Double Play: James Benning and Richard Linklater (2013)

Directed by Gabe Klinger


Double Play is a loose documentary about the friendship between filmmakers James Benning and Richard Linklater.  It’s loose in the sense that there’s not much of a point other than to hang out with two friends as they reflect on their friendship and talk about movies.  For some people, like me, that’s more than enough, but others may find it a little tedious.

There is nothing dramatic or all that engaging about this movie unless you already have an interest in these figures or what they talk about.  In that way it is like a Richard Linklater film.  We just hang out with the two men as they have slightly rambling conversations about life, time and film.

James Benning is an experimental filmmaker whose works eschew narrative, a device he sees as yet another barrier to representing the real world (This might be the first time I’ve ever used the word ‘eschew’ and damn it feels good, assuming I used it correctly).  Linklater’s films are much closer to the standard narratives you expect from movies, but he is certainly known for playing around with time and an often loose or nonexistent plot.

Both filmmakers approach cinema from a similar perspective as their films try to deconstruct the medium rather than to mimic what has come before.  The film, through a use of interviews, conversations and old footage, highlights how each director’s work has remained innovative throughout their careers.  While Benning plays with time, most notably through his use of extremely long, static shots of nature which force you to really stare at the image, Linklater’s films play with time within a narrative context, and he’s also dabbled in animation (Waking LifeA Scanner Darkly) and more experimental films like Tape.

The point is that both filmmakers are more or less Hollywood outsiders.  Linklater resides in Austin, where the two meet through the course of the documentary, and where he started the Austin Film Society back in the 1980s.  Back then Linklater invited James Benning to be the first guest speaker, and that’s when their friendship began.

Both directors are former baseball players, and they compare the artistic drive to the training that went into their athletic careers.  As we watch them interact, they hit around a baseball and play basketball, just highlighting the idea that these are two creative spirits who can never really sit still.  Even their conversation feels very alive.

Look, if you’re a fan of either director, you’re going to love this.  It’s fascinating to get a brief inside look to what makes them tick.  I enjoyed listening to Benning describe how just about all of life is a memory since the present is only ever a single point– basically, it’s fascinating to see how much thought goes into his films which are mostly just static shots of the world around us.  One of them, 13 Lakes, is just a series of 13 ten-minute long shots of lakes.  As Linklater notes in an interview with Benning at the Austin Film Society, it’s not often that we just stare at something around us for ten minutes.  Benning’s seemingly simple construction forces us to do that.

As for Linklater, we see a glimpse into his production offices as he and editor Sandra Adair show some of the footage of his (at the time) unreleased film, Boyhood.  He describes some of the thought that went into his 12-year film to a curious Benning.

Double Play is short, only about 70 minutes, and not a lot happens.  Still, it’s incredibly engaging to watch for any aspiring filmmaker, just to hear their thought processes and certainly for a fan of either director.  It’s also kind of heartwarming to watch them interact and recall the time they first met 25 years before.  They’re clearly kindred spirits, and even if you don’t identify in any way with them or their ways of thinking, I think it’s easy to appreciate their friendship.  We all want to have friendships like the one shared by these two guys, based on a shared, intense curiosity about something they have each devoted their lives to.

Up Next: Sweet Smell of Success (1957), Hunt for the Wilderpeople (2016), Downsizing (2017)

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