Allan Sekula and Noël Burch's The Forgotten Space at LACMA: What Happens When Young, Cheap, Exploited Chinese Workers Say 'No'?
"Moloch whose mind is pure machinery! Moloch whose
blood is running money! Moloch whose fingers
are ten armies! Moloch whose breast is a canni-
bal dynamo! Moloch whose ear is a smoking
-Allen Ginsberg, Howl
Transportation. Globalization. Capitalism. Exploitation. Poverty. Ginsberg's words in 1956 still ring true in Allan Sekula and Noël Burch's The Forgotten Space, which is about the places and people whose existence the capitalist machine would like to forget. Or better yet, exploit.
This essayistic films takes us on a journey from one port city to another (Rotterdam, Los Angeles, Hong Kong, etc.), all the while retracing the same narrative of poverty and exploitation that is a fact of life for many of the marginalized and immigrant communities living by the waterfronts of these cities.
The film wonders what's going to happen when the Chinese youth no longer want to work 12-hour days for little pay. Which population will we find to exploit for cheap labor? The financial structures the world has erected are collapsing in on themselves. And the answer to the flailing global economy is not to produce more and more merchandise.
Though Sekula and Burch do not suggest any potential solutions to our problems, they are adamant that something must change. There is an anti-industrial strain to the film. A stand against a system that either exploits people to no end or else gets rid of human labor in favor of machines carrying out tasks. A system that builds train tracks through residential areas, forcing people who have lived there for decades out of their homes. The filmmakers are wistful for the abstract idea of the seafaring days of old. But, the recurring image of a behemoth barge carrying multi-colored rectangular containers of cargo set against the sea and bright sky has its own queerly industrial sort of romanticism. It works to offset the increasingly gloomy tone of the film.
There's a bit too much reliance on Sekula's History Channel-like voiceover (though it is undeniably informative). Sometimes it would have been better to simply let the images speak for themselves. And the 113-minute running time feels overlong. The film indulges in spinning its own wheels, suggesting that this entire project could have been condensed.
Nonetheless, this is a work that is carefully conceived and constructed, and its laments are worth listening to.
There will be a free screening of The Forgotten Space at LACMA on Saturday, October 8th. The screening will be followed by a conversation between Allan Sekula and Bérénice Reynaud, along with a few surprise guests.
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