At the Orpheum Theater last night, a big audience sat rapt throughout the perverse, unconscionable and terrible beauty of Manufactured Landscapes.
Opening with one of the longest tracking shots this side of Russian Ark or Touch of Evil, Jennifer Baichwal's award-winning 2006 documentary shows us the damage our species does to the natural landscape and forces viewers to confront our own culpability in this despoilment. The film follows the noted photographer Edward Burtynsky to remote destinations as he trains his camera on what he calls "manufactured landscapes."
These are shipyards where tankers and cargo ships are built, Bangladeshi beaches where old ships die and are taken apart, industrial factories of a scale so vast as to be inhuman, the enormous scars on the planet we have mined for coal and other resources, villages that have been abandoned and reduced to rubble to make way for China's Three Gorges Dam, the rising skyline of a growing Shanghai, and great heaping mountains of recyclable materials being sorted by humans the size of ants for pennies a day.
Watching Manufactured Landscapes is like watching Koyaanisqatsi in still images, with a soundtrack of industrial manufacturing instead of Philip Glass's music. Burtynsky explains that he wants his photographs to show, rather than to pass judgement. The judgement is left to us, his audience, and to Baichwal's audience. At the Orpheum on Thursday, the judgement was sober applause and stunned murmurs as the credits rolled and the audience filed out of the theater.
I give Manufactured Landscapes four thumbs up on a scale of five.