Landscape Suicide (1987)
1h 35min · Crime, Drama · 17 September 1987
In "Landscape Suicide" Benning continues his examination of Americana through the stories of two murderers. Ed Gein was a Wisconsin farmer and multiple murderer who taxidermied his victims in the 1950s. Bernadette Prott was a California teenager who stabbed a friend to death over an insult in 1984. Benning's distanced approach to such grisly material is as far removed as possible from sensationalism, however. Although the acts of murder are both bizarre and violent, Benning dwells on them only minimally, emphasizing instead the details of psychological motivation, which in both cases seem frighteningly mundane. Benning has created a script which is a masterpiece of understated colloquial writing, and the actors he employs to re-enact confessional testimony and incidents recounted in trial transcripts perform with a flatly convincing lack of affect reminiscent of Gary Gilmore. The two monologues are embedded in Benning's characteristic meditations of landscape: long shots of the Wisconsin farmlands, general stores, dirt roads and pick-up trucks, and the carefully tended lawns, swimming pools, sprawling bungalows and malls of the middle-class California suburb. These images are offered in the classically spare mise-en-scene which Benning has perfected in his work as a cinematic poet of the contemporary American environment. Here, in his most accessible film so far, the beautiful, open vistas are dense with the significance of the catastrophes they engendered
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