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Deseret (1995)

James Benning took the founding of the New York Times in 1851 as a departure point for his latest film, Deseret. In the best Benning tradition, Deseret unfolds magnificent landscapes ... See full summary »

Director:

James Benning

Star:

Fred Gardner
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Credited cast:
Fred Gardner Fred Gardner ... Narrator
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Storyline

James Benning took the founding of the New York Times in 1851 as a departure point for his latest film, Deseret. In the best Benning tradition, Deseret unfolds magnificent landscapes captured with a stationary camera during a dozen-odd trips throughout the calendar year - deserts, plains of snow, lonely trails, trees in bloom, cemeteries, ruins, unfriendly rocks, empty settlers' houses, roads that seem to be leading nowhere, a few isolated human figures. Deseret's starkly composed images suggest a space haunted by the official history written back East in the Times. Benning collected 93 stories about Utah, boiled them down to a few lines and used a different shot to 'illustrate' each sentence. As we reach 1900, his black and white footage spectacularly turns to color. The stories told recount the loss of American innocence: from the woes and persecution of the Mormons, the fights with the Indians, the struggle to become a state, to the turning of Utah into a testing ground for nuclear... Written by Anonymous

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independent film | See All (1) »

Genres:

Documentary

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Country:

USA

Language:

English

Release Date:

14 June 2014 (Australia) See more »

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Trivia

Included among the "1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die", edited by Steven Schneider. See more »

Connections

Featured in James Benning: Circling the Image (2003) See more »

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User Reviews

 
Visually striking and historically interesting
6 November 2014 | by David_de_JongSee all my reviews

I never heard of James Benning or his work, but 'experimental and structuralist' seems to be a quite fitting description to me after watching his 1995 documentary 'Deseret'.

The title is the name the Mormons used when applying for statehood in 1849 and it combines images from the territory and articles about the subject from the New York Times starting from its founding (in 1851) onwards to tell it's story.

The only reason I watched this movie is because Steven Jay Schneider has this obscure title on his list of 1001 movies 'You Must See Before You Die'. And, although I don't think it's a must see, I can understand why he must have believed he added something special when putting this one on his list.

Benning spent 18 months shooting the Utah scenery from a fixed camera-position. The shots he used from all four seasons make for a nice viewing experience and gives it a timeless charm. While watching natures beauty a voice-over reads you a great number of mostly grim stories about the state from clashes between Native Americans and settlers all the way up to incidents with polygamous clans in recent times. The combination of images and sounds are to me a both awkward and fascinating mixture and make the movie worthwhile.

All in all, although not entertaining in a conventional, Hollywood kind of way, I found this movie both visually striking and historically interesting: a 6 /10 for me.


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