Factory Farm
October 9, 2013 12:50 PM   Subscribe

"With the cold, atmospheric music and time-lapse shots, it’s more like an eerie, futuristic sci-fi film than an in-your-face animal rights video. There's no gushing blood here — just slow pans that gradually reveal the immensity of scale." Samsara (previously), from the directors of Baraka and Chronos.
posted by stbalbach (23 comments total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
>Stop watching at the five-minute mark, though, when the video inexplicably takes a sharp right into Offensive Fat-Shaming Land. Way to kill your credibility, Samsara.)

LOL. The implication the video makes is pretty straightforward, I thought: the industrialization of agriculture depersonalizes and harms both the animals we slaughter en masse *and* ourselves, the end consumers of that vast chain. Kinda the whole point of the movie is you can't look at things in isolation.

I mean, the chief blurb about the video is,

SAMSARA is a Sanskrit word that means “the ever turning wheel of life” and is the point of departure for the filmmakers as they search for the elusive current of interconnection that runs through our lives.

Now, I personally think that cheap calories probably rank amongst the greatest achievements that humankind has rendered upon the earth, and that obesity is more linked to poverty and its accompanying cognitive problems rather than a shameful digression from our natural state of harmonious cooperation with Mother Nature, but:

As far as critiques of the market system we live in go, if you're uninterested in being a liberal apologist like me, the thesis presented by Samsara is pretty self consistent, I think.
posted by pmv at 1:12 PM on October 9, 2013 [5 favorites]

This is to say that while I am not totally in tune with the message the directors put forth, they've certainly accomplished an aesthetic tour de force and it looks gorgeous and I've accordingly added it to my viewing queue.
posted by pmv at 1:15 PM on October 9, 2013

The problem with these sorts of videos is that i usually look at them from an engineering perspective first and look at the efficiency and ingenuity of what is being portrayed (meat/war/etc), and think about how it could be improved, only later coming around to the ideological point of the film maker.

I do think that ore people could stand to take a good hard look at the moral and ecological issues surrounding where our food comes from. and this looks like it is though provoking in the least. I've added it to my Netflix queue so i'll probably have a bunch of food for thought soon.

As a side note, given american agribusiness' recent efforts to make it almost impossible to document their operations its pretty telling that this seems to be filmed almost exclusively in Asian operations.
posted by Dr. Twist at 1:26 PM on October 9, 2013 [3 favorites]

When I saw this a while ago I was impressed by how it accidentally (I mean the whole movie is pretty ham fisted about what it is trying to say) showcases the beauty and creativity of industrial design in western agriculture in addition to its cruelty and absence of moral reasoning. If you've ever had to collect any significant amount of chickens you would know the amazing utility and humanity of using a chicken scooper like is in the first clip and the intense barbarity of the battery cages in the second. At the same time the efficiency of the chicken disassembly line is gorgeous just as the pay and labor conditions for the workers are undoubtedly unacceptable, while the rotating cow milker in the next clip is beautiful and the sow gestation crates in the one after that are ugly.
posted by Blasdelb at 1:33 PM on October 9, 2013

"I was impressed by how it accidentally... showcases the beauty and creativity of industrial design in western agriculture..."

We do learn to love our oppression. ;)

I'm an avid photographer of industrial waste processes and refineries. Loathing what we're doing to our biosphere, but still in love with the Oakland shipyards every time I fly into the Bay area. The oil-stained marshlands, the orange and white moving cranes, the incoming lane for flight control. Sublime and monstrous like an image from Bataille.
posted by artof.mulata at 1:47 PM on October 9, 2013 [2 favorites]

Ham fisted characterizes, maybe not only in the movie, but certainly the Grist article. Everyone has a narrative to push, I guess, but couldn't the article have more delicately asked to take in the remarkable footage and trust me to make a reasonable judgment rather than directing me how I should react: "You will be depressed and disgusted, but whoa, that fat shaming is taking it too far..."
posted by 2N2222 at 2:03 PM on October 9, 2013 [1 favorite]

I fail to see the elegance in a machine that slowly spins as it sucks the milk out of a bunch of helpless, chained cows. And I don't even mean that in an "instruments-of-torture-aren't-pretty" kind of way. It just doesn't seem that beautiful or elegant.
posted by MetalFingerz at 2:12 PM on October 9, 2013 [1 favorite]

"We do learn to love our oppression. ;)"

Whether we might like to admit it or not, it is also our flawed and incomplete liberation from hunger just like those shipyards are part of our flawed and co-opted liberation from want. What we see in the film is in many ways both the logical consequences of fulfilling Roosevelt's inspiring and unprecedented promise of a chicken in every pot as well as the truly impressive work performed to get there and the unnecessary and morally unambiguous shortcuts that our capitalist system was built to take in doing so.

To fail to see the elegance in the systems being presented, along with the cruelty in some of them, is to be blind to both the dreams that our current reality is built on and the nightmares it was built to shut out. As we imagine the dreams that we want to build our future on it would be foolish to do it with our eyes so closed.
posted by Blasdelb at 2:16 PM on October 9, 2013 [4 favorites]

I didn't really find the film ham-fisted at all. To me, more a slow descent from a pinnacle of beauty to some fairly deep inhumanity/ugly fragments of humanity. Seemed to end as a question-put-on-the-audience, which I thought a pretty neat cinematic accomplishment. I encourage my friends to see it fwiw.

To fail to see the elegance in the systems being presented, along with the cruelty in some of them, is to be blind to both the dreams that our current reality is built on and the nightmares it was built to shut out.

Concur. Evil can be efficient.
posted by j_curiouser at 2:31 PM on October 9, 2013 [1 favorite]

"To try to be happy is to try to build a machine with no other specification than that it shall run noiselessly." Robert Oppenheimer
posted by eggtooth at 3:39 PM on October 9, 2013 [1 favorite]

Blasdelb...in the first few chapters of The Jungle the same feeling is noted by the main character (and it was published in 1912).
posted by Calzephyr at 3:49 PM on October 9, 2013

It's really a different experience to watch a chunk of this movie on a computer screen than it is to watch the whole thing in a large movie theater. I've seen it twice and ham-fisted is pretty much the last thing I would call it. I had completely different interpretations of it just the two times I saw it, so it seems to me that it's built in a way that leaves audience members free to see what they want or hate or need to see.

But I guess that just makes it all the easier to take a clip of it and spin it into your own point of view.
posted by dogwalker at 4:33 PM on October 9, 2013 [1 favorite]

Both Baraka and Samsara began with unforgettable images. I was as taken by the expressions on faces of the Balinese dancers in Samsara as I was with the close up of the snow monkey in the hot springs in Baraka. The same question arose with both. What were they thinking ?
posted by y2karl at 7:20 PM on October 9, 2013

If this video hadn't been posted in the context of animal rights propaganda, I wouldn't have initially made that connection at all. I grew up raising food for the old fashioned way (for family use - not commercially), and that whole video struck me as startlingly tidy and antiseptic. Every time I buy chicken in a grocery store I inwardly bitch about the quality of the half-frozen birds they always sell as "fresh", but not having to pluck the damn thing is totally worth it.

And then it goes all look at those peasants buying in bulk to save money and those fat Americans and their greasy fast food, and my eyes rolled so hard it hurt.

But that chicken grabber thing! That was amazing!
posted by Trinity-Gehenna at 7:29 PM on October 9, 2013 [1 favorite]

"But that chicken grabber thing! That was amazing!"

I'll agree, as was the moment when the worker-guy in the blue jumpsuit kicks some of the chickens back into the milling group. If only we had something similar we could use for crowd control when protests get out of hand instead of tear gas, rubber bullets, and truncheons. Especially the guys in blue suits to kick the wayward ones back into the crowd for collection.

Haven't seen Samsara yet (waiting for me at home so I can watch it tonight or tomorrow finally), but the image that struck hardest in Baraka was the old man who'd put what amounted to a village on the back of the donkey. The near chiaroscuro imagery of the wretched beast dying as it struggled uphill made me long for a future of intelligent machines. Ones that will do our bidding without exhaustion because it amuses them and not because they are our slaves.
posted by artof.mulata at 7:39 PM on October 9, 2013 [1 favorite]

Samsara does make one want to take a hot air balloon ride over the Burmese countryside.
posted by y2karl at 8:21 PM on October 9, 2013

Huh, same dude that made Baraka and Koyaanisqatsi. I enjoyed those films as an undergrad, but like someone mentioned above they seem pretty trite and hamfisted (although technically adept) to me now.
posted by KokuRyu at 8:22 PM on October 9, 2013 [1 favorite]

"Huh, same dude that made Baraka and Koyaanisqatsi"
I've seen all of one of those movies (and parts of a couple others I think - memories of those days are sometimes hazy) back in the 90's, and well lit as I was at the time, I'd still get to the point where I thought if he would just stick to ONE of the neato things he was filming, he'd have a good movie.
posted by Trinity-Gehenna at 8:54 PM on October 9, 2013 [1 favorite]

Huh, same dude that made Baraka and Koyaanisqatsi.

Not exactly.Koyaanisqatsi was conceived and directed by Godfrey Reggio. Its cinematography was by Ron Fricke, who later directed Baraka.

Interestingly enough, Godfrey Reggio, who came up with the concept of the nonverbal documentary exemplified by Koyaanisqatsi, belonged to a Catholic monastic order, the Christian Brothers, from the age of 14 to 28.

So, same dude worked on both movies, maybe, but not same dude made both movies.
posted by y2karl at 9:09 PM on October 9, 2013 [1 favorite]

Hundreds of millions of apex predators being fed while taking most of the pressure off of the wilderness. Cruelty, efficiency, sanitary are all just words until the human race in it's entirety turns vegan. You may be looking at quite a few generations for that
posted by Redhush at 9:36 PM on October 9, 2013

Jesus edeezy, that Soylent Green footage... forgot how messed up that film is. Imagine if Jodorowsky had made that film; frogs, lizards, dressed in costumes acting these genocidal nightmares out.
posted by artof.mulata at 1:29 PM on October 10, 2013

"Solent Green is Sheeple"
posted by eggtooth at 3:03 PM on October 10, 2013

"Solange Knowles is people, too."
posted by artof.mulata at 6:07 PM on October 10, 2013

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