Transformers: The Premake and essay film form

Two days ago Kevin B. Lee released a 25-minute film called Transformers: The Premake. He calls it a “desktop documentary.” It’s brilliant.

There are already several good commentaries on the arguments and implications of the film, which weaves together fan footage of the blockbuster’s production, clips of written essays, and internet interactions, all within the frame of Lee’s own computer screen. (I’ve enjoyed the commentaries by Noel Murray and Vadim Rizov.)

But I haven’t seen anybody talk about how interesting the film is from a craft perspective. This could have been a “high production value” documentary, Netflix fodder. That would have been an awful idea, since the whole film is set up in opposition to a slick, mindless Hollywood production and its global distribution machine. But Lee would have also missed the chance to explore and expand the essay film form, which is what will stick with me long after the latest Transformers movie’s special, social, and global economic effects have died down. The essay film is in large part about exposing your own thought processes. Well, for better or worse, today we think with computers. By not just acknowledging but playfully demonstrating that, Lee holds a mirror up to the laptop-stylo.

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