Part of Winter 1996
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 (Used Innocence, Landscape Suicide, American Dreams, 11×14) 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.
Constructed of three parallel threads – one pictorial, one aural, and the third a handwritten text that runs continuously across the bottom of the frame – North on Evers charts Benning’s trip across the West, through the South, up the East coast, and finally back to California. He chronicles a series of brief encounters with old friends, chance acquaintances, hitch-hikers and one-night stands, visits such historical sites as the home of Medgar Evers and Robert Smithson’s Spiral Jetty. But Benning is no tourist; his travels are informed by a heightened awareness of the history that has taken place in his own time and by a powerful sense of the strangeness and alienation of everyday life in the world’s great, crumbling centre of capitalism.