25 February 2007

13 Lakes (2004, James Benning)

{61, B-/B, **1/2} | Walter Reade Theater, "Film Comment Selects"



• This was strictly a courtesy sit*, since I don't much groove on pristine views of nature even when plonked down in front of actual real-world splendor. (For those unfamiliar with the film, it consists entirely of fixed-camera shots of various lakes, each one lasting ten minutes.) And so I carefully staked out an aisle seat, announced my walk-out plans to various people, pre-composed the snarky fake title for my main page (4 Lakes), and settled in to be stupefied by 40 minutes of Ansel Adams tedium before bolting out the door and grabbing some lunch. Over two hours later, however, there I still was, sitting contentedly in my seat…looking at lakes. I don't understand it, but it happened.

• Truth is, had Benning made an hour-long film called 20 Lakes, I suspect I would have genuinely flipped for it, because the images he's composed/found are generally magnificent, while the contrasts between these diverse landscapes form a strange sort of primal narrative. Ten minutes was longer than I wanted to gaze at most of them, yet anticipation of the next shot kept me firmly in my seat. Avant-garde or not, 13 Lakes held me the same way any other movie does: I stuck around because I wanted to see what would "happen" next.

• Lee Walker has spoken in the past of his happy semi-engagement with certain contemplative films—of taking pleasure in the way that a movie's narcotic pace and uncluttered compositions allow his mind to wander freely back and forth between the film itself and whatever random thoughts it might inspire. Faced here with almost completely static compositions, I did succeed in relaxing more than usual, looking at the screen without necessarily feeling obligated to register what I was seeing at all times. However, this intermittent inattention paid greater dividends in Ten Skies (also Benning '04), which I liked less overall—clouds just aren't as variegated and dynamic as your average horizon—but which involves way more visual flux, so that the screen can look dramatically different if you zone out for even just 30 or 45 seconds.

• Remember at Toronto last year when I said I would have liked Jia's Still Life better had he not insisted on planting people (or, more accurately, feeble "human drama") in front of the topographical wasteland that is the Three Gorges region? Looks like I wasn't kidding.

• For over ten years, I've cited a particular shot from Chung King Express as the greatest in the history of cinema. I'm not prepared to retract that statement, but Lake #12 (which the Fileri Experiment believes to be Oregon's Crater Lake), with its stunning waveform symmetry, would certainly place somewhere in the top five. The tiny still below doesn't remotely do it justice; that one I could have stared at for another hour, easy.





* For the courtesy of whom? you might justifiably ask. I don't have a very good answer for that. Benning, I suppose, and maybe various friends who are avant-garde aficionados and would like to see me come around a bit.

8 comments:

msic said...

Good job bud. And yeah, the Crater Lake shot is sublime. Also, if 13 LAKES is a 61 and TEN SKIES (which I haven't seen) is a 51, you'll obviously need to explore more Benning when you get the chance. I liked LAKES, but I had a hard time with it here and there, and it didn't necessarily strike me as the best place to start. In short, if you dug this, EL VALLEY CENTRO will really bowl you over, and FOUR CORNERS will land on your 1997 top ten.

Anonymous said...

Which shot from Chungking Express are you referring to? Thanks.

md'a said...

Tony Leung drinking coffee in slow motion as he watches Faye Wong behind the counter.

Kevin Laforest said...

Is it the one at about 6:19 here? That shot is amazing, and the whole film is full of them. I particularly love the plastic plane shot.

Josh said...

Great shot there, but she's watching him.

Anonymous said...

Why don´t you (md'a maybe) organize a list with some of the skandie´s voters to guide us, ordinary moviegoers, into the enchanted land of cinematic masterpieces? You could list/comment ten or twenty movies in some categories, such as all-time best pictures (long, shorts and documentaries), best acting, best writing, best directing, best scenes/shots, avant-garde, trashy, etc. It would be very didactic and useful to showing us the way through the celluloid jungle out there... It could be a weekly or monthly post, not to put much pressure on your schedules....

Please?!

Michael Casey said...

I don't want to read Mike D'Angelo reviews anymore. I want to see a Mike D'Angelo movie. When will one of those come out?

htfernandes said...

Agree with you, Casey. Enough thinking and enlightening, time to see some action! Matter of fact, I’m planning to finish later this year a story called “The man who dreamt of Mike D’Angelo”, which I intend to publish in my second book. Maybe Mr. D’Angelo could write the screenplay, and see what happens… Too bad it’s in Portuguese, but I can get a translation in proper English. I’d be glad to give it to you for free, MD’A, or pay you a symbolic amount, if you are serene enough to wait a year or so and want to give it shot (as if Malkovich were the screenwriter, not the protagonist, of Jonze´s movie). Maybe we could collaborate on the story itself…

What do you think?