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Pleasure Dome - Stemple Pass by James Benning
Friday, March 7, 7:30 PM
@ CineCycle, 129 Spadina Avenue
A humanistic portrait enveloped in landscape and duration, James Benning’s Stemple Pass (2012, 120 min. video) is made up of four shots of the densely-wooded brae of a mountain behind his home, the same site on which he reconstructed American techno-terrorist Ted “Unabomber” Kaczynski’s cabin. Narrating excerpts from a miscellany of Kaczynski’s writings, Benning’s steady cadence communicates the humble pursuits of a man searching for autonomy in nature and for freedom from institutionalized power, two tenets that resonate through the core of American individualism. Advocating for horrific insurgence and exhibiting a complete disconnection from the peripheries of human morality and compassion, much of Kaczynski’s dogma is decidedly repellant; as a result, the film unfolds as an exegesis on the revolutionary ethos that informed Kaczynsk’s homespun terror, tempered by Benning’s dedicated eye (and voice), characteristic patience, and resolute empathy.
James Benning’s early films fused the “structuralist” investigations into sound-image relationships of filmmakers like Michael Snow and Hollis Frampton with an interest in narrative and a deep sensitivity to color, light, and landscape. He first grabbed the attention of the avant-garde film world with 8 1/2 × 11 and 11 × 14. Filmed in vivid color in the rural and urban landscapes of his native Midwest, these two films would provide the kernel for his further investigations into film form.
His films’ rigorous structures — often based on numerical systems — and exquisitely composed shots reflect his training as a mathematician, and their frequently autobiographical subject matter draws upon his working-class roots and his longtime commitment to political activism.
While his earliest films are mostly concerned with form and narrative, his work in the ‘80s began to introduce both personal subject matter and documentary elements, at the same time becoming increasingly concerned with the themes of history, memory, and death. American Dreams, Landscape Suicide, and Used Innocence all provide glimpses into the minds of violent criminals through their own words, and are made all the more chilling by Benning’s decision to place their crimes in their historical and political and contexts rather than pass judgment on them.
After moving to California in the 1990s, Benning began, with the highly acclaimed Deseret, a series of experimental documentaries investigating the effects of history and politics on the American West. Composed almost entirely of landscapes, these films recall his early experiments with cinematic time and offscreen space. His central innovation — the use of narrative to explore cinema’s formal possibilities — has proven to be enormously influential on a number of experimental and independent filmmakers. —allmovie guide
Toronto Free Screen: With Special Guest, David Rimmer
TIFF Bell Lightbox
Saturday, March 22 and Sunday, March 23
The first part of our two-night retrospective devoted to the Canadian avant-garde great spotlights Rimmer's gorgeous landscape films.
David Rimmer will be joined onstage by Mike Hoolboom and the Academy Film Archive's Mark Toscano for a post-screening discussion on Saturday, March 22 and Sunday, March 23.
This programme is rated PG.
The world premiere of the restoration of David Rimmer's Variations on a Cellophane Wrapper at the 2013 Toronto International Film Festival was the first fruit of a major restoration project — undertaken by Mark Toscano at the Academy Film Archive in Los Angeles — devoted to one of Canada's most important experimental filmmakers. Rimmer has been exploring the formal properties of filmmaking since the late sixties, employing a structuralist approach that eschews that mode's occasional tendency towards intellectual dryness by filtering it through a West Coast sensitivity to landscape, poetry and psychedelia; indeed, many of his early films, comprised of a visceral mix of re-photographed found images and looped sounds, were made in the context of Vancouver's interdisciplinary happenings.
Even though Rimmer's films are recognized as key works of Canadian experimental cinema, they have not been screened extensively in Toronto for quite a few years. Recent publications, and Rimmer's honouring with the 2011 Governor's General Award, has brought back some well-deserved attention to his work, but it is unquestionably the AFA's restoration project that is the most important endeavour in resurrecting his invaluable oeuvre. Conceived as a status report on this long-term project, these two programmes of restorations and newly struck prints offers Toronto audiences a chance to discover or reacquaint themselves with the early work of one of Canada's most influential experimental filmmakers.
— Chris Kennedy
Part I: Surfacing
Like many filmmakers raised in or transplanted to the verdant wilds of British Columbia, the stunning beauty of the West Coast landscape has played a central role in Rimmer's work. The films in this programme capture visions of natural beauty both undisturbed (the shadowed patterns of clouds on mountains in the time-lapse film Landscape being one of the most idyllic) and marked by human expansion, as in Canadian Pacific's view of Vancouver's Burrard Inlet, framed by the North Shore Mountains across the water and the railroad that serves as an essential connection to the rest of Canada in the foreground. The programme culminates in Rimmer's early classic Migration, a tour de force of expressive personal filmmaking in which Rimmer creates a stunningly kinetic relationship with the world around him.
Landscape (dir. David Rimmer / Canada 1969 / 8 min. / 16mm)
Canadian Pacific (dir. David Rimmer / Canada 1974 / 9 min. / 16mm)
Seashore (dir. David Rimmer / Canada 1971 / 11 min. / 16mm)
Surfacing on the Thames (dir. David Rimmer / Canada 1970 / 5 min. / 16mm)
Narrows Inlet (dir. David Rimmer / Canada 1980 / 10 min. / 16mm)
Treefall (dir. David Rimmer / Canada 1970 / 5 min. / 16mm)
Migration (dir. David Rimmer / Canada 1969 / 11 min. / 16mm)
The Free Screen is always free. Tickets are available on a first-come, first-served basis at the Steve & Rashmi Gupta Box Office two hours prior to event start time. One ticket per person.