In the rarefied world of structuralist remakes, James Benning’s “One Way Boogie Woogie/27 Years Later” probably leads the pack. Primitively funny and cumulatively hypnotic, this is mischievous comic relief for progressive fests, the museum circuit and skeptics who doubt the presence of comedy in the form.
Fearing the imminent destruction of the Milwaukee industrial valley of his childhood, James Benning shot 60-minute-long narratives during March 1977. Self-described “surrealist little stories” featured family, friends, three German-made station wagons and his revered gifts for composition and patience. In 2003, as he dryly put it, “I shot the same film again,” reclaiming identical static camera set-ups to examine the durability of these urban vistas. Players have grown, some have passed away. A few buildings are gone, others persevere. Though known for their dependability, the autos have disappeared. An American flag has faded and frayed. Seen back to back, separated by a green screen, the effect of nearly three decades of change is both thrilling and soothing. Shooting on two distinct 16mm stocks, overlaying sounds of the early era to pictures of the new, Benning’s painterly eye and droll wit remain reassuringly, eternally intact.