I began El Valley Centro in November of 1998; I was driving through the Great Central Valley looking for places to film. I wasn’t going to start shooting for at least six months; I wanted to just look and listen – to get to know the Valley well before I would make images. But almost immediately I came across an oil well fire with flames high into the sky. I returned home for my Bolex and Nagra. Determined that landscape is a function of time, I let a full roll of 16mm film (100 feet) run through the camera. At that moment I knew I would make a portrait of The Great Central Valley using 35 two and a half minute shots. —James Benning
James Benning’s early films fused the “structuralist” investigations into sound-image relationships of filmmakers like Michael Snow and Hollis Frampton with an interest in narrative and a deep sensitivity to color, light, and landscape. He first grabbed the attention of the avant-garde film world with 8 1/2 × 11 and 11 × 14. Filmed in vivid color in the rural and urban landscapes of his native Midwest, these two films would provide the kernel for his further investigations into film form.
His films’ rigorous structures — often based on numerical systems — and exquisitely composed shots reflect his training as a mathematician, and their frequently autobiographical subject matter draws upon his working-class roots (a rare subject for avant-garde film) and his longtime commitment to political activism.
While his earliest films are mostly concerned with form and narrative, his work in the ‘80s began to introduce both personal subject matter and documentary elements, at the… read more