Jamie Benning, an Englishman who edits live television broadcasts of auto races by day, spends all his nights pursuing his appreciation for Hollywood blockbusters of the 1970s and 80s — or at least I assume he does, given how much effort and enthusiasm obviously goes into his signature “filmumentaries,” long-form videos on the making of his favorite movies, packed with all the behind-the-scenes footage, storyboards, alternate takes, interviews, and every other bit and piece of media pertaining to the production on which he can lay his hands. Earlier this year, we featured his filmumentaries on the original Star Wars trilogy; today, we give you his filmumentarization of the work of Steven Spielberg, specifically Jaws and Raiders of the Lost Ark.
Even casual filmgoers will recognize these movies, and they’ll feel, shortly after pressing play on Benning’s Inside Jaws and Raiding the Lost Ark, as if they’ve just settled in to watch them again, though they’ll see them as they never have before. Serious film fans will, as the form of the filmumentary emerges, recognize the basis of the concept. Described as “visual commentaries,” these productions take the concept of the commentary track and step it up considerably, overlaying the original film’s soundtrack with the words of a veritable chorus of those who worked on it — actors (even some not ultimately cast), crew members, designers, producers, hangers-around — sourced and sometimes even recorded by Benning.
The lineup even includes Spielberg himself, who famously doesn’t record commentary tracks, but whose interviews given over the decades Benning credibly repurposes into their form. As we hear all this while watching these movies we know so well, we also see all manner of relevant footage related to their making, just the sort of avenue of cinephilic pleasure I once imagined the DVD player’s “angle” button would open up. The facts also keep flowing, in Raiding the Lost Ark, in the form of onscreen text, just like those older DVD releases that offered a separate subtitle track with pop-up production notes. Sample: “Due to difficult terrain, the donkeys had to be airlifted by helicopter to the shooting location.”
Spielberg has explained his refusal to do commentaries in terms of his reluctance to break the illusion he and his collaborators work so hard to create in their movies — a fair concern, but when I immerse myself in the rich oscillation between and mixture of illusion and reality, fiction and fact, movies and their making, the story and the stories behind pioneered by Benning’s filmumentaries, I feel ready to see a few more illusions so fascinatingly broken.
Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer, the video series The City in Cinema, the crowdfunded journalism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Angeles Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.