Michael Glawogger’s ‘Workingman’s Death’ screens at BAMPFA this month.
Glawogger’s most ambitious epics, ‘Megacities’ (1998) and ‘Workingman’s Death’ (2005), demand and deserve to be seen on the big screen, and BAMPFA fills the bill this month.
Michael Glawogger’s death in 2014 of malaria, which he contracted while filming in Liberia, was an enormous tragedy. The intrepid Austrian filmmaker was only 54, with a number of fascinating projects in the works. A controversial pioneer and fearless critic of contemporary documentary methods, Glawogger eschewed the practice of journalism and the pursuit of activism: He was an artist who depicted the world, with its savagery, mystery and beauty, as he saw it.
Glawogger’s most ambitious epics, Megacities (1998) and Workingman’s Death (2005), demand and deserve to be seen on the big screen, and BAMPFA fills the bill this month. Shot in Moscow, Mexico City, Bombay, and New York City, Megacities is a raw, immersive experience that borders on sensory overload. Glawogger focuses on people eking out a grim, slim living in the face of yawning indifference (and everyday brutality, including the mistreatment of animals). Notably, the filmmaker rejected the widespread yet condescending idea that poverty was unremittingly ugly, and shaky low-resolution video was the best aesthetic match for gritty reality.
Glawogger’s eye for color and unexpected beauty lifts Megacities into another realm, while his gorgeous compositions define Workingman’s Death. Here the filmmaker honors the exertion, sacrifice, and dignity of Indonesian sulfur workers, Ukrainian coal miners, slaughterers in Nigerian, and ship scrappers in Pakistan. Glawogger literally gives his subjects their close-ups, inviting them to look straight at us—and challenging us to see them as individuals rather than victims or metaphors. Michael Glawogger sought to erase the distance between the people on the screen and the people in the seats; that is, to replace “reality” with life.
Workingman’s Death, Wed., Jan. 16, and Sun., Jan. 20; Megacities, Sat., Jan. 19, BAMPFA, 2155 Center St., Berkeley; 510-642-0808, BAMPFA.org.
This report was originally published in our sister publication, the East Bay Monthly.