Fantastic Machine | Fresh Takes

Fresh takes and film reviews from new voices in film.

Jamie, Vanessa & Joe

12 Apr 24

Fresh Takes is a space for the latest generation of film lovers to share their views and opinions on some of the great films we are showing at Picturehouse cinemas. 

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Here are some Fresh Takes on Fantastic Machine. Fantastic Machine is a film about film – one that calls into question not just the nature of "documentary" evidence and the "truth" of a photographic image, but the very art of filmmaking itself.

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Vanessa Huang, 23

Vanessa is a Philosophy, Politics and Economics student, most often found at a film festival.

Vanessa says...

Slight in runtime, Fantastic Machine offers a succinct social history of the camera. Directed by Axel Danielson and Maximilien Van Aertryck, the documentary seems to traverse the entire tapestry of human experience through vast selections of archival footage – from Eadweard Muybridge's pioneering 'The Horse in Motion' to our contemporary obsession with self-documentation and content creation.

Particularly absorbing (and disturbing) is the documentary's portrayal of the camera as a political instrument, showcasing its pivotal role in significant events from the Holocaust to the January 6th insurrection. Fantastic Machine questions the notion of the camera as a neutral observer – since its advent, how we choose to present ourselves to the world determines what ends up being seen. And just as the camera has rapidly evolved thanks to human innovation, so too has the camera come to shape us. Yet Danielson and Van Aertryck never quite veer into preachiness, letting the unease organically manifest itself on viewing.

Emerging from the barrage of footage, seemingly disparate clips deftly woven together, viewers are left with troubling moral dilemmas. The cameras are everywhere. But how should we use them?

Joe Fishwick, 24

Joe is a freelance film journalist who has recently been published in Film Stories Magazine.

Joe says…

Fantastic Machine asks you to consider how the invention of the camera has shaped our behaviour over two hundred years. Writer-directors Axel Danielson and Maximilian Van Aertryck have constructed a kaleidoscopic film, one that feels as much like doom-scrolling through the information age as a cheap ticket to the lecture hall of a fantastical film school. I absolutely loved it.

Danielson and Van Aertryck are a masterful pair of storytellers who are clearly no strangers to the bottom of an internet hole. Stories, videos, and memes tumble out of the screen and into the auditorium. You will recognise some of them: a woman singing on a table falls off and hurts herself. A man appears on BBC News after attending an interview for an I.T. position. A golden record is strapped to the side of the Voyager 1 space probe and fired into the cosmos.

Fantastic Machine really soars, however, when it takes a moment to breathe and show the audience something they might not have seen before. The outtakes of a recent ISIS recruitment video that feels like a deleted scene from Four Lions; Nazi propagandist Leni Riefenstahl watches her film Triumph of the Will and her eyes light up with pride. Each vignette leaves you unsettled by your curiosity.

By the end, you will have faced your own vice. Whether it's cat videos, exercise gurus, Twitch streamers, or something entirely more sinister, you'll be left asking the same question: "Where do we go from here?"

Jamie, 24

Jamie has moved over to London from Ireland, igniting an obsession with seeing as much
cinema as he can. He's a fan of animation and will most likely cry if there is a dog on screen.
You can find more of his writing here.

Jamie says...

Axel Danielson and Maximilien Van Aertryck took me to film school – and 'society' school – with Fantastic Machine, a documentary chronicling the impact the camera has had on us, from the first photograph to the modern obsession with self-broadcasting. The first 20 minutes had me locked in, thanks to keen historical insight into the early uses of the camera and how quickly it was used to innovate and manipulate. Shoutout to the Irish president addressing the nation in a first broadcast: expressing his worries and comparing TV to nuclear weapons while the UK's first broadcast plays like a goal-heavy football match. (Irish culture is built on worry.)

There's a focus on the negatives when we move to the present day that feels a little simplistic – it sprinkles in mentions of how we can use the camera for good, but much of it is focused on showcasing how silly the internet is. Admittedly, it is pretty silly. I did find the opening half of the film slightly more engaging, with insight into the reach that the camera has allowed us to have, but I appreciate the film's creation regardless, presenting an engaging storyline without relying on a narrator or talking heads. Even without a narrator's guidance, there is a flow to the story of the film that works quite well, keeping up the energy throughout its runtime with engaging throughlines and connective segments.

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