Nearing the completion of El Valley Centro, I began planning an urban companion piece, Los, that was to be a portrait of Los Angeles. It seemed logical, for the politics of water certainly run from the Valley to the City. Los would have the same structure as El Valley Centro and would look and listen with the same intensity. The two films would be connected with the last shot of El Valley Centro pumping water out of the Valley over Wheeler Ridge while the first shot of Los would show Mulholland’s first spillway (still in use) bringing water into LA. —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