How do you make something last just a minute that actually takes ten times as long? You boil it down. “I took the steel rolling process that takes about 10 minutes”, James Benning writes about Fire & Rain, “and condensed it down to one minute by cutting out portions and hiding the elipses in time with dissolves.”
James Benning takes this process of extraction literally when he watches red hot metal processed in a Ruhr steel mill. Benning, who himself is from the industrial town of Milwaukee, does without a focus on human labour, though, but – as in most of his feature length documentaries – looks at movement itself as part of a mechanised work process. Like a strip of light, the glowing steel flits across the screen a couple of times before it is cooled down by artificial rain – and both picture and movement dissolve in a cloud of steam.
A miniature, Fire & Rain is also a reference to Benning’s forthcoming film Ruhr, the portrait of an area undergoing profound structural change. For Benning, a region, or even an entire country, can change within a single frame. Even if that lasts no more than a minute. —viennale.at
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