In “Landscape Suicide” Benning continues his examination of Americana through the stories of two murderers. Ed Gein was a Wisconsin farmer and multiple murderer who taxidermied his victims in the 1950s. Bernadette Prott was a California teenager who stabbed a friend to death over an insult in 1984. Benning’s distanced approach to such grisly material is as far removed as possible from sensationalism, however. Although the acts of murder are both bizarre and violent, Benning dwells on them only minimally, emphasizing instead the details of psychological motivation, which in both cases seem frighteningly mundane. Benning has created a script which is a masterpiece of understated colloquial writing, and the actors he employs to re-enact confessional testimony and incidents recounted in trial transcripts perform with a flatly convincing lack of affect reminiscent of Gary Gilmore. The two monologues are embedded in Benning’s characteristic meditations of landscape: long shots of the Wisconsin farmlands, general stores, dirt roads and pick-up trucks, and the carefully tended lawns, swimming pools, sprawling bungalows and malls of the middle-class California suburb. These images are offered in the classically spare mise-en-scene which Benning has perfected in his work as a cinematic poet of the contemporary American environment. Here, in his most accessible film so far, the beautiful, open vistas are dense with the significance of the catastrophes they engendered. —IMDb
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
I heard it's receiving a proper DVD release. Can anyone confirm that this is actually happening?
Remarkable series and events are lighting up the coasts these days. Let's start in New York, with Ed Halter in Artforum: "The dynamic of