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Stemple Pass by James Benning

Friday, March 7, 7:30 PM
@ CineCycle, 129 Spadina Avenue

Part of Winter 2014

A humanistic portrait enveloped in landscape and duration, James Benning’s Stemple Pass (2012, 120 min. video) is made up of four shots of the densely-wooded brae of a mountain behind his home, the same site on which he reconstructed American techno-terrorist Ted “Unabomber” Kaczynski’s cabin. Narrating excerpts from a miscellany of Kaczynski’s writings, Benning’s steady cadence communicates the humble pursuits of a man searching for autonomy in nature and for freedom from institutionalized power, two tenets that resonate through the core of American individualism. Advocating for horrific insurgence and exhibiting a complete disconnection from the peripheries of human morality and compassion, much of Kaczynski’s dogma is decidedly repellant; as a result, the film unfolds as an exegesis on the revolutionary ethos that informed Kaczynsk’s homespun terror, tempered by Benning’s dedicated eye (and voice), characteristic patience, and resolute empathy.

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 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 same time becoming increasingly concerned with the themes of history, memory, and death. American Dreams, Landscape Suicide, and Used Innocence all provide glimpses into the minds of violent criminals through their own words, and are made all the more chilling by Benning’s decision to place their crimes in their historical and political and contexts rather than pass judgment on them.

After moving to California in the 1990s, Benning began, with the highly acclaimed Deseret, a series of experimental documentaries investigating the effects of history and politics on the American West. Composed almost entirely of landscapes, these films recall his early experiments with cinematic time and offscreen space. His central innovation — the use of narrative to explore cinema’s formal possibilities — has proven to be enormously influential on a number of experimental and independent filmmakers. —allmovie guide

[Überraschungsfilm] (1988)
11 x 14 (1976)
13 LAKES (2004)
3 minutes on the dangers of film recording (1975)
8 1/2 x 11 (1974)
9-1-75 (1975)
9-1-75 (1975)
A to B (1976)
A to B (1976)
American Dreams (lost and found)(1984)
Art Hist. 101 (1972)
casting a glance (2007)
Chicago Loop (1976)
Chicago Loop (1976)
Deseret (1995)
did you ever hear that cricket sound?(1971)
El Valley Centro (1999)
Four Corners (1997)
Grand Opera. An Historical Romance(1979)
Him and Me (1981)
Honeylane Road (1973)
i-94 (1974)
James Benning – Circling the Image(2003)
Landscape Suicide (1986)
Los (2000)
Michigan Avenue (1973)
North on Evers (1991)
O Panama (1985)
Ode to Muzak (1972)
One Way Boogie Woogie / 27 Years Later (1977-2004)
RR (2007)
Saturday Night (1975)
Sogobi (2001)
TEN SKIES (2004)
The United States of America (1975)
The United States of America (1975)
Time and a Half (1972)
UTOPIA (1998)

Production Still from Stemple Pass

Production Still from Stemple Pass

Ted Kaczynski Press Photo

Ted Kaczynski Press Photo

James Benning

James Benning

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