Playing as part of Berlinale’s Forum selection, James Benning’s critically acclaimed avant-garde film conjures the banal photography of Stephen Shore to foreshadow the coming end of mid-Western Americana and the absolute saturation of US culture by consumerist values in the late-70s.
Originally shown at Forum in 1977, the film has recently been meticulously restored by the Austrian Film Museum in collaboration with Arsenal - Institute for Film and Video Art and the original 16mm celluloid the film was originally shot on saved from the elements and blow up to vivid 35mm.
The long wide shots that capture the overthrowing of mid-20th century rural life in the US by noisy industrial machinery, colourful advertisements and the apathy of the population build the narrative itself and point simply yet brilliantly at the film’s themes.
Although the filmmaker said in a Q&A after the film that he was being playful and having fun with the audience, the film rests on a terrifying and almost apocalyptic shot in which a constant cloud of deadly thick pollutant streams from a brickwork chimney as Bob Dylan’s ‘Black Diamond Bay’ – a reminder of the sinister and more damaging sides of the counter culture revolution, the ushering in of an age of materialism and the wilful ongoing destruction of the Earth’s climate.
Benning’s directorial debut remains relevant as a reminder to the debasing of the American countryside and the laying of the groundwork for the political divisions that fracture the US today.
~ George Bartlett