Filmed around Val Verde, California, this series of skyscapes gracefully visualizes human civilization’s interaction with, and impact on, the landscape. The skies and cloud formations chosen by Benning are affected by pollution from an industrial factory, jet trails, and smoke from an accidental wildfire, all clearly legible upon the firmament. And yet, despite these ominous environmental undercurrents, Benning conceived Ten Skies as an anti-war film, describing his work to be “about the antithesis of war, [about] the kind of beauty we’re destroying.” This intention is affirmed in the reflective serenity of his images; the varying tones, textures and colors of the atmosphere, and the shifting transformations of billowing clouds that produce astonishing perceptual revelations about scale, ephemerality, and the cinematic frame. –Harvard Film Archive
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
Benning works with an actor whose freedom is unquestionable, total, eruptive, the sky. It is like reverting director-giving-instructions vs. actor-receiving-and-conforming-to-them relationship. Here, it is the director who submits to the order of the actor, yielding his personal, whimsical vision to an order of necessity that would make no concessions to any directorial narrow imagination.
Benning can only choose a point of view, eventually manipulate the image, but not make the actant enter the frame the way he wants to. Nature is the actor who takes the acting method of “do what you want, express yourself freely!” to its ultimate, inflexible limits. Its contemptive sovereignity can only allow being peeped on, avidly photographed like stars on the red carpet or a fame-struck supermodel, but never directed or commanded.
Nature is nature. Why would i want a "movie" (read a testimony) of the purest art form ? Humans cannot be able to even touch the perfection of this entity, and if i'd want to meditate thanks to nature, i'd be there, transcending. I cannot feel any power from this. It doesn't match with my idea of what art should be.
@joriah- I think implicit in the "time" quote is a partial point the artist wanted to make. One of the things I find interesting is peoples visceral angst towards things that dont satiate whatever expectations or latent aesthetic desires they have. If "art" followed my expectations it would have been Candyland as a kid, varying degrees of Deepthroat in my teens and, now in my 20s, dancing bottles of vicadin winking.