Flat is Beautiful

I’ve been late in catching up with Sadie Benning’s magnum opus to date (1998)–a 50-minute black-and-white video shot on both film and Pixelvision in Milwaukee, concentrating on the inner life of an androgynous 11-year-old girl–but it’s certainly everything I hoped it would be. It begins and ends with a montage of rusty urban landscapes that uncharacteristically recalls the work of her father, James Benning, but the really startling thing about this video is that all the characters wear strikingly painted, life-size masks, which gives a kind of surrealist overlay to the feeling of intimacy captured by Benning’s uses of Pixelvision. Her mode is still autobiographical/confessional, but the use of fiction gives her a lot more freedom, accounting for not only the masks but some animation as well. Gender issues are still at the forefront of her concerns, widened here to include the relations between family members and playmates as well as friends and lovers, and the lyricism of Benning’s angle of vision remains as weird and wonderful as ever. 57 min. Film Center, Art Institute, Columbus Drive at Jackson, Thursday, May 4, 7:30, 312-443-3737. –Jonathan Rosenbaum

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