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Mechanical Principles

Film Review by Dean Duncan Jun 5, 2014

The way things work! On the evidence of these beautifully, joyfully assembled images it’s impossible to deny that there’s much so more to industrialization and technology than futurist excess or expressionist despair. Those are conceptual or theoretical responses anyway—most valid, but so incomplete!  It would take a narcissistic, defiantly unhandy or straight-out clueless aesthete to think otherwise. Beyond those valid but severely pinched interpretations are all this rich invention and application, beautiful and useful in equal measure. Were John Ruskin and William Morris wrong after all, or at least in part? The social relations of Industrialism have been iniquitous, but the machines themselves are absolutely exquisite. Steiner’s beautiful film suggests that science, or in this case applied mechanical engineering, lies exactly and ideally between art and nature. It contains the inspiringly ingenious contrivance of the one, and the gloriously ordered functioning of the other. This amazing parade of engaging gears testifies to God’s glory and man’s nobility as surely as the lily of the field. Of course it may help that the camera doesn’t pull back to reveal strike-breaking and head-bashing. But if we pulled even further back than that, to reveal the parts that these various components play, the cool things that get made and the fun use we put them to, then aesthetes would still lose.