El Valley Centro

James Benning’s 1999 feature consists of 35 shots, each two and a half minutes long, filmed in direct sound with a stationary camera in California’s Central Valley. The final credits identify each shot according to its subject, the owner of the land, and the locationa token gesture to politicize a survey whose principal interest is formal. The overall effect is of an arrangement of attractive same-size boxes neatly stacked together but not in any particular order. Some are attractive enough and sufficiently mysterious to suggest Joseph Cornell’s surrealist boxes, and at times Benning creates some formal suspense out of the shots’ duration, but the film suffers from a certain repetitiousness, such as the recurrent use of the same horizon line. (JR)

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