RR consists of 37 static shots, filmed in 37 locations in the USA, crossed by passing freight trains. “This land is your land, this land is my land.” In his new film, the mathematician and railroad enthusiast James Benning grants a large part of the authorship to his object. While in his earlier films he fixed the duration of his shots of American city and landscapes exactly, this time they’re limited by the length and speed of passing trains. A shot is as long as a train takes to appear on one edge of the frame and to disappear again from the other edge. Form and content defined by one and the same gauge. The size of the screen and the breadth of the American landscape are measured congruently in height, width, and depth. Alongside the fascinating idea of how much weight a single locomotive with innumerable cars can move from one point on the continent to another, the soundtrack opens further spaces of perception and association. Among the sounds of the railroad, we hear fragments of a Mormon choir, the broadcast of a baseball game in 1992, an advertising jingle, Gregory Peck reading from the Book of Revelations, a version of the song “This Land is Your Land,” Eisenhower’s farewell speech, and the N.W.A. rap “Fuck the Police.”
~Stefanie Schulte Strathaus (Source: http://www.berlinale.de/en/programm/berlinale_programm/datenblatt.php?film_id=20080331)
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
trains are iron reptiles burdened by the task of punctuality. compared with the vast savage silence of the landscapes, they look like melancholy caterpillars that have eaten their way through the deeply indented fronds of coastal geography or through the towering babels of hills and mountains, an uneven map looking like a close-up of a horned lizard assaulted by a rapacious overgrowth of conifers. the trains that
carried the deportees to siberia must've had the same dreamy neutrality and tranquil introversion like these ones here. after all, this is where mechanisms and animals meet: theya re not really preoccupied by where the contents of their bowels come from. whether it's people, coal, or wood, the vehicles' obedience is exemplary. the scale of the view is tricky: what's a woodworm to the immensity of a gothic church's woodwork?
James Benning’s new film on cigarette smoking.
James Benning will be on hand this evening for the Los Angeles premiere of his RR (2007). "For the last 40 years Benning has been one of the
Tracking shots betray morality; framing’s political. Of course, RR, James Benning’s single-take compendium of 40 or 50 trains passing