Sumptuous documentary “Watermark” a striking visual essay.

The Canadian documentary Watermark.

The Canadian documentary Watermark.

It was inevitable that the equivalent of the Slow Food movement would materialise in the arts. And sure enough we’ve recently seen the return of the Big novel, indeed the Big Victorian novel. Long form essays and journalism are increasingly visible, and you can still buy your album on vinyl or for that matter cd. Watermark, the new documentary from renown Canadian photographer Edward Burtynsky is very much part of that trend.

The title refers to the mark water has left on our lives and the way that it has shaped every contour of every surface that those lives are lived out on. Indeed, it is literally life. But it’s also a subtle reference to the transparent stamping of documents and bank notes that are thereby confirmed as being authentic.

4This film is very much a repost to all the CGI, and that tedious, pathological fear that all film, video and ads have of ever allowing a single frame to be left undisturbed for anything more than a second or two. Before the ADHD-fuelled need to frenetically interrupt it with the next even more urgent frame kicks in. And so on ad nauseam.

These impeccable and occasionally breath-taking images have been precisely, indeed lovingly constructed and carefully ordered to convey an idea. It’s not hard to imagine what that idea is. He’s Canadian after all, and he’s talking about what the human race has done with its most precious resource.

H2O_SP_SAL_02_13Happily though, the film never berates or lectures. It doesn’t have to. The pictures speak volumes. The obvious reference point is Godfrey Reggio’s magisterial Koyaanisqatsi (’82). Watermark is neither quite as ambitious nor as demanding, which is both a good and a bad thing. It’s not as hypnotic or as grandiloquent, but it is a lot easier to watch. You’ll not need to be in the ahem right frame of mind to enjoy it. But it does similarly pull off that unusual balancing act of being spectacular, even joyous to look at, whilst being quietly depressing to think about.

Here’s the trailer to Watermark. And to Koyaanisqatsi.

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