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JAMES BENNING

RR
USA, 2007, 16mm, 115 min

A Screening as Part of THE DEVIL,…
Saturday, January 25, 7pm at NWFC

For two and a half years, James Benning trespassed and filmed trains without permission. The act is not an unlikely one for Benning, who has spent his career making motion pictures of relatively motionless places. Responding to the economic and environmental histories of trains as the primary system of distribution in the last two American centuries, RR is a progression of static shots: an empty frame is filled with a train, its length passes the camera, and when one train leaves, a new shot is established and entered by another train’s entirety. This structural principle occurs 43 times in a wide stretch of the American landscape. As soon as the film begins to go down, almost without protest, as a landscape affair about the places delineated by and for the railroad, we see a mile long coal train pass through eastern Wyoming and hear Dwight D. Eisenhower’s Military-industrial complex speech from 1961, “In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.”

James Benning was born in 1942 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, during World War II “in a German working class community that sent its sons to fight their cousins. My father worked on the assembly line for a heavy industry corporation that was then building landing gear for the U.S. military. Later he became a self-taught building designer. I played baseball for the first 20 years of my life receiving a degree in mathematics while playing on a baseball scholarship. I dropped out of graduate school to deny my military deferment (my friends were dying in Viet Nam) and worked with migrant workers in Colorado teaching their children how to read and write. Later I helped start a commodities food program that fed the poor in the Missouri Ozarks. At the age of 33 I received an MFA from the University of Wisconsin where I studied with David Bordwell. For the next four years I taught filmmaking at Northwestern University, University of Wisconsin, University of Oklahoma and the University of California San Diego. In 1980 I moved to lower Manhattan making films with the aid of grant and German Television money. After eight years in New York I moved to Val Verde, California, where I currently reside teaching film/video at California Institute of the Arts. In the past twenty-five years I have completed fourteen feature length films that have shown in many different venues across the world.”

RR-01 1. Small town; sound of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.” Morgan, Utah 2. Desert; this is the only piggyback train (semi truck trailers on flat cars) in the film. Bagdad, California 3. Tennessee River Bridge; a fish jumps in the foreground about half way thru; two speed boats pass. Decatur, Alabama 4. City street crossing; mostly oil tanker cars. Winona, Minnesota 5. Dirt field; the train comes to a stop; half containers, half auto carriers. Angiola, California 6. White farm tanks; all box cars. Kearney, Nebraska 7. Amtrak; Pacific Ocean; the only passenger train in the film. Gaviota Beach, California 8. Crossing tower; this crossing (of North/South and East/West tracks) in Ohio is a famous place to watch trains; there is a Rail Fan park right at the crossing; box cars and tanker cars; a few empty flat cars. Deshler, Ohio 9. Caliente Curve. Caliente, California 10. Cement coal tower; a local landmark. Prichard, West Virginia 11. White building (dusk); very close up; this is the first container train. Ralston, Iowa 12. Truckee River; in winter with snow on the ground; auto train. Polaris, California 13. Bonnet Carre Causeway; this is where the Kansas City Southern line crosses the spillway from Lake Pontchartrain; the sound is from a 1991 Nolan Ryan no-hitter and then a Karen Carpenter Coke commercial from 1970. Laplace, Louisiana 14. Bonneville Salt Flat; container train. Wendover, Utah 15. Tehachapi Loop; the train loops over itself; the longest shot in the film; you see the same train twice; all grain hopper cars; almost all the same. Tehachapi, California 16. Small town; the train stops and starts again; sound of the wheels overcoming its own weight. Marion, Pennsylvania 17. Hudson River; only shot of a work truck riding the rails; sound of a Huey helicopter (from Vietnam) passing overhead; the river looks as if it is Vietnam. Bear Mountain, New York 18. Elburn Farm Coop; started as a communist coop in the early 1900s. Elburn, Illinois 19. Vetter Manufacturing building; family business from the early 1900s; lots of graffiti; old box cars; one of the cars is the same as from a train in 27 YEARS LATER; the box car is blue, green and red and very recognizable. Stevens Point, Wisconsin 20. Desert signal; two trains pass each other; the first carrying automobiles in enlarged white carriers called AutoMax; the second having many oil tankers. Amboy, California 21. Echo Canyon; old box cars and tankers. Emory, Utah 22. Keddie Wye; this is a famous railroad landmark in northern California. Keddie, California 23. Feather River Canyon; the train looks like a model; the sound is of Gregory Peck reading from Revelations in the King James Bible. Paxton, California 24. East Main St.; this is the only work train in the film; the train goes down the middle of the street. La Grange, Kentucky 25. Lake Pontchartrain Causeway; causeway was damaged in the 2005 hurricane and repaired. Slidell, Louisiana 26. Prairie; sound of coyote. Champlin, Utah 27. Kudzu; very green. Vicksburg, Mississippi 28. Weber Canyon; two tunnels and bridges; the trains ride the rails in the opposite direction as normal; that is right side is up and left is down. Taggarts, Utah 29. Helper engines; 6 engines returning from helping a coal train over the mountain. Helper, Utah 30. Great Salt Lake Causeway; famous landmark; 20 miles south of the Spiral Jetty. Lakeside, Utah 31. Cornfield; old box cars; off screen sound of road crossing signal. Hoytville, Ohio 32. Train yard; two trains; second one stops with a loud bang at end of shot. 33. Rice field; sound of Woody Guthrie singing the original version of This Land is Your Land; later the verse about private property was mysteriously dropped. Nelson, California 34. Tule River Bridge; river is covered with red algae. Blanco, California 35. Rat Hole; this is a nickname for an area of track in Kentucky that at one time had many tunnels; now there are just notches cut thru the rocky hillsides. This is the only example of a RoadRailer; that is, a special semi truck trailer that takes train wheels; so the whole train is just semi truck trailers held together by wheels; there are no flat cars like the piggyback trains. Tateville, Kentucky 36. Fog. Manor, Pennsylvania 37. Snow. Truckee, California 38. Coal train (flatland); a mile long coal train; sound of President Eisenhower delivering his farewell address (1961), warning the nation of the military/industrial complex. Lusk, Wyoming 39. Commuter train; the only commuter train in the film. Guerney, California 40. Old factory; a long train carrying automobiles. Milwaukee, Wisconsin 41. Rincon Beach; sound is NWA singing Fuck the Police. Seacliff, California 42. Wagner Mills. Schuyler, Nebraska 43. Wind farm; wind farm in background; old tires in foreground; the train comes to a halt. Palm Springs, California