Veteran filmmaker James Benning’s latest film is a fascinating look at Utah and its history, variously counterpointed by and linked to images of its landscape. Constructed from some 140 years of New York Times news stories read over formal, sometimes almost ethereal, shots of Utah scenery and historical sites, <i>Deseret</i> is an absorbing and enlightening chronicle. Its accounts of life in the Beehive State range from the mundane to the major, from the history of Native people and their rights to nuclear testing and cold fusion, but it especially explores Brigham Young's leadership of the Mormons, the formation of the state of Utah, and the power and struggles of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, as reported over the years with all the truth and bias that the newspaper renowned for “all the news that’s fit to print” represents.
Contrasting with the decidedly minimalist views of desert, mountains, and stark range land, <i>Deseret</i> poses questions about the establishment East versus the individualist West that persist to this day as well as issues of cultism, freedom, and state’s rights. Benning has long been noted for his intense observations of both American culture and our country’s landscapes. <i>Deseret</i> adds dramatically and insightfully to his oeuvre.
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