Archive of films natural history / natural history
A somewhat different kind of excursion to Vienna’s Museum of Natural History that doesn’t urge us to view the exhibits with a sense of wonder. Forty-five engaging but essentially common static shots encourage us instead to revise our perception of the film image and the way we look at history.
The work of structural filmmaker James Benning increases viewer attentiveness and even the way we perceive the film image. His latest feature ushers audiences into a clearly defined space: Vienna’s Museum of Natural History. In a series of static shots – some short, some long, always carefully composed – Benning examines areas generally left behind the scenes: hallways, store rooms, offices, depositories, and technical facilities. As in the director’s previous films, the length of the shots is determined by circumstances beyond his immediate control. In the past, the span may have been dictated by the size of the film reel or the time it takes to smoke a cigarette, but here the first 27 digits of the number π are the deciding factor. It isn’t just the almost complete absence of movement or people in the shots but also the decision to use overt commentary and even the admiring perspective that push the picture toward an impression of timelessness, making of it an experience that transforms the perception of place, object, and even a film such as this.
About the director
James Benning (b. 1942, Milwaukee, Wisconsin) graduated in mathematics after earning a baseball scholarship to the University of Wisconsin. In 1980 he moved to lower Manhattan and began shooting films with the financial backing of German Television. After eight years in New York he moved west and began teaching at the California Institute of the Arts. He stuck by 16mm film for years but switched over to the digital format in 2008 after being won over by its projecting and archiving possibilities. The general public became acquainted with Benning through his appearance in the documentary Double Play (2013, dir. Gabe Klinger) with another director, Richard Linklater. His work has regularly appeared at the most prestigious film festivals, including Berlinale, and in galleries around the world. Karlovy Vary audiences are familiar with his film Stemple Pass (2012).
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