In NORTH ON EVERS (1991) James Benning takes the road movie seriously, making his circular trip across the U.S. a marvelously photographed, intensely felt, and disturbing portrait of contemporary America. In many ways, this recent film is a departure of Benning’s earlier films which are characterized, at times, by extremely long, carefully planned takes and a minimal narrative approach. In NORTH ON EVERS, the shots are kept short with a narrative that is direct and detailed, like a diary or a long series of postcards to a friend. What this work shares with the other films is a dry wit and a deep interest in the American social landscape.
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
Discussing the “real face,” his life and work, and stories about the smokers in his video project.