Allensworth, the most recent from American structuralist filmmaker James Benning, is split into twelve five-minute static pictures, every chronicling one month of a calendar 12 months. Benning is an artist who, all through his long-running profession, frames American landscapes inside a inflexible temporal construction. His schematic approaches immediate inquires into the connection between landscapes and the social formation constructed round them. In Allensworth, length compels us—maybe even forces us—to check the photographs intently. Allensworth is a movie about surfaces and the truths we will or can’t gleam from their inspection. Spectatorship turns into a means of exploring the complicated histories contained inside seemingly unpolitical surfaces.
The neighborhood of Allensworth was established within the early-20th century as refuge from Jim Crow-era white supremacy. It was the primary city in California run by Black individuals. The city’s namesake was co-founder Colonel Allen Allensworth, an ex-slave and clergyman who died six years after the city’s institution. He was struck by a motorcyclist; no investigation decided whether or not it was a deliberate killing. Within the time after Allensworth’s dying, a deluge of misfortunes assailed the city, together with a drought and inadequate water provide. Past that, the close by railroad stopover refused to rent Allensworth residents, after which re-located to a predominantly white space, stranding Allensworth economically and geographically. Within the mid-Seventies, Allensworth had fallen into ruins with plans for future demolition. Nonetheless, it was as an alternative memorialized as a state park, with its derelict infrastructure reconstructed. None of this context is relayed in Benning’s film. There’s no historic exposition in any respect. As a substitute, Allensworth lingers on the plain, decontextualized photos of contemporary Allensworth and poses the questions: do surfaces comprise their histories? And the way does the previous imprint upon the current?
A lot of the film’s twelve pictures cowl landscapes composed with little-to-no staffage: exteriors of Allensworth’s buildings. For the primary few pictures, the photographs are so nonetheless they’re virtually mistakeable for pictures. Sound presents a fuller panorama of the neighborhood although, past the mono-directionality of the digicam’s eye. Sometimes, vehicles cruise by way of the background. There’s even a James Benning equal of a gotcha! second when the recurring chug of a locomotive is lastly matched by the practice’s visible counterpart, mirrored faintly in a constructing’s window. These faint, seemingly insignificant particulars would cross unnoticed in a non-durational model of Allensworth. Benning’s type highlights the little particulars which comprise a time and place.
The primary outlier shot in Allensworth is a classroom inside the place Religion Johnson reads poetry from Lucille Clifton. It’s a jarring addition. It feels constructed, whereas each different composition seems “pure” or, contradictorily sufficient (contemplating the whole lot of modern-day Allensworth is a reconstruction), “untouched.” In one other shot, Nina Simone’s “Blackbird” performs over a panorama. “Trigger your mama’s title was lonely/And your daddy’s title was ache,” she sings. That is the film’s closest tango with catharsis, explicitly pointing in the direction of the aching unhappiness Allensworth holds. An area of goals has change into a museum of previous goals. Allensworth additional this memorialization, bringing us farther from the goals of the previous within the hopes of sparking extra for the longer term.