Wednesday, 8 June 2011


A group of cattle is herded around an enclosure in relative silence, until the familiar rambling of a rodeo announcer intrudes upon the scene. This relationship between man and animal is enforced repeatedly throughout legendary documentarian Frederick Wiseman’s study of packing plants, Meat. Humans hide behind gigantic, intimidating machines, often heard but not as often seen. Cows and sheep are processed rather than raised, clamped between pieces of metal and hung on large hooks. Occasionally the camera takes a break from the killing floors to sit amongst those who deal in meat. Men on phones, some clad in ten-gallon hats as if fulfilling a stereotype, seduce potential buyers with misleading statistics. At one moment in the film, a group of Japanese tourists are taken around the plant, slavishly jotting down even the most frivolous details.

As usual, Wiseman does not offer any singular commentary, and with a subject matter which is a constant hot button in many circles, even rivalling some human rights issues, one gets the feeling that Wiseman deliberately avoided being more pronounced in his critique of the more inhumane practices of these packing plants. However, it is important to remember that Wiseman had previously documented more shocking animal cruelty in a research lab in Primate, an institution with arguably more responsibility towards their subjects. While Wiseman’s film does grant the viewer exclusive access to the domain of its subject, it does not feel like a particularly unique perspective, nor does it compare with Wiseman’s other in-depth documentaries.

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