Human Contraptions


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2003, Total running time 50 Minutes (10 episodes)

Academy Award winning animator Bruce Petty takes a satirical look at the "contraptions" that shape our lives. Education, sex, finance, globalism, art, media, medicine, law, government and even the brain are transformed by Petty into evolving machines. Beginning with a simple concept, he takes us on an anarchic journey through history as each apparatus builds to its complex contemporary form. In the wry, ironic style that is his hallmark, Petty reveals these to be contraptions of a very human kind - imperfect, sometimes unpredictable and always subject to change. A witty, provocative and entertaining series, narrated by Andrew Denton.

Law It may have started as a simple apparatus to test sin and guilt, but over time the legal system has become one of our most convoluted contraptions, with a noticeable lean towards the financially gifted and a baffling array of attachments. Loopholes, out-of-court settlements, reasonable doubt, company long as you’ve got a wig, it’s possible to bypass justice altogether. Bruce Petty shows us the inner workings of this machine, where lawyers speak a different language and money speaks louder still.

Brain From a single cell to self-awareness, consciousness to conscience, the human brain has come a long way. Bruce Petty explores its inner mechanics in his own inimitable ironic style, as he takes us from the Big Bang to genes, hormones and Freud. In Petty’s brain machine the left side works things out while the right side wonders why it should bother and, hopefully, there’s enough imagination somewhere inside to save us from ourselves.

Global The main problem with marking out territory is someone else doing it in the same place. In this episode, Bruce Petty looks at the global contraption and continuing efforts to divide the planet, even as a worldwide info net shrinks the globe. Petty’s machine comes fitted with a “race-ometer” for sorting humans according to the shape of their nostrils and numerous refugee holding tanks which are filling up while the fuel tanks are running out.

Government At its basic level, the government machine is operated by people getting together and shouting and collecting funds to support getting together and shouting. Fuelled by ideological steam, it has survived numerous violent revisions, usually in the name of the common good. From the brown-paper-bag-full-of-money mechanism to the one-man one-vote unit, Bruce Petty surveys the various models of the great government contraption, many of which have been prone to breakdown.

Education Historical records show that an early form of this contraption was a basic, yet compulsory, device that parents used on children. Bruce Petty traces the development of education to its current double-barrelled form. Whether private or public, it seems that wonder and imagination have been lost somewhere in the system. Now, the whole apparatus has been loaded on to an all-subjects multiple-choice mainframe which might be able to spout information but leaves out how to fit it all together.

Sex Moving on from a basic one-celled duplication device, the most successful reproductive machine has proved to be the two-human, semi-automatic, chromosome exchanger. It’s simple and neither operator requires previous experience, but steering the flying, passion-driven, bonding module is far more difficult. From foreplay to feminism, romance to religion, Bruce Petty considers various attempts to get the sex contraption running hot.

Finance One of the first human problems was the sharing business. It worked fairly well until someone discovered money. Before long, they had a finance system - ostensibly controlled by a man known as a banker - connected to a new belief system. Eternal growth became the new deity, worshipped by a blessed elite, fuelled by debt and the sacrifice of workers. In this episode, Bruce Petty’s finance contraption starts with money circulating around a simple market tube for the convenience of people, and ends with people being circulated around a complex job tube for the sake of the almighty dollar.

Art The first time a human did something not work related, minds opened and imaginations soared. Attracted by the lack of effort art required, soon everybody was trying to do it so a serious French philosophy team was installed to decide what the art contraption was really supposed to do. Finally, business stepped in and now anything, properly marketed, can be art for 15 minutes.

Media Since its earliest days, the media machine has run two programs: what people want to hear and what is really happening - or news, as it became known. With television, the fantasy became so spectacular it made the truth look badly acted. Free speech was left to idealists, academics and low-budget documentaries. Then the machine went global and gave everybody what they’d always wanted: 200 continuous talk-down, talk-up, talk-back channels. In this episode, Bruce Petty asks whether humans have the media under remote control or the other way around.

Medicine Humans are basically self-repairing, low-maintenance, all-weather units but occasionally things go wrong. So, for thousands of years, doctors administered bedside guesswork, usually with death as a side effect, until microscopes got big enough to find DNA (or how God did it). Now, the medicine machine focuses on getting life perfect at the start and keeping it going longer at the end. The side effect is a shortage of money to fix anyone in between. In this episode, Bruce Petty applies his wry humour to the mix of bioscience, insurance policies and law that medicine has become.

A Film Australia National Interest Program. Produced with the assistance of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. © 2011 National Film and Sound Archive of Australia.

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Director/Writer: Bruce Petty

Animators/Graphics: Bruce Petty, Antonio Artese (Graphics Compositing)

Principal Cast: Lee Perry (Character Voices), Sally Patience (Character Voices), Lucie Blinco (Character Voices)

Year: 2003

Total Running Time: 50 Minutes

Classification: PG. Consumer advice: Sexual references, adult themes.

Curriculum Links: English, Media Studies, Studies of Society and Environment, History, Politics, Cultural Studies, Music, Drama and Australian Studies. Levels: middle secondary to tertiary.


Bruce Petty Collection, The

SKU 200000500
Brand Film Australia

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