Films by Ernie Gehr & James Benning
November 18 + 19, 2000
Elizabeth Leach Gallery
Two filmmakers born in Milwaukee, WI, just a year apart--Gehr in 1941 and Benning in 1942--both of whom now live and work in California. In different ways, each has exploited "structuralist" techniques to create films of great power and subtlety that transcend academic labels. Often focusing on mundane subjects, and always foregrounding the materials and limitations of cinematic art, their films reveal the workings of consciousness, the nature of perception, and the relationships of the filmmaker and viewer to the world.
9/1/75 by James Benning
(1975, color/sound, 22 min.)
A 22 minute tracking shot through a Wisconsin camp ground on Labor Day. Most of the sound was recorded on location, and some wasn’t
Benning’s artistic obsessions: the collision between American landscape and the human presence that endlessly reworks, re-creates, produces, and soils it; the production/subsumption of the narrative by the structural aspects of filmmaking; the descreet self-exploration of the filmmaker, at the crossroads between suggestive power of the images and the narrative expectations of the spectators.
Though faced with emptiness he must choose to experience the empty scene. The effect is one of stasis, a literal ’standing still’ through which he himself must move.
Side/Walk/Shuttle by Ernie Gehr
(1991, color/sound, 47 min.)
The films makes a convincing case for the truth of its grand conceit: that living in a modern city is like being in the cinema--the city creates and limits movements, constructs perspectives, defines views. Cinema was invented only a few years after the skyscraper, in 1895, and Gehr sees both as mechanical constructs related by their rectilinearity.
Traditional and established avant-guarde film teaches film to be an image, a representating. But film is a real thing and as a real thing it is not imitation. It does not reflect on life, it embodies the life of the mind... Film is a variable intensity of light, an internal balance of time, a movement within a given space.
In the avant-garde cinema the image is an ad hoc fabrication, a sign, often radiant with lush beauty, just as often reductuvely stark, that points to a configuration of time.
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