Notes from the Under Matrix 

Mathieu Gallois, 1998
LIKE Arts Magazine, Issue 7

These last few months I have been employed at Sydney’s newly opened Fox Studios to work on a Warner Brothers action sci/fi production called ‘The Matrix’.

“The film is set in the 22nd Century when a race of intelligent machines rule the earth, using human beings as their energy source. The human’s submission is ensured by ‘The Matrix,’ a simulation that people are wired to at birth that convinces them that they are experiencing life in the 20 century. An underground group of human revolutionaries have escaped from The Matrix and have learned how to renter it and bend its rules to free those they think will help in their resistance. Their latest recruit is Neo played by Keanu Reeves. The story follows Neo as he develops into The One, a leader whose return has been prophesied since the first humans were freed and who will eventually guide mankind to victory over the machines that enslave them.”

In the arts, models and special effect departments, we are consumed by the task of creating an immense three dimensional mirror like reality.

The level of expertise and talent is breath taking. Many of my fellow employees have been recruited for the job from over seas and are the best in their fields. Driven by a need for resolution that borders on the hysterical, aided by what appears to be an inexhaustible budget (close to a hundred million American dollars), day in day out we penetrate like surgeons and reconstruct reality hair for hair, defect for defect…Our motto could be ‘ Because we can make what we imagine, we do!’

My inability to differentiate between the fake and real allusions that appear to be mushrooming all around me, has left me feeling confused and paranoid. (The paralles between The Matrix and Warner Brothers do not help).

As such the experiences, events and observations I have to report could be unreliable, even fictitious! I plead anonymity before the simulacrum.

Our star, Keanu has refined features, as if measured. Judging from what I have witnessed on the set and from the rushers that we have been shown, his redeeming quality appears to be the complete sincerity of his commitment to the camera.

He is neither a cold nor a warm person, he is simply present one hundred percent.

Day after day, month after month of make believing and pretending in front of the camera, repeating the same line 20 times to get it right ” Trinity…I don’t think that I can get it up any more, sweet heart”…it takes a particular kind of mind set to keep the intensity of ones’ performance flowing.

In his seminal essay ‘The work of art in the age mechanical reproduction’, Walter Benjamin argues that the film-man operates with his whole living person, yet forgoes his aura in the process. ‘The feeling of strangeness’ writes Benjamin, ‘that over comes the actor before the camera is basically of the same kind of estrangement felt before one’s own image in the mirror. But now the reflected image has become separable, transportable. And where is it transported, before the public. Never for a moment does the scene actor cease to be conscious of this fact. While facing the camera he knows that ultimately he is facing the public, the consumers who constitute the market.”

In the models department we made a cast Keanu’s entire body and poured a resin dummy that we intended to use as a reference for the manufacturing of elaborate body props, costumes etc. We made no secret of what we had done, after all he was present; before we could blink a representative of Keanu’s agency was sent over to personally deface the casts’ face hands and feet. The prospect of pirate body moulds being on the market, petrified his agency. We have been left with a strange object.

We have built several models of a helicopter, one of which is full sized. This process was aided by dozens of large photo albums that meticulously documented( often on a one to one scale), the entire surface of the helicopter. In fact one could have almost reconstructed an entire 3D image of the original helicopter from the thousands of 35mm happy snap shots that documented the original. Inside studio 2 the largest photographic image I have ever seen, (the size of an elongated football field), of Sydney’s’ cityscape provides a back drop for a 30 second scene in which our helicopter crashes into a sky scraper! I am yet to fully work out the logic of the shot; so involved and enormous this process seems. Within the studio the set builders have constructed a ten floor section of a skyscraper. I have walked around and I have been up and down this building, I can assure you that it is a real building made out of steel concrete glass etc and that tomorrow a team of office worker could move in and they would be none the wiser.

In studio 3 the main rebel control head quarters set of the film is being constructed. I imagine that this set is like any other that I have seen in countless sci fiction films that Luc Skywalker or Dr Spok might have conducted their inner stellar battles. The rebel control chamber consists of six elaborate control seats that face each other in a circle in an equally elaborate space control room. We are familiar with these environments because we have experienced them in the countless films. We have seen them shake tremble and explode but somehow a chasm of comprehension still persists between the spectacle of the sinking ship and the reality of the nuts and bolts, the ply and the painted surfaces.

I know that these environments exist, and that they don’t exist. What surprises me the me the most is that the former is true. Every dynamitic top of a sky scapper helicopter gun battle climaxing in a earth shattering explosion with men falling to their deaths, actually takes place! Only it is extremely complicated, involves hundreds of dedicated professionals, tens of thousands of work hours and cost millions of millions of dollars. Studios are the best galleries and their contents are the grooviest installations I have ever seen.

Every time I sit down to watch a film I am reminded of Mark Tansey quintetial post modern work` “The truth test”. The painting depicts a group of 19 century scientists observing a cow’s reaction to a panting of cows in a pasture.

During our long work days I sometimes wonder if we will come to share a simular fate as abattoir workers whose constant exposure to the red death of the slaughter house, the butchering of animals, leads to higher rates of violent suicides within that industry.

Film is like butchering in reverse. It is a process of creation but it is also a process of destruction. It takes reality and it creates a plastic medium; one which is stretched and pulled, shot 20 times, edited, and consumed by the masses. Imagine the entire process of slaughtering an animal in slow motion, played backwards, the amassment, categorisation and the in inherently impossible, tragic process of faithfully trying to rejoining the parts to create a whole, and you have film making.