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Sundance Film Festival Review: ‘Fantastic Machine’ Takes a Striking Look at the Potential and Shortcomings of an Art Form

There have been many documentaries that have taken a deep dive into the history of film, into the history of television, and into how we consume media in the digital age. Many of these documentaries will take an individual stance on each subject. Fantastic Machine is not such a documentary.

Fantastic Machine takes the viewer on a journey through the history of image making: from the first photographs to motion pictures, from film to television, from commercialized network television to social media in the digital age. In each stage of the evolution of the image, the potential of each development is explored, as well as the shortcomings with each present development.

Directors Axel Danielson and Maximilien Van Aertryck juxtapose the humor and recreation in each progression of the camera through time with the horrors that it too can record. In showing clips from old cinema followed by footage of Hitler and Stalin illustrate all that the camera can be used for and how not much has changed. They continue on to show both the positive and negative global events captured on television and on the internet.

Through the film, too, is a critique of commercialized mass media, showing how in each step of the image’s evolution, we’ve taken an increasing amount of steps at commodifying our art. Artists creating for the sole purpose of making money and networks homogenizing their catalogs to better fit audiences are just of few of the examples used in the film. There is also a focus on YouTube and how it both expands the users view of the world, but can also close people off.

At the end of the day, Fantastic Machine takes a very technical and objective look at the evolution of image-making that facilitates a very subjective audience experience where we can look at how far we’ve progressed along the line, but also see some of the errors we’ve made along the way.

SCORE: ★★★★


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Written by Miles Foster

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