Gabe Klinger's Double Play: James Benning and Richard Linklater centers on a week spent by filmmakers Benning and Linklater near the former's country house outside Austin, Texas. While Linklater has enjoyed considerable critical and commercial success in his quarter century of filmmaking, the elder Benning is an outlier auteur better embraced by students of fine art and the avant-garde. Any viewer's understandable surprise at the two men's friendship gives way as Klinger establishes Linklater's history as co-founder of the Austin Film Society, including footage of an introduction he gives Benning—and his films—at the Alamo Drafthouse. The result is an ambling, but never rambling, journey backward into both of their memories, refracted through each man's experience of cinema—whether it's the original screenings organized by Linklater, or the many projects undertaken by either in the interceding years. (Klinger opens with quotes from Benning on our experience of the present as a fixed point, intercut with illuminating nuggets from Linklater's early 8mm or pixel-cam shorts.)
While hiking, playing catch or just drinking coffee, Benning and Linklater discuss how they got into the movie business, their preferred approaches and techniques, and fun anecdotes from their respective early days. These chats are what sets Double Play's tone, with Klinger (along with cinematographer Eduard Grau) picking up on threads of conversation instead of staging them. Whatever Klinger's behind-the-scenes prompting, the film hits the sweet spot: Benning and Linklater are totally comfortable being filmed, yet there's not a whit of affect to their roundabout conversational divergences. Benning's mysterious psychic travelogues into American history are given equal representation as Linklater's form-bucking walking-and-talking movies, but Benning seems most beguiled with the younger director's radical experimentation with time and distance in the narrative format. When he offers that, with Before Midnight, Linklater is "stripping film of its manipulativeness and letting duration play out meaning," Linklater somewhat embarrassedly proposes that it's just a different flavor of manipulation from, say, that of an action film.
Benning traces cultural and industrial scions of the American landscape; Linklater is less bizarre, but certainly no less American than Ted Kaczynski, whose cabin Benning rebuilt and whose diary he read aloud for his Stemple Pass. As Linklater invites the master filmmaker into his editing room on the cusp of completing Boyhood, it becomes clear that Double Play is a heretofore consideration of the arc of Linklater's career, and—it's implied but not said—also of Benning's influence on him. (It's not hard to imagine movie geeks at the Alamo disappointed to find Linklater, who has always straddled studio and independent models with remarkable dexterity, passionately stumping for Benning's 10-plus-minute still shots of ocean waves roiling around the edges of islands.) Between their wildly different bodies of work, a shared appeal emerges: to stop, look, listen, and consider not just what's in front of you, but also where it came from and where it might be going—all with the caveat that you may never be able to understand these moments, but merely remember them.