Gartenberg Media Enterprises (GME) is pleased to announce the release of two new titles featuring four films by James Benning, NATURAL HISTORY / RUHR as well as DESERET / FOUR CORNERS, now available for institutional sales in North America. These two DVD editions are published by the Austrian Filmmuseum as part of the Edition Filmmuseum series.
“It is perhaps because James Benning’s work is so resistant to neat categorization that his films have rarely received the recognition they deserve. His work fuses elements of American structuralism, the narrative avant-garde and experimental documentary.”
– Danni Zuvela, “Talking about Seeing: A Conversation with James Benning”
Since the late 1970s, James Benning's films have been a regular fixture at festivals in Germany and Austria, while frequent television broadcasts have helped expose his work to an even larger audience here than perhaps at home. This 2-disc set presents the products of this intercontinental relationship: RUHR, Benning's first foray into digital filmmaking, is a modern-day "city symphony" dedicated to Germany's industrial Ruhr district. His latest work, NATURAL HISTORY, is an audiovisual portrait commissioned by Vienna's Natural History Museum.
Reinhard Wulf's feature-length documentary JAMES BENNING: CIRCLING THE IMAGE, produced for German television, is a DVD extra that significantly illuminates Benning’s working method, that illuminates the manner in which his films are composed of carefully-timed, long takes and precisely selected, fixed camera positions.
“I could not have imagined that Benning’s fiftieth birthday [in 1992] would signal the beginning of the most remarkable era in his creative life…With the exception of Luis Buñuel and Alfred Hitchcock, I can think of no filmmakers who has blossomed so impressively so late in his career.”
– Scott MacDonald
In the 1990s, James Benning's films were primarily characterized by an ongoing investigation of the relationship between the image and the (spoken or written) word. This 2-disc set features the two key works representing the peak of this "text-image film" period. DESERET and FOUR CORNERS are rigorous attempts to address, engage and come to terms with the history and geography of the United States, as seen through the prism of one particular part of the country. The beauty of the shimmering landscapes is contrasted with darker exposés of American history.
In DESERET, Benning retells the history of America's Mormon State of Utah, by fusing more than 90 separate shots (comprising spectacular black & white and color landscape images), with a voiceover narrator quoting articles published in New York Times between 1852 and 1992 that reference the violent struggles between Mormons, Native Americans, and the Federal Government, as well as nuclear/biological weaponry and toxic waste sites.
Benning's following film FOUR CORNERS is both a tribute to the famous region in the USA where four states converge (Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, and Utah) and a portrait of four very different artists (impressionist pioneer Claude Monet, African-American folk artist Moses Tolliver, fictional Native-American wall-painter ‘Yukawa’, and Abstract Expressionist Jasper Johns). The voiceover narration deals with natural and man-made forces that have rent destruction upon the Native American population in this region.
Additional Benning Titles of Related Interest from GME