The Austrian filmmaker Michael Glawogger trotted the globe, looking at those who fell beneath the cracks of our technological world. It is being reported that he has died at the age of 54, after contracting malaria on a shoot in Africa.
Glawogger’s three best known films are documentaries that examine the extremes of poverty. “Megacities,” from 1998, concerned those who toil in the crevices of Mumbai, Moscow, New York City and Mexico City. The 2005 documentary “Workingman’s Death” rounded up five of the planet’s worst jobs, from the claustrophobia of deep mining in Ukraine to steel workers in China. His last completed feature, 2011’s “Whores’ Glory,” finds three radically different forms of prostitution, in Thailand, Bangladesh and Mexico.
The images Glawogger’s cameras captured tended towards the surreal and otherworldly, reminiscent of Werner Herzog’s charge to scour the planet for new images. “Workingman’s Death” feels like a missive from another world, where men carry sulfur off the side of a volcano. In an open-air abbatoir in Nigeria, blood flows freely onto blackened surfaces, looking like a Boschian hellscape come scarily to life.
Glawogger didn’t only do documentaries, though his occasional features — including 2006’s very funny “Slumming” — blended the two forms into an wobbly, thrilling whole.
It's tragic that the thing that most drove his filmmaking style —travel —is what killed him. He once summed up his process succinctly to the New York Times: “I’ll travel once around the world in one year, and I’ll bring home a film.”
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