ROTTERDAM 2018: CRITICS’ CHOICE – READERS BY JAMES BENNING

This entry was posted on February 12th, 2018

By Tara Judah

This is not a film review.

A perfect pairing: the durational work of James Benning (Readers, 2017) and a dynamic, good-humoured video essay (Reading/Binging/Benning, Kevin B. Lee and Chloé Galibert, 2018) about how we watch and how we read.

Reading/Binging/Benning playfully looks at what’s available online in the way of visual and written material around James Benning’s latest feature, Readers (2017). Neither Lee nor Galibert had seen the film. As such, their essay asks how immaterial material can be used to build context or mount preconceptions. They also question why and how we watch; if we are willing to accept poor-quality YouTube rips? if we binge-watch in double time? or, if it’s true that we might see less but experience more in a theatrical setting? The answer is in air in the auditorium after Readers has screened.

Then there’s all the other stuff we do when we expand and contract the conversation around a film: we create, copy and contaminate. In a marvellously meta way the video essay tells us everything and nothing that we need to know: imagination and authenticity are equally elusive.

But it isn’t only an exercise in intellectualising art and its discursive arena. It’s energetic and signals the pace of media consumption, a fitting contrast to Benning’s feature and his contemplation of time.

I wasn’t sure before the screening if I’d write about the film, and after watching Lee and Galibert’s video essay, I’ve become unsure about how to. In writing about the screening, even if this isn’t a review, I am entering into the conversation (creating noise?), and even if I don’t want to participate in a culture of rousing or dampening desires to see the film, I might be. That sounds conceited. I’m sure I don’t hold that much sway.

This is what I love most about the Critics’ Choice programme – it is forever reflecting on context, commentary and conversation. It makes me think about being a critic. It makes me want to do better.

Confession time: I fell asleep during the screening.

Owing to the video essay and the internet, I think I know what I missed. The film plays out in four parts, of twenty-seven minutes each and, as I woke during the same section I drifted off in, I know, at least, that I was asleep for less than twenty-seven minutes.

Is that helpful?

My personal anecdote that doesn’t offer anything.

It is only a piece of information, like saying the film has four sections that are each twenty-seven minutes in duration. It is only how I understand my experience in a context related to a prescriptive, certainly not Benningesque exploration of time.

Is that helpful?

No.

Readers offers more.

I love that Benning gives the image the time it needs, the time I need.
He lets me project, and then asks me about what I watched.
I don’t have an answer for him, but it made me want to call my mother, ignore the internet, and find enough space in my life to sit down in silence and really read.