“I’m not a miracle worker,” declares Terry (Eli Silverman) at the start of Clanker Man, a mockumentary short (which Silverman co-wrote) from Ben Steiner (The Stomach). Maybe not quite as good at his job as he imagines himself to be, but making up in dedication for what he lacks in competence, this urban field worker bumbles through his daily grind, putting in long hours for thankless tasks, and wishing that his work might be more appreciated. Perhaps that is why he has agreed to allow a reporter and cameraman to follow him around, despite the furtive nature of his professional activities, and his guardedness about his employers. Department cutbacks and ongoing austerity have meant that he has had to double up doing the work of former colleagues – even when it is not in his “area of expertise” – but at least he is not stuck in an office like some of his workmates.
Terry is the ‘clanker man’ of the title, a rather superheroic job description for duties that are in fact banal and everyday. Still, even if, as he says, “to the layman it looks simple”, his activities play a small yet essential rôle in creating and maintaining “the background ambience of a town or city.” Terry may just be a tie-wearing drone, but he takes real pride in his work – and in the tools of his trade: the gloves, the bottles of urine (“not mine”), the paint, the old paperbacks, the spooky dolls – and, most importantly, the ‘clanking paddle’, which he insists, with a professional vanity running in the face of all evidence to the contrary, is “not a crowbar.”
Perhaps, in his small way, Terry really is something of a miracle worker. What he does may be pointless, and its effects, though familiar to any city dweller, may not exactly be welcome, meaning that the one local (Simon Meacock) who actually does notice him responds with confused aggression rather than approval. Yet all this just makes Terry resemble most of us in our working lives: toiling away through our days and nights, longing for recognition that rarely if ever comes, and screaming into the darkness and the void. Which guarantees that Clanker Man, though certainly funny, is decidedly bleak too.
© Anton Bitel