Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Two Noteworthy Docs New on DVD

Ukrainian miners, Workingman's Death

Two very interesting, and highly complimentary, films have just come out on DVD, which anyone interested in documentaries should seek out. Michael Glawogger's Workingman's Death shows workers in harsh conditions - like a Nigerian open-air slaughterhouse or an Indonesian sulfur mine. The film is, on the one hand, disturbing and depressing, as you contemplate the conditions that working people are enduring in our current state of globalized industry; feeling a twinge of shame to think of the times you've complained about your cushy job (and perhaps a new sense of gratitude for your class privileges, such as they are) will be one inevitable reaction to seeing this film. As unsettling as some of its images may be, however, Workingman's Death is also highly compelling, showing you (with at times gorgeous cinematography) much that one simply does not see, or think about, otherwise. It is often also strangely beautiful, in much the same way as Burtynsky's images of industrial sites are beautiful. As I remember the film - I have also written about it here - there is little commentary; it is before all else a visual document, a work of cinema, an invitation to look, and to learn by looking; Frederick Wiseman's films are positively talky by comparison. There is, however, a really cool soundtrack by John Zorn, for those whom that might excite... I'm very happy this film is out on DVD, tho' it isn't being stocked locally in many places as of yet, so I haven't had a chance to see it. (I believe Happy Bats has a rental copy). Now for domestic releases of Slumming and Megacities...

Nigerian slaughterhouse, Workingman's Death

Also fascinating is the German doc Our Daily Bread, which is being stocked at Videomatica and HMV and perhaps elsewhere. Director and cinematographer Nikolaus Geyrhalter captures images of the industrial production of food; the fascination lies largely in how utterly alien and alienated most of the labour we see seems, even in the treatment of apples and potatoes (tho' there are lots of images of dead animals and/or animals caught up in utterly unnatural, mechanized, desensitized processes that Just Seem Wrong: so if you're squeamish about such things, or outraged by them, or such, you might want to bear this in mind.) This film, I'm sad to say, looks nowhere near as good on DVD as it did when projected on film at the Cinematheque, a couple of VIFFs ago, but it's still a striking and compelling experience. Even better than a John Zorn soundtrack is the fact that the soundtrack is almost entirely comprised of the sounds of the machines, tractors, animals, and such being depicted - not quite as engaging as the soundtrack for James Benning's RR, which is a lush aural banquet (mostly of train sounds), but a very interesting experience no less. As with Workingman's Death, it is a film that is no less beautiful and compelling for how strange and horrible it is at times. If you enjoyed the images in Manufactured Landscapes but thought there was too much exposition, you will admire the choices made by the filmmakers for both of these films... regardless of how else you might feel at the sometimes bizarre and objectionable things you see.

Pigs, Our Daily Bread

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