Monday, April 13, 2015

Salt of the Earth

Let's launch this one with the three point documentary scale, because I want to get that out of the way and then go on a bit of a mini-rant. Our subject today is Wim Wender's and Juliano Ribeiro Salgado's documentary of Juliano's father, SebastiĆ£o Salgado, the brilliant Brazilian photographer.

Subject matter: Good. Salgado (I'll refer to the subject as Salgado and his son as Juliano) is an interesting character and highly talented photographer, who has photographed Very Important Things from the four corners of the earth.

Treatment: Near flawless. The Boy felt it may have leaned too heavily on Salgado's work, and it is odd to see a movie that's about 80% still pictures. The Viviane Maier movie, by contrast, used a lot of film footage as well as her pictures, but the aesthetics here are unimpeachable. Wenders, too, teases the medium by taking gorgeously composed but relatively static shots of Salgado, and where Salgado works exclusively in black-and-white, Wenders manages to make some breathtaking compositions with color and movement. But you've got to be "in the mood" for something that is primarily driven by aesthetics, almost not at all the supposed subject of the film. (Note, though, that this isn't called Salgado but Salt of the Earth, Wenders' appellation for the people who are Salagdo's subjects.)

Slant: Well, pro-Salgado, obviously. Which, as I often point out, is fine. But this is where my mini-rant is going to take off, because Salgado is thoroughly steeped in, dare I say it, the M word. M meaning Marxism. He is so thoroughly a creature of the Left that he walks around with these presuppositions that Wenders isn't going to challenge (probably also well steeped in such things), but which have caused him both considerable misery and made for what I thought was a completely unremarked upon ironic twist.

So, here's a guy chasing the horrors of the world—he's in Kosovo, he's in Rwanda, he's in Mali—and (apparently surprisingly) after two decades of taking pictures of people starving and being butchered in a variety of horrible ways, he begins to take a slightly less than rosy view of humanity.

Nota Bene, none of his adventures included what we might call "the free West": US, Canada, Western Europe. In fact, he refers consistently about the universality of the inhumanities he's witnessed, by saying "even in Europe!"

Not so fast, my Brazilian buckaroo. Yugoslavia was Communist, and if not precisely Soviet, certainly not representative free markets, free speech, or really, free-anything. But of course Salgado's not free (heh) to entertain the possibility that there is something uniquely positive about Western thoughts and processes.

Now, after decades of seeing people starving, Salgado inherits his father's farm. Naturally, he decides to retire it and restore the rain forest. Because, you know, what kind of person would think of feeding those starving people he witnessed for decades?

This is not an entirely fair criticism, of course. Popular belief notwithstanding, there really aren't food shortages, not in the global sense. America—hell, possibly California with one or two other states—by itself could feed the world. The problems are entirely political and intentionally genocidal. But, N.B. again that he seems to be a promulgator of these sorts of ideas.

I wouldn't even bring this stuff up—it would hardly be relevant, except his success among the bien pensants can, in large part, be attributed to his being one of them. This does not take away from his artistry, but one does marvel at a guy who, for four decades, in a world controlled by the people he agrees with, takes pictures of monstrosities and finds no connection.

Here is a man, in other words, praised for "raising social awareness" of issues that virtually all resolved in the worst possible ways. Giving you a sense both of what it means to "raise social awareness", and the commitment to solving problems of big institutions like the U.N.

Blah-blah-blah. Anyway, it is a good movie, and if you don't mind seeing lots of pictures of starving and mutilated people, it's well worth watching.

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