Sixty one-minute shots with no camera movement. This tension between painterly and cinematic space is not only experienced as an intellectual contrast but is also felt as a dialectic ... See full summary »
American Dreams is chock full of concrete, discrete elements that comprise an American iconography of the past three decades. The film encourages a kind of perverse nostalgia for 'the good ... See full summary »
One of the most widely praised American avant-garde films in recent years, James Benning's 1977 feature is a laconic mosaic of single-shot sequences, each offering some sort of image/sound ... See full summary »
I found this experimental film absorbing, even funny (intentionally) in one spot. The concept is very simple. A series of locked off shots where a train, not visible at first, enters frame, goes all the way through, and leaves frame. What makes it interesting is Benning's wide range of compositions and framings, from extremely wide and distant, to having the train right on top of us, along with the wide range of settings, from snow covered, to desert, to crossing bridges over water. The variations between the trains themselves are fascinating as well, so by the end this becomes a study of the nature of perception as much as anything.
Benning also adds context over a few of the images by adding audio clips from the past; Eisenhower's famed military-industrial complex speech, a snatch of 'This land is your land'. While some have understandably criticized these sound bites as too intrusive and too on the nose, to me, in such a strange context they worked wonders, opening my mind up to the films' possible bigger meanings; trains as an instrument of imperialism, as a symbol of destruction of the environment, as a great equalizer that made long distance travel possible for the masses.
Plus, lets face it, trains are simply cool to look at. Something about their power, size, history makes them almost mythological presences in themselves.
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