Tuesday, May 26, 2009

James Benning and Direct Cinema

(adapted from a posting on vimeo, in the group The Pictures Don't Move)

I want to profile an interesting independent filmmaker here, James Benning. I first heard about Benning from a vimeo user, Made for Full Screen. Benning fascinates me first of all for at least one of his films that I haven't seen, but that I wish I could find and view, in part because it happens to tie into my own family history, and I'd really rather talk about it from a base of experience, rather than what I infer from what I can find to read about his approach.

The film I'm thinking of is Deseret (1995), reviewed at the link.

While I don't want to make too much of it without seeing it, there seems to be a difference between Benning's practice and what used to be said about Direct Cinema or Cinéma vérité, often characterizes as filmmaking that consisted of plopping down a camera on a tripod and recording directly whatever happened in front of the lens.

While there's an element of that in what Benning is doing, there's also far more. What I have managed to see, mostly in the form of low-quality YouTube excerpts, since Benning's work has not been released on VHS or DVD, but has been broadcast on, for instance, German television. Most of his films seem to run between 90 and 100 minutes. They consist largely of long static shots that apparently illustrate particular lines of text, or audio readings of particular lines or statements.

The divergence is even greater with his Utopia, excerpts of which are found on the Yoob, and are reviewed here where parts of the soundtrack from another documentary are set against his static shots of mostly Southwestern U.S. landscapes and "townscapes."

The shooting style is similar, but there is editing going on here, editing that seems to imply some meaning, some guidance or direction of the viewer, at least in terms of selecting statements to illustrate, and choosing the order in which they are presented. I'm reminded of Luis Buñuel and Salvador Dali's landmark film Un chien andalou, or at least the received wisdom I was given as to what it was "about." The irresistable human impulse to find patterns in chaos, to make sense of the random and the senseless.

I really want to see both films in their entirety, in part because it seems refreshing compared to the commercially-dictated sort of editing one might see if the same subject were shot for, say, a History Channel or Discovery Channel "documentary," where topics are discussed, dumbed-down, and manipulated, all to apparently conform to the convention of commercial "breaks."

I don't know about anyone else, but I know I find that particular structure fairly annoying, especially when it comes to my attention (and it usually seems to after 10 minutes or so).

Anyway, as I've said elsewhere, I'm looking forward to any dialogue to be sparked by the films/videos presented here (The Pictures Don't Move). On a number of different levels.

I think I need to go out and shoot something. I said that almost a week ago and yet I am almost paralyzed about doing this, and have instead spent a week looking for every possible distraction from creating anything or recording anything, up until, at least, putting together my first rough, shared cut of Ockham's Razor.

This is a test, a really stupid test

All of me that I'm ready to share. Okay, maybe not all. But all my Yooby Yoobness. Okay, maybe not all. How about the most recent 49 public videos I've uploaded to this channel?

This might be a better example, from a channel with very few videos:

This one doubles for the moment as a demo of database latency (see video below). I just deleted one of the videos from the channel in the second viewer, but for at least awhile this player (the one directly above this paragraph) is likely to show 5 rather than 4 videos.

As an added bonus, here's more than you ever wanted to know about database latency, or at least YouTube's take on it from almost a year ago:

Don't bother with the jump.

I told you not to bother. But I'm embedding something here anyway, just to assure myself that it will embed.

Ockham's Razor

William of Ockham was a Franciscan. Okay, so he was excommunicated for opposing the authority of the Pope. But he did invent this nifty device that we continue to use to this day.

Here's some links you might want to read:

William of Ockham was, like, the John Wayne of late medieval philosophers.

There's a video surprise after the jump.