Landscape Suicide | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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Landscape Suicide

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A landscapist among the structuralists, American independent James Benning returns to the regional emphases of his early films (his brilliant 1976 11 x 14 turned midwestern phenomenology into a maze of clockwork motifs) with this double murder portrait set to geographic accompaniment. Benning applies a formal mirror to his murderer pair--a disaffected California teenager and Wisconsin's notorious Ed Gein (grisly inspiration for The Texas Chainsaw Massacre)--and extends the metaphor to embrace the landscapes of their crimes. Unfortunately, Benning's mirror strategy is too rigid and predictable, though within the limits he sets he manages some deeply evocative images--landscapes wounded and in mourning, spattered by rain, eerily adrift in snow--and his sound track has been worked, as always, to aleatory perfection. The hard rock here is the simulated "interviews" with the two killers (though Rhonda Bell is remarkable as the teen); like a dutiful Calvinist, Benning insists on punishing his audience before ushering it to grace, and his trademark catatonic takes are enough to test the strongest backsides. But the landscapes (and ultimately Bell) have a way of eluding the excesses of form: they live and breathe achingly on their own. Benning will be present for the screening. (Chicago Filmmakers, 6 W. Hubbard, Saturday, February 7, 8:00, 329-0854)

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