Thursday, July 22, 2010

James Benning - Grand Opera (1978)


A transitional film at the end of his first decade of filmmaking, James Benning’s Grand Opera introduces a degree of storytelling to his previously more formalist devices. Benning calls the film his “first attempt at writing my own kind of history” and, in a sense, it also serves to write himself into history, acutely measuring his place as a Midwestern experimental filmmaker, then based in Oklahoma, in relationship to the avant-garde scene situated in New York. The film thus features homages to the prominent experimental cinema of the time, including a spoof of Wavelength, as well as cameos from Michael Snow, Hollis Frampton and Yvonne Rainer. Woven with these sequences are other characteristic Benning gambits – a compilation of every house he ever lived in, a preoccupation with the history of Pi, and the looming threat that a building will explode.


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