Saturday, July 14, 2007

Manufactured Landscapes: another Inconvenient Truth

While we wait for Leonardo Di Caprio’s “Eleventh Hour” as a kind of “Inconvenient Truth KK” we can see the Canadian film Manufactured Landscapes, distributed by Zeitgeist, from Foundry Films and the Film Board of Canada, 90 min, directed by Jennifer Baichwal, filmed by photographer Edward Burtynsky.

The film opens with a pan and scan from one end of an enormous shop floor in China, emphasizing the blue of the parts and yellow of the uniforms. There must be over 100 lines of proles working on assembling what seem to be auto electrical parts and circuit breakers. You want the film to be shot 2.35 to 1, but it is the standard 1.85 to 1.

A litany of landscapes made by industry follows, with some stunning shots of open pit mines, the endless landfills, coal slags, shipyards, and even high rise buildings (including the holdout against eminent domain in Chongqing). Most of the shots are in China, but some are in coastal Bangladesh. Politically the movie seems focused mostly on two problems: our willingness to buy products made by robot-like regimented labor consisting of repetitive tasks – and the visuals of the tedium of the work are stunning, down to the assembly of circuit breakers—and the sundering of huge areas of land in the third world with exported toxic waste, which pour people rummage through looking for things to recycle. It would be easy to moralize, and extrapolate a Gore-like message. It would be hard to believe that this can go on forever.

Artistically, the manufactured landscape concept is broader. A model railroad or a theme park is, after all, a manufactured scape.

I’ve seen may share of them. I was almost arrested for trespassing in 1971 while photographing in a strip mine in West Virginia. Today, man of the “mountaintop removal” mines are actually often harder to see from the road and hidden from sight. I visited the Anaconda Copper mine in Montana, the iron ranges in Minnesota, and even the asbestos mines in Quebec. They all look overwhelming in person. And we wonder if the western part of Appalachia will just turn into the Midwest.

Many of the shots are based on photographs in a museum and collapse into the photographs. This material would certainly augment the global warming exhibit at the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh.

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