Yes, the sound does give an edge to the images here. It is a matter of creation as well as observation- whether it’s a wholly beneficial or slightly distracting addition is open to debate. Brakhage in his hand-painted films was for the primacy of the image and preferred them without sound didn’t he?, though in turn i’m not convinced of any step up from Lye and McLaren with their synchronising charm rather than the rebellious disjunction a la Isou which interested Brakhage. Anyway, i’ll withdraw from spouting forth on avant-garde subjects i know and understand (and sometimes appreciate) very little, before getting in deep water.
How exciting—I wake up and there’s a legitimate James Benning conversation happening on Mubi!
I have a lot more I could write about this film (including an overlong PM I sent last night to one poor guy), but I’m loving hearing all of yours.
First of all let me say that if you’re a fan of avant-garde films and abstract art you may well take exception to what I’m about to say, and I apologise in advance to Josh, who obviously feels passionately about this work, but I feel just as passionately that the opposing viewpoint must be presented as I feel many people here may think the same way about this but may be reluctant to express this view lest they fall out of favour with people who like this stuff. I mean no offense, and this is simply my opinion. Whether you agree with me or not really doesn’t concern me as much as I feel this has to be said.
I thought I’d never see anything that vexxed me as much as Michael Snow’s Wavelength – a ‘film’ that seemed to be nothing much more than Snow thumbing his nose at anyone foolhardy enough to set aside the time to actually watch such a pointless piece from beginning to end. Ten Skes however goes one step further and allows us nothing at all with which to evaluate it as anything creative or even halfway interesting in my opinion.
I fail to see anything of worth in Ten Skies whatsoever, and feel aggrieved that 100 minutes of my life was lost to such an utterly fruitless endeavour. Don’t get me wrong – I like to see pretty clouds as much as the next person but to claim that ten 10 minute shots of clouds is a film worthy of my admiration is in my opinion merely an illustration of the delusional idea some modern day ‘artists’ have which is that anything they do in the name of Art is worthy of people’s attention and respect merely by dint of the fact that they say so. Well I don’t buy it and it saddens me to see so many otherwise sensible people falling for the intellectual hoodwinkery of it all.
James Benning may love watching clouds for extended periods, and good luck to him if that’s what he chooses to do with his spare time, but please don’t point a camera at them and claim it’s Art by any useful definition of the word/concept because it plainly is not, and in my opinion this kind of project casts a dark pall on much of modern art resulting in the widely held view today that the average modern artist is nothing but a charlatan taking money from gullible intellectuals desperate to praise ‘the new’ and ‘the different’, perhaps eager to be seen as a radical free-thinker; someone who can see and evaluate the hidden worth of artistic endeavours we the masses are too uneducated to understand or appreciate. Poppycock I say. As a thinking person I see works such as Wavelength and Ten Skies as an insult to my intelligence and a supreme waste of my time, and I refuse to be drawn in to the cockeyed notion that pointing a camera at something automatically makes the end product a film. Or at least a film that anyone would first of all want to see, and secondly would come away with any positive effects as a result of having watched it. And I don’t believe pseudo-intellectual masturbation counts.
As an aside it seems to me that not only is Ten Skies interminably dull and pointless but it’s also supremely, and one would assume unintentionally, ironic: Benning and the like seem oblivious to the fact that what we the audience are actually watching when we watch Ten Skies is in fact a watered down digital facsimile of one of natures more impressively picturesque features rather than the real thing. Why would we watch Benning’s quasi-reality when anyone with a spare hour or two can look up at the sky whenever they feel like it and see the real thing if that is their want, free and with no need for any electrical audio visual equipment to dilute and distort nature?
Incidentally, as far as voting for this or Eraserhead goes, well I’m keeping my cards close to my chest.
Also it’s not lost on me that one of my entries in this first round of the directors cup is Drifting Clouds.
Oh the irony!
I need didn’t mind my your thoughts on the film Josh, nothing poor on my end in reading what you thought
bean I certainly understand that viewpoint, it is the same I have heard from others after expressing my admiration of Warhol. All I can offer is I dont often look at the sky (not enough anyway) and this film focused me on it and I saw great beauty (not to mention shapes and faces) plus the sound cues added to the overall impression. For me, Skies was a reminder of what is around us, (sad that we have to be reminded by looking at a screen but there u go) while Eraserhead was just a guy having issues about being a father.
Plus just because one doesn’t not get something out of a film does not make the maker a charlatan
Kenji, did you just say that Benning is a greater artist than Dali? Surely I must have misunderstood you?
Ha, i was waiting for someone to pick that up- it’s simply that i i hold Dali in utter contempt as a sick shallow poisonous posturing phoney egotist with no moral fibre who jumped on a bandwagon, sold his soul and talent down the river for fame and big bucks; as a painter he came to mind as i’d mentioned Constable but really i shouldn’t take the thread on a detour. When i was a teen i once had a Dali poster on the wall, as did so many other teens, so understand the attraction. Whether Benning may be open to overvaluation or not, i presume he’s genuine in his artistic pursuit.
Anyway, i also wanted to say with Benning’s sky and lake films, Kiarostami’s Five comes to mind; there’s a bit more going on, and the humour of the ducks (ducks are usually amusing), but the same minimalist approach. The last (i think slightly overlong) segment of Five has a strong emphasis on sound, as Grey Daisies pointed out re Benning. I wouldn’t say they’re the highest level cinema can reach but they do have a place. Benning could have made fancier varied effects as an expression of cinematic possibilities but resisted any temptation to needlessly gild the lily for self-promotion; he looks outward, with his own markers
Am i right in thinking Ten Skies and Tale of the Wind (Ivens) are both in the Directors’ cup with the same manager? Cloud lovers, sky and nature watchers should especially like Ivens’ The Mistral too. i prefer the drama, movement, human element and lyricism of Ivens to Benning’s film.
Afraid not, Kenji. Benning is being managed by Josh Ryan, but Ivens is being managed by Kai White.
I was waiting for someone to bring up Five – another wasted hour in my life…
Instead of this, may I suggest a moderate intake of a mild, non-habit-forming mood altering substance (that don’t have have long-term effects) and then going out for a walk.
Dequinix, ah, that makes sense given who started the thread- now what gave me the idea it was Kai?.
Mcbean; yes, a lot of modern art is tosh, vacuums for intellectual masturbators to fill. Tracey Emin anyone? Too much is money market-driven, rather than depth and quality. Duchamp’s Fountain was nearly 100 years ago yet still artists treading that mill claim to be daring and rebellious, when ludicrously overpaid fodder for the capitalist machine
I have to say that you picked up on a very significant concept regarding Ten Skies McBean, but I think you’re wrong it believing it is an unintentional irony. In effect, a film like Ten Skies is asking the audience to reflect on what it means to sit indoors in a movie theater, ideally a theater but a darkened room would do, and watch the sky. One can say that it’s pointless in a sense, that anyone could do the same thing outdoors, but very few people actually do sit outside and look concertedly at the sky for any length of time. So by having us do that indoors, I believe is meant to cause the audience to reflect on their interaction with the natural world, and by implication their lives in the modern one.
In many ways, I think this pared down approach is more honest and to the point than someone like Malick’s more directed thoughts on nature and the human condition. Malick has a point of view he is trying to sell whereas Benning is asking people to reflect on their own. I’m not saying that one should like Benning’s film better than Malick’s, or that one should even like Benning’s film at all, but to say that one’s relationship to nature is a central part in both. The contrast between culture/art and nature and the tension that develops as one adjusts to the idea of simply sitting and watching the sky while listening to the sounds of the world below while knowing there is other things in your personal world you could be doing is almost certainly an aspect Benning was intending to explore. I don’t think your reaction is by any stretch wron McBean, one doesn’t have to appreciate such things and I think that is, to some degree, an attitude Benning would appreciate since I imagine too many audience members, many of the small amounts of people who saw it anyway, “knowing” what the film is about and as supporters of high art might sit there without a powerful reaction at all simply because they believe they should be there since it’s big art and all. A real emotional reaction to what’s being shown is surely preferable to over respectful celebration of art for arts sake. I mean the film is also a bit of a thumb in the eye to artistic product as well.
a tale of the wind
does this constitute a cup theme?
i agree with mcbean purely because he said poppycock. however, i haven’t seen it yet, but i imagine that looking at the real sky and watching an image of one are two totally different beasts (edit: uh, what greg said). i’m looking forward to it…
“In effect, a film like Ten Skies is asking the audience to reflect on what it means to sit indoors in a movie theater, ideally a theater but a darkened room would do, and watch the sky. One can say that it’s pointless in a sense, that anyone could do the same thing outdoors, but very few people actually do sit outside and look concertedly at the sky for any length of time. So by having us do that indoors, I believe is meant to cause the audience to reflect on their interaction with the natural world, and by implication their lives in the modern one.”
Yes i think that’s well put Greg X: the fact is that so many of us don’t find time to watch the real thing- the film isn’t trying to outdo nature or exploit it (and gullible fools for personal gain); any such reminder of natural beauty has value, as does the attempt to preserve the fleeting and uncontainable, a major aspect and attraction of art throughout the ages, whether it be paintings or photos. We should all love the real thing more, but we can also appreciate it more too thanks to the prompting of art. Is it better to watch someone in a beautiful film take off in a balloon or experience it for real? Credit must be due the film as inspiration. Some films (like the peaks of all artforms) can reach the sublime anyway. I wouldn’t count Benning’s among that group but nor should it be dismissed.
Thanks for everyone’s feedback so far. All input here so far is valid as far as I’m concerned.
To a point with this kind of film, you either get it or you don’t, so I’m really not interested in defending it or trying to convince someone to like it who isn’t inclined to.
The intro is meant to give a brief frame of reference that hopefully helps, but people are probably predisposed to like this or not.
I’m just pleased that this thread has generated some discussion.
TANGENT: For those of you who do like these kinds of films, what are some of the things you struggle with while watching them? I think boredom and frustration (along with their counterparts excitement and catharsis) can be intentional on the director’s part. How do you deal with this?
I enjoyed watching Ten Skies and I’m glad I went to the effort of finding a high quality version to blow up on my big screen and didn’t rely on the poor quality Youtube version (what would David Lynch say if he found out I’d watched it on my phone!).
Unlike certain films this wasn’t really an exercise in patience, 16 hours of a single scene of cloud watching would be pretty difficult for anyone. But 10 minutes per scene made for quite a nice pace. Although I admit to glancing at my video timer quite often during the first couple of scenes to see how long was left until the next sky.
But as the film progressed I became more interested in noting how much manipulation the filmmaker has actually put into this. From the composition of clouds and the timing which it some scenes allows for large changes in lighting over the span of ten minutes. Then the arrangement of the scenes, which if you give the film your full, undivided attention (probably something not really possible outside of a cinema) feels like a symphony by the end.
Besides the big picture there are all sorts of small details on show here too. As you get into the rhythm of the film these tiny details become much more enhanced. There’s a plane which appears towards the end which feels, by that point, like a climactic fireworks display.
And of course there’s the soundtrack. I became aware that the noise of distant traffic was becoming clearer as the film continued and wondered briefly if there was an environmental message going on, before being answered very directly and dramatically by the film. To some perhaps the smoke scene may seem a little too blunt but I like it. It makes the piece far less obtuse. There is an obvious point to the film, we are being manipulated, however subtly, into thinking a certain way, and it’s not the same as stepping outside to ‘look at pretty clouds’.
I look forward to seeing more of James Benning’s work. He won’t beat Eraserhead in this contest, but he has at least hopefully sparked some interest.
I am curious about this choice of film to introduce us to Benning though. I mean, I liked it, but it seems to me many people are going to react badly because it’s ‘just sky’. Whereas some of Benning’s other work seems to be, comparatively, more ‘interesting’.
James Benning is the arguably the film world’s greatest living artist.
^ I can’t tell you how much I’d appreciate it if you’d expand on that.
Well, because I’m such a fan of his work, I may be slightly biased, but I believe my statement holds water nonetheless.
What Benning does with sound in relation to silence is stunning. Take a film like RR: A pastoral shot of an open field full of dried grass softly blowing in the wind is all of a sudden disrupted by an immense, noisy, clanging mechanical beast for roughly 1-4 minutes and then – silence again. If one was to stand stationary in one position, this would be a fleeting moment of sound in an otherwise silent (I’m using the term silence meaning a lack of clamour, as I know silence is truly elusive) scene, yet this disruption follows the train everywhere it goes, disrupting countless moments of tranquility. Trains lack frivolity – just a massive engine pulling an expanse of boxes – and I feel Benning’s films have the same quality. They don’t impose any sort of ethos or meaning upon the viewer, they simply ask you to look and listen to the world around you, at things you may have overlooked on a day to day basis, and I think that’s just beautiful.
I couldn’t have said it better.
Do you have any specific thoughts on Ten Skies to offer? Voting on that match starts Friday.
Can’t wait to see it.
I prefer Richard Misrach’s two books -
The Sky Book
Why do spectators feel the compulsion to say things like “best living filmmaker” or l"hardly the equal of Constable" and similar such things. [Constable’s cloud studies, along with all his oil sketches, many in the top floor of a wing of the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, are indeed gorgeous. Might note that Alfred Stieglitz, photographer, did a series of cloud photographs called “Equivalents” back 1924 – 30 something.]
1) Nobody, but nobody, could honestly and meaningfully ever say “best living…” about anything. In part first because it is a taste thing, a subjective view, so it could only be said if preceded with “in my view…” but then it would be a crock of shit because
2) Nobody, but nobody, could possibly see all of the whatever art/object etc is being cited, in order to make such a judgment. All you could say is “of the X I have seen…” and one could then point out this is perhaps .001% of the given item.
So show a little humbleness folks.
Re Benning, he’s a really good, serious film artist, of which there aren’t many. He challenges the viewer, which many aren’t up to. If interested in further thoughts, see http://jonjost.wordpress.com/2011/03/05/crossing-paths-james-benning/, just posted in last days.
Jim’s newest films, Ruhr and Pig Iron, finally let his visions be matched with an appropriate technology.
Psst. . .
To anyone wondering where to find posts from some of those well known names of the forums, and also a reasonable answer to, it seems, most extended arguments here, look right above this.
Bumping this so everyone can read Jon Jost’s post above, if you haven’t already.
Mr. Benning’s own post in the voting thread was hilarious.
This is good reading, too: Crossing paths: James Benning
(hyperlinked for those too lazy to copy+paste Mr. Jost’s link above).
I haven’t seen the film, and this question may be juvenile considering the conversation that precedes this post. But, in an attempt to not sound glib, how did this film impact your perception of the sky or nature in general? Have you since taken time to see the little things? I’ll admit, Jon Jost’s post and the picture it contains would tell me it did for him.
^ I will say that I do often think of Benning’s film now when I do look at the sky, but I’ve always been an upward-gazer, whether it be sky or stars, so I can’t say its influenced me in that capacity.
Benning’s films (along with Michael Snow’s) did influence the way I thought about film, though. They were my introduction to this kind of cinema, and though regrettably I have yet to see any of them on the big screen (I’m just waiting for a chance), their impact has been great for me personally.
House of Leaves, the link you posted on the first page of this thread is broken. Can you re-upload the film or point out another place online where I can watch it? I’ve been meaning to see it since you made this thread (although it’s possible I’ll do some skimming).
On the topic of skimming: a film like this doesn’t seem to work like most other movies. Before watching it I’m stuck with the feeling that I would be better off watching 1 minute x 10 images than 10 minutes x 10 images. If I did the same thing with The Big Sleep, I would lose most of the experience and important information contained in the film. Can the same thing be said for Ten Skies?
Michael: I’ll PM you a link, though you may need an invite to get to the page.
As far as skimming, you’d be completely ruining the experience. Part of the point of a film like this is to take you on a journey that is far outside your realm of comfortability as far as pacing and editing is concerned. That’s part of it and you’d be doing yourself a disservice.
Love to hear your thoughts when you finally do watch it.