Ya gotta love the many reversals embedded in this documentary. I mean, first there's the title, Pink Floyd's nasty ode to what Frank Zappa called "the filthiest business on Earth": Welcome to the Machine. Then there's the use of Hunter S. Thompson's gem: "The music business is a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free and good men die like dogs; there's also a negative side", placed right as the film opens. Next comes the interlocutor who runs hot and cold in the intro, and you start thinking "Jesus, did Machiavelli write this film or what?". What better way to address the music biz, hm?
We're first introduced to The New Vitamin, an aspirant buncha rock star wannabes and the experimental lab rats in this gig, and they're kinda lame, kinda not, but placed in a David Lynchian dungeonesque shithole serving as practice chamber and way-the-fuck-lo-tech recording studio. The ride has started. The members, we find, are the usual strange, moody, pissy artistic types, proletarians dreaming of bourgeois success through the creative impulse. Then there are the affirmations and contrasts to that via musicians who have alrady made it—Amorphis, Dan McCafferty (Nazareth), Glenn Hughes, etc.—providing the up sides and the down, sometimes both in the same instance. One cat, a pianist, Chilly Gonzalez, encapsulates everything aesthetically when he claims that artists always need "a positive and a negative"; in other words: contrast, tension, and resolution.
From the beginning, that's pretty much what Welcome is about. It ain't trying to sugar-coat, it ain't quite damning either, but it certainly isn't fooling itself…or you. The aim is to look at what they call The 12 Rules for Making It…except they're not rules, they're areas of presentation and concern ("Rule" #2, for instance, is The Image; that's not a rule, y'all). One thing that's crystal clear right from the start, though, is that whatever your intent is, it takes a hell of a long time to attain it in the biz—if, that is, you ever get lucky enough to even make the approach. The professionals, the half-asses, and the failures talk quite candidly about their tribulations, and, of course, the business executives are the most optimistic and neutral about everything. Though the DVD isn't at all about what it says it's about (again, there are no rules, only cautionaries), it's a very good hour-and-a-half exploration tunneling beneath the glitz and glitter. Scattershot as hell, an exercise in randomicity, but nonetheless entertaining, informative, and sobering.
Complaint, though: will someone tell director Steinkogler that white sub-titles are the worst friggin' choice when half the time someone's speaking in a language other than English—in this case German—and ya can't tell what the fuck the translation is because your sub-titles are white and the predominant backgrounds are white, pale, and washed out. What the hell? Doesn't anyone beta test this kind of thing before release? About one-quarter of the translations are impossible to decipher. Hint: black borders coulda been used on all words and letters; that would've kept 'em readable against any background! So, truth in advertising (my fellow crits don't like me saying this 'cause they think they're fucking philosophers or something [haw haw! haw!], but all criticism is advertising; read it and weep ink-boyz): Welcome to the Machine doesn't do what it says it does (reveal the rules), the makers were pretty damned sloppy a bit too often, AND the documentary skips blithely over the more insidious aspects of the biz (in just exactly how the producers and labels fuck everyone in arm's reach), but it IS an eye-opening revelation for anyone not already hip to the seamy underside of the reptilian quagmire calling itself the music industry. Do I recommend it? Actually, I do…but with the noted bitch-til-yer-blue-in-the-face proviso.
Edited by: David N. Pyles
Copyright 2013, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
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