Epic in scope, intellectual agility, and the potential to induce panic and despair, this documentary exploration of global trade as an emblem of economic apocalypse avoids (just barely) doom-mongering by virtue of its compassion and visual grandeur. In a similar mode to William Vollmann’s sprawling exposés of capitalistic folly, filmmakers Allan Sekula and Noël Burch focus on the workers—shipping employees, truckers, and manufacturing laborers from places as far-flung yet interconnected as Holland, California, and Spain—whose days are dictated by the seemingly mindless transportation of goods. These people are as much “forgotten spaces” as the blasted zones surrounding the sea lanes, rail lines, and trucking routes they work on or otherwise serve, and Sekula and Burch beautifully contrast the richness of their lives with the movement for movement’s sake that fuels (and, by introducing new markets to Western notions like minimum wage, thwarts) rampant globalism. No prescriptive pandering is offered, thankfully. But by methodically exposing the physical impossibility of perpetual growth, the film reveals how absurdly self-defeating human and ecological exploitation through mechanization has become. Capitalism can’t help but eat itself, Sekula and Burch suggest—we might just have to endure “a world of relentless toil” before the chewing stops.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on February 15, 2012