Double Play

‘Double Play’

Nearly a year after winning an award for Best Documentary on Cinema in Venice, Gabe Klinger’s Double Play: James Benning and Richard Linklater opens tonight at New York’s Anthology Film Archives accompanied by screenings of a selection of films by both subjects. In the L, Jordan Cronk particularly recommends catching Benning’s 11 x 14 (1976) tonight, suggesting that it “solidified a methodology which Benning, an observational cinema pioneer and one of the pillars of the American avant-garde, has spent much of his subsequent four decades refining…. In its fascination with the durational and physical elements of the environment and their relation to societal stasis and spiritual serenity, Benning’s film has bred descendants as obvious as Denis Côté and as unlikely as Richard Linklater.”

“Casting is a part of documentary as much as of fiction,” writes Nicolas Rapold in the New York Times, “and simply by engaging the director of Boyhood (Mr. Linklater) and the avant-garde creator of the landscape portrait series 13 Lakes (Mr. Benning), Mr. Klinger spotlights their shared interests in exploring time and memory from multiple angles.”

Double Play “centers on a week spent by filmmakers Benning and Linklater near the former’s country house outside Austin, Texas,” notes Steve Macfarlane in Slant. “While Linklater has enjoyed considerable critical and commercial success in his quarter century of filmmaking, the elder Benning is an outlier auteur… Any viewer’s understandable surprise at the two men’s friendship gives way as Klinger establishes Linklater’s history as co-founder of the Austin Film Society, including footage of an introduction he gives Benning—and his films—at the Alamo Drafthouse. The result is an ambling, but never rambling, journey backward into both of their memories, refracted through each man’s experience of cinema.”

“Ideas, plans, and reminiscences bandy between Benning and Linklater as casually as the unfolding of their films,” writes Michael Joshua Rowin in the L. “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.”

Double Play is first and foremost a film made with humility and affection,” writes Carson Lund. “The conversations shared here… are marked by a relaxed sense of chivalry…. The two may poke at each other (Benning’s comment about the manipulative nature of modern crosscutting seems at least partially an attempt to provoke his lunch companion, and the same goes for Linklater’s retort that slow cinema is inherently just as manipulated) but ultimately they are pacifists recognizing the fact that they are at similar junctures in life and relishing an opportunity to share their feelings and memories with one another.”

In the Voice, Amy Nicholson notes that “both give off the prickly energy of artists who would rather create than explain. They’re more comfortable asking one another questions, even though the answers are shrugged off humbly. Linklater, in particular, cannot take a compliment.”

“It all seems a bit lightweight,” finds Dan Girmus at In Review Online, but at USA Today, Whitney Matheson heartily recommends catching Double Play: “Among the doc’s delightful lessons are that, no matter how old or successful we become, our friends and heroes always have something new to teach us.”

Double Play will roll on to Denver (Monday), London (July 26 and 27), Melbourne (August 1 and 3), Columbus (August 5), Seattle (August 8 through 14) and Toronto (August 23).

Meantime, Gabe Klinger has just introduced his first video essay in the Notebook. He was 17 when he made it in 1999: “I like to think it was Eyes Wide Shut, the film that resembled nothing else in the multiplex that summer and which carried with it a myriad of secret histories, that set me off on a path where I met the Jean-Luc Godard of Histoire(s) du cinema. These were projects that shattered my perceptions about how one approaches film and film history, and influenced nearly everything that I did or tried to do for the next fifteen years.”

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