"Manufactured Landscapes" is a magnificent and frightening movie, directed by Jennifer Baichwal (2006), documenting the work of photographer and artist Edward Burtynsky. With impressive images that go deep into viewers' brains, it shows where all the stuff is coming from, the stuff that we find in our warehouses, department stores, supermarkets, and computer stores.
Starting with a seemingly endless Chinese factory, all in an unsettling Ikea yellow, the film juxtaposes the weird beauty of resource extraction places to the hectic bustle of production as China is becoming the world's biggest manufacturer. The most depressing images are not even the whips who tell the workers that they are not fast enough, but the hypnotic repetitive motions of the women workers. One is continuously wrapping wires around identical parts and cutting them quickly, only to complete the same senseless course of movements again with the next part. Another worker is testing thousands of nozzles with a small water hose, over and over again; yet another one is mounting circuit breakers, piece by piece, 400 of them per day. That is 50 per hour, or about 4 of them in 5 minutes.
However, the products quickly turn into waste, which is yet another resource for the ever hungry production of new commodities. Scrap metal, plastic parts, and electronic waste come to China from the countries that first imported the products and now send them back as useless debris. The waste must be sorted and separated, often under terribly toxic conditions. The waste is brought to China via ship, just as much as the new products are being distributed over the world through ships. The shipyard industry that has long disappeared from the Western World is thriving in China and part of the large manufacturing machine that this country has become.
But the ships, too, turn into debris at some point. The most lasting images in the movie are those of stranded ships at the coast of Bangladesh. The shipwrecks are valuable resources that get quickly dismantled and turned into scrap metal, waiting to be turned into new commodities. These images give an eery premonition of Hieronymus Bosch's apocalyptic paintings, seen through the lens of the Breugel Brothers (specifically the Tower of Babel). If you ever had the pleasure of reading Edmund Burke's or Imanuel Kant's thoughts on the sublime ("das Erhabene"), you will quickly make the connection.
Manufactured Landscapes is the story of an unheard of transformation, caused by the human race and the unrestrained forces of globalized capitalism. Using the grammar of images established by classic movies Koyaanisqatsi (Godfrey Reggio, 1982) and The Assault of the Present on the Rest of Time (Alexander Kluge, 1985), the film shows that the landscapes of modern civilization are intentional landscapes, the result of purposeful destruction.
These landscapes are a direct consequence of the unleashed Instrumental Reason (Horkheimer/Adorno), as exemplified with the endless sprawl of Shanghai and the gigantic Three Gorges dam project, which led to the relocation of more than one million people and the purposeful, carefully executed demolition of thirteen cities and many villages.
The movie includes beautiful and disturbing still photography by Edward Burtynsky, underscoring the sophisticated and painstaking pictorial language of this extraordinary documentary.
I absolutely love this documentary. Unfortunately buying it on blueray doesn't provide a quality increase because the film is just poor quality. It has that old TV look on it no matter what I played it on. I'd suggest getting the normal DVD and saving a few dollars since you won't get any more of a crystal clear picture either way.
The movie itself is every eye opening, giving a view into the destruction of the environment around the world. The photography is incredible and the insight into what other people are living through today is breath taking. The movie is done in a very neutral tone, there isn't a hidden agenda or a pushy narrator. It more of guides you down a timeline over a span of locations and displays pictures that explain everything. It is so well done that there really doesn't need to be any narration at all (But there is some). The truth is in the images and this movie doesn't have any spin or bias. It shows reality as it is, a reality that most people never think about.
This is not an Academy Award-winning film, nor will it keep you on the edge of your seat with suspense or fear. We bought it in advance of a trip to China and, while nothing can really prepare one for the immense scope and variety of the people and landscape, my wife and I found it to be one of several films that provide introductory pieces of the fascinating puzzle that is China.
(See also Up the Yangtze and Still Life, for which my reviews are identical)
My review has nothing to do with the content of this video - Edward Burtynsky is an amazing artist and it's fascinating to watch him work.
But the Standard Definition instant video Amazon has provided here is of terrible quality. Yes, I was aware it was SD when I purchased it, and as far as I know this film has never been offered in HD in any format. But Edward Burtynsky's medium is large format photography which has stunning depth and resolution to it - all of which is totally lost in a SD video stream. I mean - it's entirely pointless to try to appreciate this guy's work in this format. Look instead for his other film Watermark, which is available in HD - or better yet, purchase his books. The content in Manufactured Landscapes is available in the book by the same name, with stunningly beautiful high quality photographs - it never leaves my coffee table.
"Manufactured Landscape," the DVD and and film by Jennifer Baichwall, a retrospective and introspective documentary on Edward Burtynsky's work is a master piece in itself. The director took esthetic risks that allowed her to actual sign the work so that it is not just about the now world-famous environmental photographer. The film itself is worth watching for its form, and, obviously content. Even the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize, Al Gore, enthusiastically endorsed it.
At the core of the film is, of course, Burtynsky's phenomenal work. For anyone who has not yet heard of Burtynsky's aeuvre, this DVD is the best introduction to it that they will ever find. For those who already know his astounding photographs for having seen gallery shows, his touring retrospective exhibition (2003-2005), or read his books, "Manufactured Landscapes" (2003, a catalogue to the retrospective), "China" (2005), and "Quarries" (2007), it is a key-document for the understanding of the philosophy, the esthetics, and the warm and thoughtful humanism of their author.
Everyone who can watch DVDs at home should have this work in their library. By comparison to all owned DVDs this one stands heads and shoulders above most.