02 August 2010

I AM MANPOWER.

Donika Pemova
Movie Review
The Shutdown, UK, Adam Stafford, 10’
International Documentary Competition
Monday, 02.08, 22:15 – Kino Bahce
Screened just before Space Tourists

Alan Bissett, Adam Stafford, Leo Bruges, Peter Gerard, and Matt McAllister give us a ten-minute visual poem. Wherever you are in Falkirk, look to the East. You will see Grangemouth. It is never quite as dark as a night sky upon a sleeping city should be. It doesn’t sleep. It flies over “all that gas, all that oil, all those chemicals, all those homes.”

The Shutdown is a lyrically brutal portrait of life in deep industrial lands. A narrator’s intensive voice follows through, accompanied by images of crawling smog, orange darkness, huge buildings, and then the echoing of something that is hardly human: “An ancient beast summoned into Scotland, raging with confusion while men battled it, pouring jets of water into its giant mouth, its roaring bellies of flame.”

At its heart, though, The Shutdown is not so much a documentary about an industrial town or about the shutdown of power plants. It is also not really about an explosion at a power plant that the narrator’s father was injured in (in fact the movie seems to be more about the son than the father). These elements of the narration give a sense of the historic background of what it has been like to wear the overalls in Falkirk and live there for at least two centuries now. In that sense, it is also a portrait of a specific culture. Beyond that, The Shutdown exposes the human condition buried under toil. It is a foreboding and mythical, yet also modern song. The message is not so much culturally specific as it is universal: “Out with the self. In with the worker. I am a drone. I am manpower. I am unskilled labour. My personality ceases to exist for the coming twelve hours. My mind will not be tested. I will listen and then follow instructions. And then I will sleep. And then I will rise and work for another 12 hours. And then I will sleep. And then I will work and then I will sleep. And then I will sleep.”

And then work again: “Endless hours among gigantic machinery, snaking columns and pipes and pillars, ladders, generators, hissing steam. The platforms of gas towers, two hundred feet up. You could look down through the metal grille to the ground far below, as though suspended in mid-air.”

This short documentary film combines voice, soundtrack, and images to create a direct impression in the viewer – open your senses to the dark throb of what you will see and hear. But pay close attention to the text. Without it, we risk to see the ugliness of it all as somewhat beautiful and romanticized. This doesn’t seem like something the movie is aiming at. Artists romanticized industrial smog in a different century, and today this is outdated. The Shutdown is a well balanced combination between esthetics in filmmaking, stunning photography and at the same time an ugly truth. It tells us how the human soul looks like when it surrenders to the decaying monsters of heavy industries.

Rating: 9/10


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