever? So I turned down the invite, and found out later that one of the much-older attendees had passed out cold during the screening. Yikes. Still not regretting my decision, still listen to Downward Spiral at least once a week.

At the risk of being all cane-wave-y and lawn-protective, I definitely agree with Mr. Sheridan that "[k]ids today can't possibly appreciate the feeling of tracking down a rare video artifact, because everything now is a mere Google search away." Slowly but surely inching toward my ultimate goal of collecting everything in the Halo collection took up probably an unhealthy portion of my pre-internet adolescence. Lots of mail order catalogs, overseas correspondence, furtive tape trading circles, rumors of record stores that would sell you bootlegs and homespun rarity compilations if you knew who to ask.

The "Closure" compilation, though -- so, so good. Here is part 1 on Vimeo. The Self Destruct tour (NIN/PWEI/JRC) was my very first concert; I took off of school to wait in line all day and ensure my place in the front row at a 13,000-capacity arena. Unfortunately, I got knocked unconscious after I took a stage diver's Doc Marten directly to the face during the third NIN song, but I still managed to weakly lift my arm and swipe my hand across Mr. Reznor's boot as I was dragged out of the front row to be carted off by EMTs. Best day of my life! And remember, kids -- always cornstarch, never talcum powder!
posted by divined by radio at 4:39 PM on May 7, 2013 [10 favorites]


"Kids today can’t possibly appreciate the feeling of tracking down a rare video artifact, because everything now is a mere Google search away."

You hear this all the time, but it's just not true. There's SO MUCH MEDIA out there locked up in obsolete formats that'll never be seen if not for the most capricious of coincidences.

It may be true when you're talking about the most notorious video released be the most prominent heavy musician of the last two decades, but there are entire discographies of artists that USED TO BE ACTUAL STARS that languishes in bargain bins and flea markets.
posted by blue t-shirt at 4:47 PM on May 7, 2013 [4 favorites]


Reznor is rumored to have distributed copies of Broken to his friends, each with a different part of the video blacked out, so that if it were bootlegged, he would be able to identify the source of the leak.

Using counterespionage techniques to ensure that close friends don't copy your pseudo-snuff tape is a cue that you ought to rethink your life.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 4:48 PM on May 7, 2013 [12 favorites]


OK, and then we read, like, the next sentence: (Yes, I'm liveblogging this article right here)

"I think by and large music has benefited tremendously from the internet — but mystique has definitely suffered"

only because we tweet everything. It's arguably easier to cultivate mystique now than it ever has been, since all you have to do is basically not tweet
posted by blue t-shirt at 4:49 PM on May 7, 2013 [4 favorites]


You hear this all the time, but it's just not true. There's SO MUCH MEDIA out there locked up in obsolete formats that'll never be seen if not for the most capricious of coincidences.

EVERYTHING is not available, and I hate when people say it is, but the point was comparing the ease of tracking something down then and now. I see videos now by bands that were completely obscure 30 years ago, bands that I never even realized made videos. I don’t know how I ever would have gotten them in the first place, but I wasn’t even looking because I didn't know they were out there.
posted by bongo_x at 4:53 PM on May 7, 2013


I still go back and watch the Closer video from time to time. I think I've gotten too old – Nine Inch Nails seems sort of insufferably pretentious now. But this is still a hell of a good video.
posted by Nelson at 4:56 PM on May 7, 2013 [4 favorites]


I think Trent has done a great job reveling in the new freedom that instant downloading brings while keeping things interesting with stuff like this and his Year Zero ARG. I don't think his music is ground-breaking as it one was, but I love what he's doing with it. This is a guy who always hated record labels and traditional media outlets playing with the new toy box. Good for him.

ps Watched Closure over and over again in highschool. Such great stuff. So much fun to see his crazy technological storms rendered by flesh-and-blood people.
posted by es_de_bah at 4:57 PM on May 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


The album after that was basically a suicide note.

The song The Becoming made me go see a shrink. The bit about "The me that you know doesn't come around much" kinda resonated more than I was comfortable with.
posted by DigDoug at 4:58 PM on May 7, 2013 [5 favorites]


Oh, man, the Year Zero ARG was one of the most intense experiences I've ever participated in. I was right there from the very beginning and spent WAY too many very late nights as part of a group of strangers on the internet who were working together to piece everything together. I spent most of that period living in two realities at once -- my normal life and this OTHER thing which was consuming and bleeding over into real life.

I've never experienced anything like that before or since. Heck, I'm covered in goosebumps just typing this comment.

Someplace I have a .pdf of the entire ARG laid out to be printed into a giant book, but I haven't yet because the last time I checked into printing costs it was going to run around $100 to get it done right. Someday I will do it. Trent said he wanted the ARG to be "a CD booklet on steroids". He achieved that, and much more.
posted by hippybear at 5:03 PM on May 7, 2013 [4 favorites]


So I totally don't want to start a TDS derail (OK, OK, I do, that album is a goddamned masterpiece) but.
The part where he sings, "Annie, hold a little tighter / I might just slip away" still makes me burst into tears every time I hear it. I am totally choked up just thinking about it. That album (and in particular the glorious, horrific trifecta of "The Becoming"/"Ruiner"/"I Do Not Want This") was the only piece of wreckage in the world I felt I could cling to in order to survive ages 11-18. Easily the most important and psychologically prominent piece of art in my life.

you didn't hurt me, nothing can hurt me
you didn't hurt me, nothing can stop me now...

posted by divined by radio at 5:17 PM on May 7, 2013 [3 favorites]


EDIT: VIDEO REMOVED BY VIMEO. This just wasn't meant for the masses. There is, however, a certain broad inlet of the sea where the land curves inward, inhabited by people who attack and rob ships at sea, where this video can be downloaded in high quality.
Submitted without comment.
posted by Blue_Villain at 5:52 PM on May 7, 2013 [8 favorites]


Closer was released in 1994. My whole existence *IS* flawed. What have I done with my life!? Nineteen Years...fuck me. *sigh*
posted by humanfont at 6:09 PM on May 7, 2013 [3 favorites]


"This was never meant to be so easy to watch"

I know, between video game gorefests and the ascendant horror genre assisted by CGI, this sort of thing has become completely normal to ...

Oh.
posted by dhartung at 6:23 PM on May 7, 2013


Bob Flanagan... may he rest in peace.

This post prompted me to dig through Reznor's interviews from that time:
Q: But the sickest lyrics you could come up with might now be the comemrcially best-selling. So where does the issue of responsibility come in? Like the Amok Press T-shirt you're wearing, and their slogan "the extremes of information in print." This notion that something that's the most extreme is best. Is that sensible?

A: Growing up, I so wanted to get the f**k out of where I was, away from the medocrity and mundaneness of rural life. Anything extreme caught my attention. I was intrigued with the limit, the movie that scared the s**t out of me, the book-I had a huge collection of scary comic books when I was a kid. What's the next step beyond? What's beyond Steven King? Clive Barker. What's beyond that?

A: Nine Inch Nails deals with that addictive part of my personality. How many mushrooms can you take? What happens then? WHat about mushrooms and DMT? Nine Inch Nails offers me the chance to do what I want to do. I want a show, a spectacle. I'm allowed to look stupid. And I want to.

Spin Magazine, 1996

I know that I'm not the same person, and I'm not trying to pretend that I am, but I'm also...(long pause) I'm probably more sad right now than I've ever been, because I have the added baggage of... this didn't fix it, you know? Like I always thought, "Man, if I could ever be a rock star..." Some stupid fuckin' naive dream, and then you get it and...I've been at my lowest point, and I'm not just saying this; it didn't work, man. I mean, my job is...I wake up and make music and work with people I respect, and David Bowie will take my call, so why...do I want to kill myself, you know? It sucks.

Raygun, 1997

both via burningsouls.com
I think the interviews give a sense of the cultural and personal moment that created Broken.

Also: Roger Ebert on Bob Flanagan. Text from Flanagan's The Pain Journal.

It's been sixteen years since I started using this handle...
posted by halonine at 6:39 PM on May 7, 2013 [9 favorites]


Using counterespionage techniques to ensure that close friends don't copy your pseudo-snuff tape is a cue that you ought to rethink your life.

Rethinking your life because of a rumor doesn't make much sense.

The tape was designed to feel as subversive as possible, including cut-outs, static (a recurring visual theme in NIN and HTDA media even now), and blank spaces (there are a number of them, and they're all the same no matter what copy you got; the concept is kind of echoed in the Closer video "SCENE MISSING" cuts) and the use of then-bandmember Richard Patrick in a cop costume for the resemblance to his brother in Terminator 2.

It was always meant to be a desirable underground acquisition, and it was meant to be completely unplayable on television. It was shocking to be shocking, back when it was still kind of easy to shock anybody, in the way that bored frustrated 20-something dudes can be shocking. It was kind of an ARG before ARGs, with the rumors and the hints and the lengths most kids had to go to in order to obtain it. It still feels like a game to get a hold of it.

I agree with Sheridan that it kind of honors the original zeitgeist that it's still hard to get. It would be a much dumber video if you could One-Click it on Amazon.

Making a point of being unplayable on MTV - when MTV was trying to do so - was either an incredibly bold marketing move or a career suicide note (not, as previously mentioned, that the Broken album wasn't also maybe another kind of suicide note, the first of several), maybe some from each column. I don't know if he knew when he made it that it would turn a certain tide with fans the way it did, I think it was at least half luck/timing.
posted by Lyn Never at 6:43 PM on May 7, 2013 [3 favorites]


Bob Flanagan... may he rest in peace

Wouldn't he be happier being stabbed with pitchforks down in Hell?
posted by thelonius at 7:05 PM on May 7, 2013


So, I've been an NIN fan for many years, and I remember, it was winter of 94/95, and I remember getting in the car w/my friend, and we were listening to some Pizzicato Five for a bit, then we popped in NIN. (Yeah, I know, strange mix, there)... TDS in particular, and I remember saying to my friend... I'm not suicidal, and I don't really think music makes people kill themselves, but man... This album almost makes me suicidal. I really felt it. Maybe I was depressed more than I wanted to admit, I don't know. But it is definitely one of the greatest albums of all time, IMO, because it speaks so loudly.

And it's strange, because... It seems like its in the past, like, ok, I've heard it a bajillion times, whatevs. And of course its power is lessened I think over the years... for me. But if you took a kid who's never heard it before, and let them hear it when they're in the right frame of mind, they'll still hear it in all it's shadowglory. Because it IS an artifact, and it speaks beyond time. Maybe it doesn't speak to Trent in the same way it did when he wrote it, or to me when I first heard it, but it will hit someone, somewhere, at a time when they need it or feel it, and they will find that dark solace, and it will be just as powerful as ever.
posted by symbioid at 7:30 PM on May 7, 2013 [2 favorites]


The part where he sings, "Annie, hold a little tighter / I might just slip away" still makes me burst into tears every time I hear it. I am totally choked up just thinking about it. That album (and in particular the glorious, horrific trifecta of "The Becoming"/"Ruiner"/"I Do Not Want This") was the only piece of wreckage in the world I felt I could cling to in order to survive ages 11-18. Easily the most important and psychologically prominent piece of art in my life.

Yep, it was the same thing for me.
posted by empath at 7:37 PM on May 7, 2013


Using counterespionage techniques to ensure that close friends don't copy your pseudo-snuff tape is a cue that you ought to rethink your life.

As others have said, it's just a silly rumor. But also... He actually did rethink his life eventually. But first he had to go through an unfortunate period of further misery and drug addiction.
posted by sparkletone at 8:13 PM on May 7, 2013


It's also pretty standard practice to watermark pre-released stuff.
posted by empath at 8:22 PM on May 7, 2013


Using counterespionage techniques to ensure that close friends don't copy your pseudo-snuff tape is a cue that you ought to rethink your life.
Huh, why? "pseudo" is exactly that. I can't imagine whatever in this is somehow worse then a typical blood 'n' guts horror movie. The only difference would have been the context. Who cares?
posted by delmoi at 8:29 PM on May 7, 2013


lots of industrial bands did stuff like this? Skinny Puppy, anyone?

Yeah, and this kind of thing was just in air back then, and not just in industrial music or even music. There was the movie Seven, David Bowie released Outside (a concept album about "art murders"), and Dennis Cooper was at the height of his popularity writing minimalist and incredibly menacing fiction-mixed-with-autobiography about numb, suicidal queer boys and the serial killers who could only find existential meaning and emotional catharsis in torturing and mutilating them.

It seemed like there was a fascination not just with being shocking but with a very ugly sort of menace that involved blurring the lines between fiction and reality enough to both raise the question of moral complicity of a sufficiently tuned-in audience and strip away the veneer of personal safety that might have once been implied by the performer/audience distinction ("we can't be physically or otherwise harmed by this thing, because it's just a work of art or a consumable entertainment").

What the hell was in the water back then? Was this all the pent-up angst of the 80's coming to the surface? The threat of nuclear annihilation turned into the threat of personal annihilation? I'm all for challenging performer/audience distinctions, but cultivating a snuff aesthetic is just . . . well, I don't know how to say it . . . just fucking ugly, from an ethical standpoint at least.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not saying this all NIN was about. I think the TDS is a masterpiece in part because some very real, raw, tenderness and humanity shows through the cracks in the nihilism and anger. In my memory, the fascination with this aesthetic was as much a part of the 90s as garage bands and grunge.

Or maybe it was just a thing a few people were doing and it bothered me so much that I remember being "everywhere". I don't know, but I can at least say that I'm anything but nostalgic for that aspect the 90s.
posted by treepour at 8:34 PM on May 7, 2013 [7 favorites]


Trent Reznor releases his own shit at Pirate Bay under the name Seed0.

My links to Pirate Bay always get deleted here, but, seriously, its just a link to Reznor torrenting the official version of the Broken movie (and other NIN stuff), which is his own intellectual property.
posted by dgaicun at 8:35 PM on May 7, 2013 [2 favorites]


By the way, RE: the several "too hot for MTV" comments. Wasn't the Pinion part of the Broken video, with the black water going down the toilet, used for the opening of Alternative Nation or 120 minutes in the early 90s?
posted by dgaicun at 8:56 PM on May 7, 2013


Yep, Alternative Nation used part of the Broken video for its intro.

I can't believe Vimeo pulled that video. The snuff stuff is so tame and campy. Not at all believable or shocking. (Certainly less so than Reservoir Dogs (1992), which it appears to ape with the chair and gasoline, etc)
posted by dgaicun at 9:17 PM on May 7, 2013


Yeah, and this kind of thing was just in air back then, and not just in industrial music or even music. There was the movie Seven, David Bowie released Outside (a concept album about "art murders"), and Dennis Cooper was at the height of his popularity writing minimalist and incredibly menacing fiction-mixed-with-autobiography about numb, suicidal queer boys and the serial killers who could only find existential meaning and emotional catharsis in torturing and mutilating them.

Not to mention Clive Barker being at the height of his popularity.
posted by empath at 9:24 PM on May 7, 2013


Not to mention Clive Barker being at the height of his popularity.

Though at that point I think Barker had already gone in the direction of dark fantasy instead of outright horror, and I'm not sure he ever cultivated that "are you SURE you're not REALLY watching someone being butchered?" aesthetic. And even though Barker really foregrounded sadomasochistic themes in some of his horror to very disturbing effect (the original Hellraiser scarred me for life), the horror was always of supernatural origin and he never toyed with the reader's perception of what was reality and what was fiction.
posted by treepour at 9:43 PM on May 7, 2013


Essential listening for Hellraiser fans.
posted by Artw at 10:14 PM on May 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


Was this all the pent-up angst of the 80's coming to the surface? ...cultivating a snuff aesthetic is just . . . well, I don't know how to say it . . . just fucking ugly, from an ethical standpoint at least.
vs
I drew my saber through her
It was a bloody knife
I threw her into the river
It was an awful sight
My father often told me
That money would set me free
If I'd but murder that dear little girl
Whose name was Rose Connely
-Down in the Willow Garden (traditional)

(no, really, extreme violence has always been part of entertainment -- here's another example)
-----------

I don't really like music that much -- I've just never really understood it. But for whatever reason, the 1990s Nine Inch Nails has really stuck with me. Happiness In Slavery was my favorite music video from the moment I first saw it -- until I saw Johnny Cash's Hurt. It helps, I guess, to know that a few months after making that video, his wife will be dead, and a few months later, he will be too. But just look at his hand shake as he pours out the wine. Holy shit.
posted by novalis_dt at 10:43 PM on May 7, 2013


I remember seeing Broken when I was like 16 or so, on a probably twelfth-generation VHS copy tht was basically indecipherable through the static and noise. I watched it with a high-school friend who had somehow procured the copy; the friend was the son of a preacher. We watched it on their living room tv while the parents were out.

good times.

As an album, Broken has always been one of my favorite NIN releases. When I was walking on the Appalachian trail, 'Happiness in Slavery' was one of my walking songs, perfect for the pace I kept, fun to sing, and a good reminder of the drudgery I was avoiding out on the trail. Most of the album is just so inexplicably energetic in its rage; it's angry, angry music that makes you want to *move*.
posted by kaibutsu at 11:28 PM on May 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


I got Broken when it came out.

I saw this video at a con at some point after The Downward Spiral came out and Trent was racing up the charts with "I want to BLANK you like an animal" and I'd fallen out with his music (came back with the next album and I don't think he's put too many feet wrong overall) and I was sickened. It was on a big screen and I recognised the song and I could not look away and I still feel queasy to this day thinking about it.

I'm totally down with the idea that its Johnny Cash's Hurt. It really is.
posted by Mezentian at 4:19 AM on May 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


It's also annoying to hear people keep talk about this as a "snuff film" as if it was some kind of asthetic or something. A "Snuff film" is supposedly a film that shows an actual murder. It has zero to do with what it looks like or it's 'aesthetic'. The only "aesthetic" is "low-budget horror movie." It's not a snuff flim. It's not in any way a snuff flim. Obviously Reznor uses that word himself, but that's marketing, or else he's not using the word correctly unintentionally.

Either way, people saying it's it's fucked up are being hysterical. He made a movie. Maybe it's a fucked up movie, but his songs are fucked up too, that's the whole point - the guy's an artist, and this was some art. Get over it.
posted by delmoi at 11:16 AM on May 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


Which is pretty much the case with anything commonly called a snuff film over the years, like the Guinea Pig films and Cannibal Holocaust. I wonder if having Wikipedia to look such things up in will mean the urban muthology of the snuff film dies a death - probably not.
posted by Artw at 12:03 PM on May 8, 2013


« Older Ordinary special elections rarely merit wide atten...  |  Film Crit Hulk Answers Questio... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments