Tue, 15 Dec 2015 19:50:04 GMT
Jennifer Baichwal’s 2006 film Manufactured Landscapes explores the connection between China’s biggest businesses and the surreal worlds of rust, rubber, smog and concrete that they create. In the film, Baichwal and her crew follow American photographer Edward Burtynsky as he seeks to transform these industrial landscapes into stunning works of art. Through Baichwal’s journey, the target audience (film-watching Westerners) is guided to observe the consequences of their relentless consumption.
Baichwal also addresses the growing gap between the classes of China, and the dehumanizing effect these industrial jobs tend to have on Chinese workers. Through the scope of Burtynsky’s art and the people Baichwal chooses to interview, Western audiences come to realize that these dystopian hellscapes are not quite as alien as they initially appear to be.
Baichwal and Burtynsky’s work both expose the world-blackening effects of the consumption many of the film’s viewers blindly perpetuate. In one scene, a smoky village filled with e-waste pickers separate circuit boards to recycl e the metals they contain. Panning across heaps of these electronic parts, modern viewers might come to realize that their smart-phones—which are incessantly in need of upgrades—have (or will) contribute to the exponential increase of the already awe-inspiring heaps of e-waste shown in the film. In these ways, Manufactured Landscapes has become increasingly relevant since the time of its release, a fact that depressingly points to the growth of wasteful capitalist systems that feed these Chinese businesses from overseas.
Once Baichwal takes us back to America where Burtynsky sells his art, a particularly disturbing allegory begins to assemble. Not unlike the American consumers from which Burtynsky makes his profit, we observe through his art that he is capable of contemplating and understanding the hellish things these industrial wastelands say about consumer-based societies, yet he makes to protest. He uses a camera that has likely been assembled under circumstances similar to those that he photographs, and, so far as we can see, does nothing to stop the industrial practices that threaten the integrity of the world that we live in. Furthermore, his artwork is largely unavailable to the vast majority of working-class American consumers that populate his country. Can we say then that he succeeds even in raising awareness where it matters? Those who watched Manufactured Landscapes or bought a few of Burtynsky’s prints have undoubtedly already profited off the system reprimanded in the pictures (both still and moving).
The art-house enthusiasts of the Western-world are certainly not the ones to make change. As discussed in A Fierce Green Fire, it appears that “trickle-down activism” seldom leads to change, since the activated individuals have much to lose, and little to gain (aside from the obvious, which is the salvation of their planet). They (educated, upper-class Americans) have proven incapable to letting that idea coil them into action—and who could blame them. Sitting with a grande cappuccino in their Brooklyn loft apartment, why would they want to challenge capitalism? I believe that environmental films using more accessible methods have proven more successful, like An Inconvenient Truth, a film that is easier for the common-man to swallow (which is important, because if history tells us anything, it is that the common-man always sparks the revolution).
Even though I consider Manufactured Landscapes to fail in achieving any vastly useful purpose against the quandary it presents, I find the film to be impeccably well crafted and unforgettable. Watching it, I came to realize that the presence of industrial business in any society (capitalist or communist) makes similar pawns of those who must suffer through it. Although they are considerably less strained then the boat-builders or dam-builders of China, the people of America who must operate the fast-food chains, cubicles, and factories are also turned into depressed automatons. Under industrial influence, Manufactured Landscapes could not make it clearer that the sacred vistas of our earth (and our souls), are turned grey, inhospitable, and deathly.