Manufactured Landscapes:

Here’s one to shock, stun & suplex the senses in a continents worth of rubble & refuse. The core on this occasion is China’s “utterly unprecedented” urbanization extravaganza as captured by esteemed photographic artist Edward Burtynsky & director by Jennifer Baichwal. “mega projects” & truly herculean manufacturing terminals stuffed with humans resembling mechanical equipment arduously assembling endless quantities of largely unnecessary goods for the worlds prodigal profligacy… all artistically filmed & expertly shot, either to the inhuman undulations of the machines/production equipment or to an eerie Industrial/Noise backdrop. The footage is absolutely remarkable, but also insanely harrowing. Your guts just drop right out your arse when you see how far Mans ruin is willing to plummet to further his insane folly & misalliance with his natural environment & the ridiculous & unreal demands he inflicts on it with such perverse logic & incognizance. As anyone familiar with China’s recent domestic geo-infractions will know, the scale we are talking about here is unmatched in it’s size, scope & toll. Manufactured Landscapes includes profound footage of The Three Gorges Damn, most intimately here as riverside towns are being feverishly destroyed, by hand, by their own inhabitants (encouraged & paid by the state) before they are flooded. These epic, intensely theatric sections are astonishing pieces of China’s second Cultural Revolution, as it’s history is literally bashed-to-bits then submerged forever. Many of the images seem more akin to a warzone. They exhibit either total devastation or/& no trace of natural life except for the humans toiling within them. This is another regular object of the producer’s concentration, these small human figures/actions in scenes of almost total inhumanity & environmental sterility or hostility. It makes for ridiculously profound cinema. I found much of the music/soundtrack very intrusive, although some sections, most notably the ancient reed piece accompanying the Three Gorges siege stint was an incredible addition.

This documentary goes way further in it’s polymerous subjective reach. Buried in here is exceptional multi-faceted investigative journalism on China & the conditions of it’s workers with implications that will extend way beyond it’s own borders. The commercial factory footage dredged descriptions from Leslie T. Changs Factory Girls & Hsiao-Hung Pai’s Chinese Whispers & Scattered Sand. Seeing humans work literally like machines, static, repeating at significant speed the exact mono-action over & over is hugely disturbing. It reminds me a lot of battery farming & reinvigorates my absolute hatred of both capitalism & industrialization. Further still on this doco’s rich multi-dimensional cornucopia, the historic value of this material can’t really be overstated. The hyper break-neck speed at which this manic-expansion has unfurled, with habitat & traditional buildings/towns/life being leveled & built over at a remorselessly rapacious rate mean that barely imaginable loss & change are enacting without any/very little preservation of “what once was”, with the official line being quick to forget & declare everything as “progress”.

The human, the truth, the natural component/entity isolated in an enormous destructive urban enclosure. Fragmenting. Progress apparently.

One fuck of a documentary, with plenty of extras & stills (with extensive commentary) from Burtynsky. Utmost obligatory for any environmentalist/humanist or brains concerned with China’s past, present or future.

Jennifer Baichwal – Edward Burtynsky

British Film Institute (2007)