looking and listening: J. Benning’s work

Ok. here the new Gus van Sant film ‘Last Days‘ is just starting and as one of the reviewers (german only) drew connections to a shot of M.Snows ‘Wavelength‘ and the general attitude of the films of James Benning as influences for van Sand, I thought it worth to connect to the work of the later:

… Employing neither psychologised stories nor non-objectivist abstractions, Benning’s approach to narrativity does not fit within the history of narrative cinema, nor with much canonical avant-garde work, and can pose an interpretative challenge to the spectator. For the first-time viewer of any of these films, the immediate impression is of radical, almost unnerving stillness generated by the long takes from a fixed camera position. Benning’s consistent exploration of cinematic duration, his painstaking mapping out of a space over time, suggests that his work can be easily contextualised in the history of long take cinema, along with Straub-Huillet, Ophuls, Welles and others. .. (link)

Danni Zuvela’s introduction to the work of J. Benning produced at a time when he was working on 13 Lakes is followed by an interview done in connection with a BIFF retrospective to bring the work of this extraordinary filmmaker to a wider public.
A more explicit analysis of this specific film can be found in Michael J. Anderson’s review James Benning’s Art of Landscape: Ontological, Pedagogical, Sacrilegious. The text includes – besides a film/theoretical – review – a last paragraph which deals with the environmental approach of Benning’s work, but does not really explain more as that a declaration as being just a purely environmental gesture does not at all get along with the filmic / artistic approach of the filmmaker.

… Like Benning, Kiarostami is another filmmaker working on a similar wavelength, combining a patient observation of landscape with
specific pedagogic programme that reinvests a Bazinian engagement of reality with post-Nouvelle Vague formalist preoccupations. If Abbas Kiarostami is thus the most radical re-interpreter of film form of his generation, Benning is a quiet, unassuming investigator of filmic ontology. Both, however, show a decided interest in the nature of the frame, even if Kiarostami’s is a systematic reappraisal of Bazinian thought, while Benning’s is perhaps an unintended echo of the same theoretical model. ..
… 13 Lakes facilitates a Bazinian reading of the picture, understanding the screen not as presenting a rectangular fragment of reality, but rather as a “mask whose function is no less to hide reality than it is to reveal it”. Again, the mise en scène is not limited to what is captured on-screen, but rather spills into an indeterminate space existing just beyond the limits of the frame. It is the space of the art, and yet possesses no precise physical presence of its own. It is conceptual rather than material and, at the same time, its material existence cannot be denied, as long as what is represented on camera is a photographic record of the real world. Thus, while the mise en scène is a composite of on- and off-camera spaces, the frame delineating the two becomes itself a narrational tool, subject to the manipulations of the artist. .. (link)

further links:
filmography at NYT movies
filmography with short descriptions at canon cinema
.. and finally the films ‘13 Lakes‘, ‘Ten Skies‘ and ‘One Way Boogie Woogie / 27 Years Later‘ will be shown at this year’s Berlinale Forum, selected for the program under the aspects of innovative narrative forms and new currents in world cinema.

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