I’ve recently fallen down a frantic rabbit hole of youtube searches and article reading involving director James Benning, a pioneer in experimental, narrative-less film. Richard Linklater mentioned him in the director’s commentary for It’s Impossible to Learn to Plow by Reading Books, which is a movie I’ve been obsessed with for a bit. That movie is an essentially narrative-less film, and I’ve written about it earlier, but I was interested in his influences, and if there were other similar films, which led me to Benning.
This searching has pulled me in deep, because interviews with Benning are fascinating. And I’m also about 80% sure my father-in-law probably knows him, because they’re both from Milwaukee and both came up through the draft resistance and civil rights movements in the 60s, and my FiL worked at the Milwaukee Art Museum and seems to know everybody. It’s been hard to actually track down any of Benning’s work, because it’s not really on DVD, and you pretty much have to catch it at a museum. There are bits of it online, but not entire movies. But there are lots of interviews knocking around, and they are all good reads.
Here’s a snippet from one that particularly moved me, at least from the standpoint of this no-plot windmill I’ve been chasing:
*** from http://www.moviemag.org/2014/06/interview-james-benning/
You work with very small budgets – what advice would you give to aspiring filmmakers?
A lot of people want to make narrative films and my advice would be to not do that. I don’t really like films very much. But I like using film as a way of saying things. I’m not interested in drama that’s contrived. I don’t like acting. My advice would be very strange – but just don’t make another “good” film, there are too many good films! Produce a film that’s going to make us question cinema itself and expand its language. Make us think about our own lives and the context of our lives in the world.
There’s a very good documentary that just came out called Double Play, about Linklater’s relationship with Benning, how they’re friends and it riffs off of both of their work a bit. It’s on Amazon and maybe iTunes. I watched it last week, and it’s worth checking out, particularly as a retrospective of all of Linklater’s work and how it’s interconnected.
That said, I’m in the middle of plotting a book, so maybe it didn’t stick. But I have about 40K words into the next iteration of Atmospheres, or whatever it may be, so there’s more in the pipeline.