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Mechanical Bride, The
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by Jay Seaver

"Artificial women and the men that love them."
3 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2012 FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: It's not an uncommon occurrence - you see a documentary at a film festival and there's a Q&A afterward. Someone asks an interesting question, the director gives an interesting answer, and you're glad you came but kind of wish that the meat of that exchange had worked its way into the film. "The Mechanical Bride" is one of those movies - a decent overview of the creation of life-size dolls and the men who buy them, but not much deeper than that.

It starts with an annual "adult products" exhibition in Los Angeles, where attendees are amused and titillated by the synthetic girls on display. Not wanting to just view them as a curiosity, filmmaker Allison de Fren travels the country (and the world) to interview enthusiasts, manufacturers, and commentators to learn more about the phenomenon.

She gives an interesting overview, speaking with some of the expected people - RealDoll and Superbabe founders Matt McMullen and Mark Maki, for instance, and their counterparts in Japan and Germany. There's discussion of the challenges in manufacturing, where they are headed in terms of integrating robotics and programmed responses or even artificial intelligence. It's an interesting contrast, with the RealDoll people coming across as dedicated craftspeople (interestingly, the company's staff is roughly 50% female, though only one in twenty-five of their products are sold to women) while Maki and Superbabe seem a bit more industrial and cynical.

A number of people who own the products are profiled, with photographer Elena Dorfman serving as something of a guide. They're an expectedly odd group - Detroit's "Davecat" is enthusiastic and has constructed an elaborate persona for his doll, for instance. Bill, an elderly, ailing man in Texas both seems to own his weirdness and have a sadness despite the twinkle in his eye. And Slade, the "RealDoll doctor", proves to be both an interesting case himself and a window into those whose use of their dolls is, perhaps, more disturbing.

The profiling is a bit shallow - the people you can get to talk about this on-camera are probably not a representative sample - but generally interesting. It's when de Fren tries to pull things together that the movie becomes somewhat wanting. The film doesn't quite dance around why so many more men then women avail themselves of these devices, but neither does it seem to give the issue a hard, critical look. Many offer analysis, but nothing seems to line up with even a plurality of the examples seen. The introduction of the ASFR (, for those who remember Usenet) crowd seems like more of a diversion than it should be, as is the presentation of humanoid robots in media.

During the Q&A, de Fren mentioned that she had written a dissertation on the same subject during the ten years it took to put her film together. That might be some interesting reading, more comprehensive than what even a feature-length documentary can present. "The Mechanical Bride" is a decent conversation starter, but may not have enough meat to keep the conversation going.

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originally posted: 07/28/12 01:16:09
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2012 Fantasia International Film Festival For more in the Fantasia International Film Festival 2012 series, click here.

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Directed by
  Allison de Fren

Written by
  Allison de Fren


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