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These Hammers Don’t Hurt Us (Michael Robinson, 2010)


These Hammers Don’t Hurt Us, Michael Robinson’s gaudy collage film sees megaproductions collide as Mankiewicz’s Cleopatra shares a space, both physical and cultural, with Michael Jackson’s “Black or White” video. The resulting mash-up is as overproduced and sensual as one would hope. Robinson’s web site sums up the work’s narrative succinctly. “Tired of underworld and overworld alike, Isis escorts her favorite son on their final curtain call down the Nile, leaving a neon wake of shattered tombs and sparkling sarcophagi,” it states. Here, Taylor as Cleopatra becomes Isis, friend and surrogate mother to Jackson’s departed rock and roll pharaoh. In flashback, we see what appears to be his demise at the hands of guards. Isis journeys to his grave, and after a light show that calls to mind the finale of 2001: A Space Odyssey, joins him in a glitzy, strobe-laden dance in heaven.


With aesthetics that could have come from a Yes album cover, These Hammers Don’t Hurt Us would at first glance seem to only deliver on the promise of its punning, kitschy title. Much of this short film is a first-person journey through crudely animated, computer generated tunnels, which befits the theme of passage. Robinson fixates on close-ups of sequins and gemstones, resulting in a kaleidoscopic a play of patterns and ensuring that diamonds are forever, even in this story’s ambiguous wash of time. Somewhere amongst its excessive glitter, though, Hammers develops a soul. “Without you, this is not a world I want to live in, much less conquer,” Isis/Cleopatra/Taylor says, to her real-life friend. Robinson’s images are haunted by loss. The film, made before Taylor’s death, takes on a new rightness after her passing. The ethereal sound effects gurgling underneath the images of this death dream reinforce the feeling that a womblike place of rest lies somewhere beyond the dance music that pulsates throughout the film. In his use of found footage, Robinson productively explores the tension between individualized flashbacks and collective pop culture memories. The resulting concoction exudes a strange, sad magic that befits its subjects entirely.



Jeremy Heilman