Fans of music and David Lynch were delightfully startled to hear that Trent Reznor, the creative mastermind behind the alternative-industrial band Nine Inch Nails, would be appearing in the Twin Peaks “Revival” set to air on Showtime in 2017. But there’s another piece of Reznor news quietly making ripples across the internet, a story that harkens back to a bizarre and turbulent chapter in the band’s history.
Nine Inch Nails was launched into superstardom after being introduced to the world on the first Lollapalooza tour in 1991. But success was a double-edged sword for Reznor, who suddenly felt pressure from major record labels to steer the band in a decisively melodic, “synthpop” direction. His response was the Broken EP, a deliberately abrasive departure from the ambiance of Pretty Hate Machine. Broken consisted of 5 original tracks and 2 covers.
Reznor released a set of videos to promote Broken, all of which were deemed too dark and disturbing to receive airplay. Most notably, a video for Happiness in Slavery was almost universally banned; it featured performance artist Bob Flanagan “disrobed and lying on a machine that pleasures, tortures, and finally kills him”.
Reznor also intended to release a video companion for the Broken EP (called The Broken Movie) which consisted of 4 videos intertwined with a convincingly amateur-style “snuff film”. Again, the extreme content failed to convince the band’s label (or any other distributor) to release it. Reznor would go on to produce The Downward Spiral, released in 1993. Sonically, the album found a happy medium between the drastically diverse Pretty Hate Machine and Broken albums. The Downward Spiral was well received by fans and critics, and cemented Nine Inch Nails’ status as a premier band of the 1990’s.
Since then, The Broken Movie has gone on to achieve an almost mythical status as “Lost” or “Banned” footage (even though it’s technically neither). Rumors even swirled that it actually was a snuff film! When it has occasionally surfaced online, it’s always quickly removed by server hosts and/or internet platforms. Then, per Wikipedia:
On December 30, 2006, an unofficial version of The Broken Movie was released on a DVD disc image and distributed via BitTorrent at The Pirate Bay. The DVD image represents a significant upgrade in visual and audio quality from 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.
Earlier this week, a digital version of The Broken Movie landed on Archive.org, “a non-profit library of millions of free books, movies, software, music, and more”; as for legality, the administrators are citing “Fair Use” laws. But if history is any indicator, The Broken Movie won’t be around for long. So if you have any desire to see this piece of brutally avant-garde, experimental filmmaking, you should plan on checking it out sooner than later. You can see it in its entirety here, but be warned: The Broken Movie is very extreme and definitely NSFW. (As of this posting, the video is still available.)
While all this is strange any intriguing by itself, most fans are unaware that this isn’t the first time Reznor has been affiliated with a supposed “snuff film”. For this part of the story, we need to go all the way back to the very beginning of Nine Inch Nails.
In 1989, Reznor, along with directors Eric Zimmerman and Benjamin Stokes, set out to record his first music video for the track Down in It. The video climaxed with Reznor appearing to commit suicide by jumping off a building to his death (a scene that was edited out by MTV). To achieve an effect meant to represent Reznor’s soul leaving his body, they tied a camera to several helium balloons. It was working great until the tether snapped and the camera floated almost 200 miles away.
It landed in a field in Michigan where it was discovered by a farmer; after viewing the footage, he turned it over to the F.B.I., believing he’d discovered documentation of a real suicide. The F.B.I., in turn, decided it was a snuff film and launched a nationwide investigation, searching for the film’s creators and “victim”. Eventually, the “unsolved mystery” aired on the television crime magazine Hard Copy.
While this is clearly a case of much ado about nothing, Reznor was not amused, famously opining: “Somebody at the F.B.I. had been watching too much Hitchcock or David Lynch or something.” About the coverage the story received on Hard Copy, Reznor stated: “Total junk gossip exploitative journalism… That was the icing on the cake: Getting on the worst TV show in America.”
Footage from the Hard Copy episode (which aired on their March 3, 1991) made it online in 2007 thanks to You Tube subscriber plugtpd. You can check it out below, along with an uncensored version of Down in It that includes Reznor’s “suicide” and the floating camera effect. While it may have been considered shocking at the time of its release, it’s fairly tame by today’s standards.
While Nine Inch Nails has faded from the limelight over the past decade +, Reznor remains active as ever, primarily lending his talents to music production and film soundtracks. Still, Nine Inch Nails continues to make albums, occasionally supported by concert tours. The band was nominated for inclusion into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2014 and 2015. Maybe this year, they’ll be inducted.