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CYBERPUNK

USA, 1990 (MIFF 1991, Documentaries)

Director: Marianne Trench

Part of the world's population is already 'post-human" - so muses expatriate American writer William Gibson on the impact of his science fiction series which began with the 1982 Neuromancer and spawned a subculture - and ultimately a political and philosophical movement - dubbed Cyberpunk, examined here in Marianne Trench's staggering documentary.

Transcending the agenda of the sixties counter-culture, the Cyberpunk idealogue is more than reactionary anti-imperialist sentiment. At its militant core are the cyberpunks, the "console cowboys" who tune in, turn on, refuse to drop out, instead assuming navigational control of their future via computer hacking - liberating high technology as a means of mass-oppression and using it against the state. The movement has replaced an antiquated notion of "nationality" with the fullest definition of product-identification.

Interviews with Timothy Leary, Vernon Reid of rock band Living Colour, medical and scientific experts, plus the stunning animation of Cyberpunk devotees, Process Animators and Akira creator Katsuhiro Otomo and the music of Skinny Puppy and Severed Heads form a powerful melange of sight and sound, loaded with insight into the limitless depths this once radical literary form now penetrates.

We see Gibson's post-modern world of prosthetic-limbed techno-anarchists and imploded cities where multinationals are beyond state control, fast being realised by Western youth through its mind-boggling grasp of computer technology, new-wave "smart" pills, "mind machine" parties, neo-industrial music, micro-chip fashion and beyond.

With sobering irony, Trench examines reverberations in the fields of medicine (prosthetic surgery and potential for electronic implants) and scientific research by academic companies and institutions including NASA, creating Gibson's key notion of Cyberspace or "virtual reality" where computer-generated images only have reality in the mind of the cognitor. Software users of special goggles and sensor-webbed gloves or suits around the globe can simultaneously simulate the same concrete world.

The impish fun Trench has with her subject is hard to resist. But her matter-of-fact revelation of the future-is-now is not to be taken lightly. Rarely do documentaries inventively entertain, relentlessly inform and pack a visual wallop like this one. (A.W.)

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