Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Manufactured Landscapes

Manufactured Landscapes (Jennifer Baichwal, 2007) [6]
Edward Burtynsky is a Canadian photographer that takes pictures of man-made landscapes that would seem to be gigantic eyesores of globalization and somehow crafts interesting pictures from them. Baichwal's film follows Burtynsky on his photo shoots in China but her film tries to be more than just the portrait of an artist. The images, not just of Burtynsky's photographs but also the ones Baichwal creates are the strongest element of the film. The long, long opening tracking shot of a massive Chinese factory is an achievement on the filmic level but it also is a disturbing result of a globalized economy. Baichwal also creates some interesting Bressonian shots of a workers assembling products that stands out beyond Burtynsky's work. The film tracks how the images Burtynsky captures of massive industrial structures can hold a strange beauty but also show the negative societal and environmental impact of those structures. This is most evident in Burtynsky's trips to the massive dam in China that uprooted millions of people and the massive factory complex that looks more like a military barracks or prison than a factory. My main issue with the film comes from the way Baichwal handles Burtynsky. The photographer makes it explicit that he has no political agenda from what he's doing; he's not an environmentalist but he's not saying he supports massive industrialization. Baichwal clearly wants to get a distinct message across that Burtynsky should be critical of the elements he photographs but she never takes the glove off (clearly, she doesn't want to ruffle his feathers too much or she won't have a film). The first half of the film is interesting, but by reverting back more to Burtynsky in the second half causes the film to lose a lot of steam. This refusal to conflict or confront Burtynsky on his ambivalence seems to be a major issue but Baichwal never addresses it.

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