Neil Young’s Film Lounge – The California Trilogy by James Benning

Published on: March 23rd, 2004

El Valley Centro (first shown 22 January 2000, Sundance Film Festival)

Los (26th October 2001, Vienna Film Festival)

Sogobi (7th February 2002, International Forum, Berlin Film Festival)

I began El Valley Centro in November of 1998; I was driving through the Great Central Valley looking for places to film. I wasn’t going to start shooting for at least six months; I wanted to just look and listen to get to know the Valley well before I would make images. But almost immediately I came across an oil well fire with flames high into the sky. I returned home for my Bolex and Nagra. Determined that landscape is a function of time, I let a full roll of 16mm film (100 feet) run through the camera. At that moment I knew I would make a portrait of The Great Central Valley using 35 two and a half minute shots.

Nearing the completion of El Valley Centro, I began planning an urban companion piece, Los, that was to be a portrait of Los Angeles. It seemed logical, for the politics of water certainly run from the Valley to the City. Los would have the same structure as El Valley Centro and would look and listen with the same intensity. The two films would be connected with the last shot of El Valley Centro pumping water out of the Valley over Wheeler Ridge while the first shot of Los would show Mulhollands first spillway (still in use) bringing water into LA.

As soon as Los was completed I added Sogobi to make it a trilogy, the urban and rural portraits needed the Californian wilderness to put them in perspective. Following the same structure Sogobi would look and listen to that wilderness. The first shot of Sogobi would relate to the last shot of Los, and the last shot of Sogobi would return to the first shot of El Valley Centro, revealing its mystery. The entire trilogy would become an interrelated puzzle.

James Benning, December 2001

27th April, 2002