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Unofficial DVD cover included with the DVD-version leak
|Directed by||Peter Christopherson|
|Produced by||Trent Reznor|
|Written by||Trent Reznor|
|Music by||Trent Reznor|
Broken (informally known as The Broken Movie) is a 1993 horror musical short film/long form music video filmed and directed by Peter Christopherson, based on a scenario by Trent Reznor, the founder of the industrial rock band Nine Inch Nails.
The film is a companion piece to the band's 1992 EP Broken, featuring its songs and music and compiling its music videos (the exception being "Last" and the two hidden tracks). The movie, roughly 20 minutes in length, weaves Broken's four music videos together via a violent "snuff film" framing sequence, concluding with an otherwise unreleased video for the EP's final song "Gave Up," setting the conclusion of the film's frame story to the song.
Due to its extremely graphic content, the Broken movie was never officially released, but was leaked as a bootleg which became heavily traded on VHS in the 1990s, and more recently via the Internet. Reznor once said that the Broken movie "...makes 'Happiness in Slavery' look like a Disney movie." While his comments about the movie have been cryptic at best, he makes no secret of the film's existence.
The film begins with a scene of a person being executed by hanging. The trap door opens and the person drops with a serene smile on his face.
The movie then cuts to footage of an amateur video, taken from inside a car going through various parts of a city (the backwards "n" from the Broken album cover and the title "broken" is shown superimposed as a glass overlay). The car goes from the middle-class suburbs to, literally, the other side of the tracks, into a shoddy industrial area, with a brief shot of a "Meat District" sign. The car approaches a young man on the sidewalk. Almost immediately, the young man is suddenly in a basement, tied with a seat belt to a chair and cleave gagged, while being forced to watch a television. The first video, "Pinion," begins to play.
The music video for "Pinion" begins in a bathroom. The camera zooms in on a toilet flushing, and a network of pipes is shown leading to a contraption with a large gear system and a pressure gauge on it. As the camera zooms out, a tight, plastic bodybag-like suit suspended in a padded cell with six rods by the side is shown, with the end of the pipes attached to the mouth portion with water gushing in, presumably to drown the person inside. An alternative interpretation that the person bound inside is being fed the "waste of the world" coming through the pipes.
Cutting back to the amateur video, the killer, wearing some sort of leather mask, drags the victim's head back and forces him to drink some sort of liquid from a jerrycan. The middle of the video for "Wish" is interrupted by amateur footage again with the victim chained to a table with a large wad of dark substance on his face. As the killer is immediately followed to be seen putting his pants on, it could be assumed that it is feces. After the video ends, the killer repeatedly rewinds to the part of the video where Reznor screams "fist fuck!" and begins to rub his fist.
The video for "Help Me I Am in Hell" shows a middle-age bald man in a room filled with flies. He ignores them while eating some sort of steak and drinking wine. On one occasion, it is clearly shown that flies also enter his mouth when he eats. The video cuts away several times to show the same man in bondage gear.
This video was blacked out in the most prominent leak; it is now generally believed (although not definitively proven) that this sequence is part of the complete film but was blacked out by Reznor in the bootlegged copy. 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.
Following the video, the victim is shown still tied to a table as the killer proceeds to rip his teeth out. The video for "Happiness in Slavery", which was banned by music video channels worldwide, shows up. It features a man (played by performance artist Bob Flanagan) stripping off his clothes and settling down on a machine that tortures, rapes and later kills him.
The film ends with a video for "Gave Up"; this is different from the one on Closure, as it is not an actual Nine Inch Nails video, but the music of NIN dubbed over the storyline of the movie. At this point, the victim is suspended from the ceiling and is repeatedly attacked by the perpetrator first with a blade, then a blowtorch, after which the killer slices off the victim's penis with a straight razor. The camera-work here closely resembles that of an amateur snuff film, while there is interspersed footage of the police searching through the basement, and finding remains of previous victims. (At one point, a sign saying "TRESPASSERS WILL BE EATEN" is shown.) Finally, the film cuts back to the victim strapped on a table, as the murderer hacks his limbs off with a chainsaw, proceeds to presumably rape him, and finally slices his chest open to eat his heart.
The movie then cuts back to the execution scene, showing as the killer is dropped through the trap door, with a crazed smile on his face, falling through a seemingly immensely long tunnel, until the rope suddenly tightens. The movie ends with the inverted version of the Broken album cover, with the background black, and a mirrored "n" character filled with the original orange background texture. The severed head of the killer flying across the screen is also shown after 30 seconds of no audio and a black screen.
In versions of the tape labeled as "Techno-necrophilia", the movie is followed by a segment of Robert "Budd" Dwyer's televised suicide. It does not appear on the "leaked" DVD version; it is possible that it was merely added by a third party while the tape was circulating.
Much of the cast, aside from Bob Flanagan in "Happiness in Slavery" and the band itself in "Wish", is unknown. The film is generally credited to be directed by Peter Christopherson, although the music videos themselves were directed by various other people: "Pinion" and "Help Me I Am in Hell" is credited to Eric Goode and Serge Becker, while "Happiness in Slavery" is credited to Jon Reiss.
Broken was created as a companion piece to the EP of the same name after Reznor wanted to create an art project based on the EP with director Christopherson; Christopherson intended the piece to be "a comment on the existence of snuff movies and people’s obsession with them". Reznor, however, was at the time recording in the house where the Tate murders were committed, and seeing the video made him uneasy, so the project was shelved, though not before Reznor circulated a few copies on VHS.
The movie has not been given an official commercial release, because, according to Reznor, he wanted to avoid the film overshadowing the prominence of the music. This has thus added to its mythological status in alternative culture. The original hand-dubbed tapes were distributed by Reznor to various friends with dropouts at certain points so he could know who distributed any copies that might surface. Reznor, commenting in the "Access" section of the NIN website, implied that Gibby Haynes was responsible for the most prominent leak. This copy was traded on VHS tapes for years (resulting in many poor-quality, high-generation copies), and was later encoded in MPEG and AVI formats and distributed extensively through peer-to-peer networks and Nine Inch Nails fan websites. These are generally not of the highest quality, as they are not first-generation copies.
The music videos (without the interstitial footage between songs) for "Pinion", "Wish", "Help Me I Am in Hell", and "Happiness in Slavery" were made officially available on Closure and on the official Nine Inch Nails website.
On Fixed (the remix CD for the Broken EP), remixers employed a heavily processed sample of Flanagan's screaming from the "Happiness in Slavery" video as part of the rhythm in the tracks "Screaming Slave" and a remix of the "Happiness in Slavery" song (although the sample is very obscure on the latter).
In August 2005, a new copy of the movie was distributed via BitTorrent as a remastered DVD image. The remaster, titled "Broken 2.0," was primarily sourced from a low-generation copy of the tape that was anonymously sent to a long-time member of the online NIN community; however, much of the music video content was replaced with higher-resolution footage sourced from the VHS release of Closure. Like all of the copies that existed online prior to that point, this version does not have video footage during "Help Me I Am in Hell", but a blank screen instead. Menu screens, a chapter index and the option to listen to the audio tracks from the CD (without added sound effects) are all distinct features of "Broken 2.0."
On December 30, 2006, an unofficial version of the film was released on a DVD disc image and distributed via BitTorrent at The Pirate Bay by the same anonymous user called "seed0" who uploaded the leaked DVD version of Closure. The DVD image represents a significant upgrade in visual and audio quality from "Broken 2.0.", and includes the oft-missing video for "Help Me I Am in Hell." Fans have speculated that this version of the film has been sourced directly from the master tapes, and that Reznor himself may have been the source of this leak along with the Closure DVD leak, as implied by a post on his official blog: "12/21/06 : Happy Holidays! This one is a guilt-free download. (shhhh - I didn't say that out loud). If you know what I'm talking about, cool."
On May 6, 2013, the entire video was made available for streaming on Vimeo via Nine Inch Nails' Tumblr account. It was removed by Vimeo almost immediately, and the Tumblr post was updated with an allusion to The Pirate Bay. In July 2014, the full video returned to Vimeo and was once again deleted.