February 20, 2006
Workingman's Death, 2005
Michael Glawogger pulsing, ambitiously conceived global treatise on the drudgery, and often dehumanizing, rituals of manual labor at the beginning of 21st century - over a century after the birth of the Industrial Revolution - appropriately begins in the town of Donbass in the Ukraine, the coal mining town where, in 1935, Aleksei Grigorievich Stakhanov became the archetypal model of socialist worker efficiency and productivity that gave rise to the Stakhanovite movement throughout the Soviet bloc countries. With the mines now depleted or abandoned after the collapse of the Soviet Union, coal mining remains the primary source of income for many local residents. Working in unsafe conditions in unsecured, illegal mines, the miners articulate what would prove to be recurring sentiments in all the segments: a thankfulness for their ability to earn a living and survive under the direst of circumstances, a humble appreciation for the moments of grace that they have experienced, a determination to do honest work and not fall into the lure of easy money from criminal activity. At each instance, the previous segment serves as a prefiguration of the next installment through linking images - the physical act of mining is repeated in the shot of Indonesian workers chiseling crystallized sulfur from the side of a volcano and carrying them into supple, rickety baskets across the mountainous region and into the weigh station at foot of the hills (or fashioning free-formed sculptures for passing tourists); a sacrificial sheep that is slaughtered at the beginning of the sulfur mine sequence (in a superstitious ritual to pray for the safety of the laborers) is repeated in the open market square in a Nigerian port town where people earn their daily wages from the mass slaughter, dressing, butchering, and roasting of animals; the image of docked ships in the port town is connected to the image of derelict cargo ships lining the shores of a Pakistan salvage shipyard where migrant workers dismantle the ships for scrap metal; the neon glow of the oxy-acetylene cutting torches is mirrored in the shot of steelworkers forging and welding structural construction elements in a Chinese steel plant - to create a provocative and indelible exposition on the illusion of industrial progress and advanced technology that ultimately define the myth of modern civilization.