A rhythmically edited alphabet composed of street and shop signs shot in New York City and other elements is gradually replaced by repeated seemingly abstract shots in this influential structuralist film.
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 »
This is a soundless story of the building of 'Toledo Spirit', the container ship, its sailing and eventual beaching. Insignificant men crawl on cranes and gantries to build it and other men, sans the equipment, scrape it after beaching.
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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