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Jennifer Baichwal's cameras follow Edward Burtynsky (1955- ) as he visits what he calls manufactured landscapes: slag heaps, e-waste dumps, huge factories in the Fujian and Zhejiang provinces of China, and a place in Bangladesh where ships are taken apart for recycling. In China, workers gather outside the factory, exhorted by their team leader to produce more and make fewer errors. A woman assembles a circuit breaker, and women and children are seen picking through debris or playing in it. Burtynsky concludes with a visit to Shanghai, the world's fastest growing city, where wealth and poverty, high-rises and old neighborhoods are side by side. Written by
A Mind-Expanding Film, but not a Pulse-Quickening One
This film follows Canadian photographer Edward Burtynsky to China where he documented the grim scale of Chinese industry and it's impact on the... landscape, obviously! Burtynsky's fascinating photos of industrial activity and waste have been exhibited widely, I saw the local exhibition at the Art Gallery of Ontario two years ago and came home with both the exhibition book of the same name and one of his framed 'quarry' prints. Now I've seen Jennifer Baichwal's film on the same topic. I think they've covered the media bases. Perhaps a role-playing game for PS3? So, thumbs up or down? Well, a thumb in each direction I think. The film gave visual context to Burtynsky's photos, which was helpful because sometimes you just can't believe that his images come from the real world. It also expanded them by capturing more of the human presence, which is often incidental in his photos. The film opened with a five minute tracking shot (shades of Robert Altman) along rows of bustling manual assembly lines. The scene showed both the monumental scale of China's industries and the massive and repetitive human activity that makes it possible. Watching a worker assemble a small electrical component at lightning speed and then later watching peasants tapping the metal off of computer chips for recycling reminded me that industry grinds down people as well as landscapes.
There were some clever juxtapositions that highlighted the economic divide in China. The remark "this is an open kitchen", for example, started while we watched a peasant's medieval outdoor stove in use but concluded while we watched the speaker, a Shanghai Realtor, show off her open-concept luxury kitchen.
The down side? Well, the film kind of dragged on (how many slow tracking shots can we sit through in a night?) and the sound track was excessively "industrial" and often grating.
Still, Manufactured Landscapes is a mind-expanding film that illuminates and expands on Edward Burtynsky vision and trusts the viewer to interpret it.
12 of 18 people found this review helpful.
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