The lengthy tracking shot that opens Jennifer Baichwal’s documentary Manufactured Landscapes is a thing of beauty. Mesmeric and mysterious, it takes in the seeming totality of a cavernous Chinese factory, and attains, by its close, a subtle and lasting sense of horror. It infects the senses and the mind in ways that recall the work of David Cronenberg, specifically his interrogative short film Camera. Like Cronenberg’s mini-masterpiece, Manufactured Landscapes is a film very much aware of its own existence, of the mechanisms that brought it about, yet it never again reaches the transcendental heights of this pre-credits prelude. The work of still-photographer Edward Burtynsky is the film’s ostensible subject, but Baichwal is more concerned with macro-meditating on the quickly deteriorating state of planet Earth. (The press notes, no surprise, lead off with enthused praise from Al Gore.) Baichwal’s technique is scattershot, at worst recalling the trance-doc pretensions of John & Jane Toll-Free, with which it shares a similarly problematic nightclub sequence (a cliché that should be retired post-haste: the discotheque as numbing seventh circle of hell). But there is plenty here to recommend, particularly Baichwal’s understated yet damning examination of Burtynsky, who is several times seen manipulating his subjects, via cash payoffs or god-like directives, for maximum effect. It reveals the great divide that quite often separates a globally conscious work of art from the anything-goes processes of its creator, a necessary observation and insight that Baichwal ultimately fails to direct at herself.
- Zeitgeist Films
- 90 min
- Jennifer Baichwal
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