‘Megacities’ Film Review: An eye-opening tour of the world’s greatest cities (part 2)

Read part 1 of my review.

Megacities in particular features a rather unorthodox audio track that escapes categorization. While Workingman’s Death employs a soundtrack composed by the industrialist musician John Zorn, Megacities relies on the “discarded” sounds of the local environments and cultures to fashion a coherent narrative voice. In this way, Glawogger becomes one of the refuse-combers that he films in Mexico City and Mumbai, gleaning what others in a global consumer society have left behind.

He astutely employs sound to highlight the absurdity of everyday situations-the squishing of headless chickens flapping around in a bloody oilcan, the overly-saccharine Latino pop music playing during the striptease, triumphant blares of unseen trumpets during an awkward photo shoot of Mexican soccer players, who happen to be standing next to a trash heap.
In Megacities, Glawogger also experiments with other audio narrative devices, such as replaying previous dialogue on a cassette player and verbalizing (although not in his own voice) what he imagines people on a Moscow subway are reading on their way to work. Such elements, including his emphasis on filming locals who are singing (even staging a scene in which one woman mouths the words of a Russian song into her phone), establish a lyrical, larger-than-life atmosphere that envelopes what would otherwise just be the unseemly underbellies of urban decay.

But Glawogger is sometimes not as circuitous in his objective; he occasionally voices his own belief through surrogates, as in the scene in which we hear a New York radio personality’s speel on living in the Big Apple, that it was “a city of disguises and masks. This city expands and collapses.”

Megacities may at first seem like a complete postmodern repudiation of traditional constraints on structure and conventions of storytelling. There is no narrative arc or character development (in the sense that they change through the course of the film). Glawogger admits that the first iteration would have surprised viewers even more, “I was collecting bits and pieces … the first cut that I showed to people, they thought it’s a confusing pile of images, and it took very long till it got its form.”

The finished form, through its minimalist structure of twelve snapshots of people and places around the world, speaks to the very nature of its subject: the global diaspora. By giving us hundreds of jumpy snippets of life in Moscow, New York, Mumbai, and Mexico City, Glawogger underlines the complexity behind these megacities, from the geopolitical to the cultural and sexual. He glorifies the diversity and bewilderment of the new world order, a place where you can walk two blocks and fall down the rabbit hole. To place these stories into neat little boxes with a storyline from A to B would be to attempt to simplify the indivisible.

But Glawogger does retain some semblance of structure in Megacities, most significantly in the use of motifs. In Mumbai, he finds a backroom shopfloor brimming with Indian workers sewing blue robes. In the next sequence in New York, we see these blue robes being hawked by a streetside vendor (in the DVD commentary, he admits to staging this New York segment). In another scene in Mumbai, he captures the image of a girl hidden away in an alleyway, holding a baby chick. Later in the film, we see a salesman selling baby chicks for a peso out of a rolling car to little kids.

Such connecting motifs highlight Glawogger’s thesis about how globalization has impacted every corner of the globe, from the slums of Mexico City to the slums of Mumbai. Thus, his editing choices reflect Nichol’s belief that “…images are not quite as unmanageable as they appear. They can be joined together with words or other images into systems of signs, and hence, meaning.” Glawogger has sewn these little patches of the everyday fabric of life into a flowing tapestry of the human condition.