Our local topography inspires words like scenic view and panoramic vista, but theres nothing particularly elevating about the view from the overwhelming majority of locations in this country. Unless youre James Benning, the Milwaukee-born filmmaker who has been recording the meditative and malignant echoes of a wide range of places for nearly 40 years. Darkest Americana and Elsewhere: Films, Video, and Words of James Benning brings the artist to town for three screenings and a lecture. A dedicated proponent of the long, still take, Benning allows the viewer ample time to inspect the frame to get the lay of the land, if you will and to contemplate what shadows different natural and man-made environments cast on peoples souls (and vice versa). His 1984 work, American Dreams (tonight at 7 p.m.), juxtaposes home-run king Henry Aaron and George Wallace shooter Arthur Bremer; Landscape Suicide (1986; tonight at 8:15 p.m.) finds points of connection between Wisconsin serial killer Ed Gein and a Orinda teenager who murdered a classmate in 1984. (A Friend to Die For, a 1994 TV movie based on the whacked-out crime, starred Tori Spelling as the victim.) Ruhr (Saturday at 7:30 p.m.) finds Benning venturing abroad for the first time and trading his film camera for digital video. But America, and the curious American character, is his favorite subject, and the focus of his talk, Milwaukee to Lincoln, Montana, Sunday at 3 p.m.
Feb. 26-28, 2010