The Movie Diary

Welcome to the machine

By Dom Cioffi

It was an inexpensive, under-sized, tobacco sunburst acoustic guitar whose brand name is now long lost to memory. In essence, it was an incredibly forgettable conglomeration of wood and wire… but it was the catalyst for a lifelong obsession.

The guitar was a hand-me-down from my mother who took at stab at playing midway through her life, but abandoned the activity when raising three boys became too time-consuming. Subsequently, the instrument sat untouched in the corner of our basement for years. 

On occasion, I would grab the dusty relic in order to act out a fleeting rock star fantasy, but ultimately – like so many others – I believed musical prowess was something you were born with. And since I could not magically make the guitar sound pleasing, I assumed that I did not posses the genetic ability.

Several years later, I made my own stab at playing after watching my older brother air guitar Led Zeppelin and Rolling Stones tunes in his bedroom. My brother had an uncanny ability to mimic a hard rock guitar god without actually knowing anything about the instrument or how it should be played. Needless to say, I was impressed enough to want to attempt the real thing.

So I purchased a beginner guitar book and attempted to learn the basics. But it was a struggle – not only because the guitar is a difficult instrument to lord over, but also because this particular guitar’s playable days were long past. 

Again, the guitar was relinquished to the basement where it sat for another few years. 

At college, one of my roommates turned out to be a fairly accomplished guitarist, which reinvigorated my interest in learning. And again I pulled out that clumsy old instrument and tried to play – with no better results.

As fate would have it, my girlfriend at the time (who probably harbored fantasies that I would one day serenade her) bought me an electric guitar for Christmas. I was shocked by the gesture, but also a little intimidated. Now I had to learn — otherwise she just wasted a ton of money.

Eventually I taught myself all the basic chords and a few choice licks. And before long, I was actually playing songs – nothing mesmerizing, mind you, but good enough to impress those with really low standards.

That guitar followed me back to college and into my first apartment and later into my first home. It was my constant companion, even if it sat unplayed in the corner for months at a time.

Over the years my playing improved enough for me to feel confident punching out a tune in front of others, whether that was a campfire, holiday gathering or impromptu night in the basement. In fact, it was at an office Christmas party one year that my boss suggested that I invest in a new, high quality instrument – something that I could be really proud of.

I loved the idea, but my expendable income wasn’t robust enough to warrant the kind of purchase he was suggesting. But he insisted it was something I needed to do and then upped the ante by offering to pay for a large portion of the guitar as a bonus.

And so began my search began for a new axe.

At the time, Internet shopping was just taking off so I spent countless hours reviewing the websites of music stores from around the country. I looked at electric guitars from Fender and Gibson; I looked at acoustic guitars from Taylor and Martin. Whether they were new or used did not matter as long as the instrument was high quality and beautiful.

In the end, I settled on a honey blond, Gibson Custom Shop ES-335 semi-hollow body electric guitar. Guitar aficionados will be able to picture it; others unschooled in the intricacies of this world will draw a blank. But you can trust me when I tell you, it is an absolute glorious guitar both visually and in the way it plays.

I stare at this guitar as much as I play it and I clean it like a car enthusiast waxes a ’57 Chevy. Not surprisingly, it has become my most prized possession.

And while I know that you can’t truly love an inanimate object, my connection with this instrument is now so deeply personal that I can’t imagine my life without it (i.e. if my house was on fire, it would be the first thing I’d grab).

Coincidentally, this week’s feature contemplates whether a human being could ever genuinely love a machine – and also whether that machine could ever love them back.

Imagine if Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg decided to hole away in the Pacific Northwest in a private compound where he could expel all his energy creating artificial intelligence. That’s the broad premise of this film.

Be careful with this one. There are only three or four actors in the entire film and most of the action takes place in a very sparse and sterile environment. Subsequently, it is a cerebral story that requires the viewer to further intellectualize the situation in order to benefit from the points.

Check this one out if you have an affinity for science fiction or if you saw Joaquin Phoenix in “Her” and were completely enamored with the possibilities examined in that picture. In essence, “Ex Machina” is the continuation of that concept.

An inventive “B+” for “Ex Machina.”

Got a question or comment for Dom? You can email him at [email protected]

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