Double Play: James Benning and Richard Linklater
Directed by Gabe Klinger
Gabe Klinger’s documentary is a portrait of a couple of cinematic outsiders, James Benning and Richard Linklater. Aside from their camaraderie and mutual admiration (Benning was the young Linklater’s first choice for visiting filmmaker when the latter founded the Austin Film Society in the mid-80s), it’s initially difficult to discern what commonalities the two possess: Benning is a hardcore avant-gardist best known for static, ultra-slow long take studies of landscapes and quotidian actions (13 Lakes, Ten Skies, RR, Twenty Cigarettes), while Linklater has situated his formal experimentation within the parameters of dialogue-heavy bohemian anti-narratives (Slacker, Before Sunrise, Waking Life). Klinger reveals points of convergence, however, as he follows JB and RL during the former’s latest Film Society visit as well as in a series of free-flowing conversations, editing suite drop-ins, and athletic sparring sessions—if you’ve ever wanted to see the director of One Way Boogie Woogie take a spill while attempting to snag a fly ball, you’ve come to the right place.
Ideas, plans, and reminiscences bandy between Benning and Linklater as casually as the unfolding of their films. What aligns them, we discover, is autodidacticism: not only did both master cinema outside film school, but both found movies relatively late after non-artistic beginnings (Linklater dropped out of college and worked on an oil rig, Benning studied mathematics and engaged in social work). Their shared interest in non-traditional storytelling—or, often in the case of Benning, non-storytelling—was never sullied by early industry indoctrination, and Klinger provides insightful film essay-esque examples of surprising overlapping themes and motifs from their work: Benning’s perception-expanding patience and Linklater’s long view on aging in his three Before films and the recent Boyhood; a melancholic appreciation for the national pastime in the former’s American Dreams (Lost and Found) and the latter’s Bad News Bears (both filmmakers went to school on baseball scholarships). Experimental purists may chafe at comparisons of Linklater to Benning, while indie fans may remain miffed by Benning’s oblique strategies, but that’s not Double Play’s fault: if this gently illuminating doc proves anything it’s that different corners of the cinematic universe can be easily bridged, especially through friendship.
July 18-24 at Anthology Film Archives