James Benning – Sogobi (2001)


As soon as Los was completed I added Sogobi to make it a trilogy, the urban and rural portraits needed the Californian wilderness to put them in perspective. Following the same structure Sogobi would look and listen to that wilderness. The first shot of Sogobi would relate to the last shot of Los, and the last shot of Sogobi would return to the first shot of El Valley Centro, revealing its mystery. The entire trilogy would become an interrelated puzzle.

James Benning, December 2001

Coming after the spectacular El Valley Centro and Los, Sogobi is a colossal disappointment. James Benning is the most methodical, careful and mathematically precise of film-makers, so it’s baffling that he should abandon the logical progression established in the first two parts of his California trilogy. Centro examined California’s farming heartland. Los explored the greater LA county, and skirted around the edge of the city itself. Surely the next step should have been to tackle Los Angeles in all its garish, terrible splendour, providing a filmic counterpart to Mike Davis’ books of dystopian polemicism, ‘Ecology of Fear’ and ‘City of Quartz.’ Continue reading

James Benning – Two Cabins (2011)

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Between July, 2007 and June, 2008, veteran independent film-maker,James Benning built replicas of two iconic American Cabins in a remote part of the High Sierras- Henry David Thoreau’s hut from Walden Pond and the one-room plywood shack in rural Montana from which Theodore John Kaczynski (the ‘Unabomber’) conducted his 16-year bombing campaign via the U.S. mail. The juxtaposition of these two simple structures invokes and implicates deeply conflicted and enduring foundational American myths concerning the scope and meaning of personal liberty, civic responsibility and the rule of law; individual conscience, democracy and civil disobedience; the transcendental value of nature, wilderness and the god-given right to exploit natural resources; American exceptionalism, environmental conservationism and faith in technological progress; the imperative to make oneself (anew), to ’succeed’ and, if necessary, to secede.
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James Benning – Twenty Cigarettes (2011)

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Naked Repose: A Conversation with James Benning about “Twenty Cigarettes”

Written by Darren Hughes

Published on 07 October 2011
James Benning

“The guard is down and the mask is off, even more than in lone bedrooms where there’s a mirror. People’s faces are in naked repose down in the subway.” —Walker Evans

“So, have you ever smoked?” I laughed when James Benning asked me this question at the end of our conversation. “Honestly, I’ve probably smoked about twenty cigarettes,” I told him. “I’m a child of the 70s and 80s. Nancy Reagan told me to say ‘no.'” That was almost the full extent of our discussion of smoking, despite the fact that Benning’s feature-length video, Twenty Cigarettes, is constructed solely of portraits of smokers. The duration of each of the twenty shots is determined by the length of time it takes each subject to light, smoke, and discard a cigarette. Benning composed each shot, staged the person in front of a flat backdrop, and then walked away from the camera. Continue reading

James Benning – North on Evers (1992)

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from link
In NORTH ON EVERS (1991) James Benning takes the road movie seriously, making his circular trip across the U.S. a marvelously photographed, intensely felt, and disturbing portrait of contemporary America. In many ways, this recent film is a departure of Benning’s earlier films which are characterized, at times, by extremely long, carefully planned takes and a minimal narrative approach. In NORTH ON EVERS, the shots are kept short with a narrative that is direct and detailed, like a diary or a long series of postcards to a friend. What this work shares with the other films is a dry wit and a deep interest in the American social landscape. Continue reading