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The Benning experience

James Benning retrospective

A look back at the work of one of the greatest figures of American independent cinema in 12 films: early films shot on film, and more recent films shot digitally.


Join us on Friday 29 March at 4:30pm for a discussion with James Benning.

11 x 14
Produced by James Benning | 1976 | United States | 83′

James Benning forms the basis for his practice at large, firmly cementing the measured structure and precise compositions that characterize his work. In a series of largely fixed-frame images, he captures distinct tableaux from Chicago and the surrounding area, training his lens on scenes both quotidian
and extraordinary.

13 Lakes
Produced by James Benning | 2004 | United States | 133′

13 lakes from across the United States are captured along with their environments in 13 ten-minute-long stretches. Sequences of black preface each scene as if explanatory intertitles or voids to cleanse the visual palate. The identities of the lakes are kept undisclosed as the film unfolds, removing bias and refocusing audiences’ attention to the on-screen waterscapes themselves.

American Dreams (lost and found)
Produced by James Benning | 1983 | United States | 55′

Ephemera and memorabilia centering on baseball legend Henry Aaron are at the forefront of American Dreams (lost and found). Here, they are seen juxtaposed against scrolling hand-written excerpts from the diary of Arthur Bremer—a Milwaukee man who plotted to assassinate US president Richard Nixon—and a soundtrack of significant political speeches and pop songs recorded between 1954 and 1976.

Produced by James Benning | 2023 | United States | 86′

« On November 28, 2023 I drove from my home in Pine Flat, CA across the Great Western Divide, down to the Upper Kern River. I came to film a tree. The leaves were orange. Within a few minutes stuff I hadn’t planned began to happen. I thought, oh shit. In the past few years a number of forest fires burned through this area. The stuff happening was due to this. I began to film. And then I was attacked from the air. War games. My film was to be a non-narrative the length of Godard’s Breathless, but I ended up with something else. It’s breathless. »

Four Corners
Produced by James Benning | 1997 | United States | 76′

The history and landscape of the junction where four US states—New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado and Utah—meet, doing so by means of four distinct artists—Vincent Van Gogh, Moses Tolliver, Yukuwa and Jasper Johns—and their biographies, forming an exploration of text, sound and imagery as they interface with place to become portraiture.

John Krieg Exiting the Falk Corporation in 1971
Produced by James Benning | 2010 | United States | 71′

James Benning appropriates a 14-second excerpt from his own film Time and a Half (the second-ever entry into his filmography), dissecting the scene to its constituent frames, and extrapolating them as gradually shifting overlays that shape a 71-minute musing on time, labor and narrative.

Landscape Suicide
Produced by James Benning | 1986 | United States | 92′

With two disparate murders as its subjects, the film compiles a wealth of information, both archival and reconstructed, to illuminate each case and the conditions that surrounded their protagonists. In presenting reports, staging reenacted testimonies and employing cityscapes and landscapes, Benning creates a portrait of personae and locale alike.

O Panama de James Benning et Burt Barr
Produced by James Benning | 1986 | United States | 28′

The protagonist is in the throes of a mid-winter fever dream, its scenes alternating between fiction and reality, conflating and intertwining the two to shape a singular, albeit fractured narrative. It constitutes the first and most overt of Benning’s engagements with fictional premises.

Produced by James Benning | 2017 | United States | 108′

Four subjects—a student, a writer, a professor and a dancer—each immersed in the act of reading. Not party to the targets of their attention, a viewer is invited to partake in an alternate act of reading: one of the film’s protagonists themselves, their unspoken languages of presentation, posture and movement.

Produced by Schaf oder Scharf Film and ZDF | 2009 | United States, Germany | 121′

The first of his works to be created outside of the United States, James Benning’s Ruhr features Germany’s largely industrial Ruhr region, expanding the filmmaker’s navigation of environment and observation, training his lens on a winding tunnel, a steel foundry, the area’s wilderness, mosque-goers in prayer, a graffiti-laden wall, a residential street and a smokestack.

Produced by James Benning | 2018 | United States | 18′

A filmed tribute to Sam Shepard, executed by Benning as a single fixed frame in which gently swaying treetops are set against rolling cloud cover. Scored by the ambience of the camera’s wooded surroundings, brief spoken and sung interludes act as affecting dedications that punctuate the scene’s solitude.

Stemple Pass
Produced by James Benning | 2012 | United States | 123′

The film builds upon James Benning’s long-time engagement with the life and history of “Unabomber” Ted Kaczynski, and features the replica of Kaczynski’s cabin that Benning constructed in the Sierra Nevada. This cabin is pictured as the seasons pass, intermittently overlaid with Benning’s recitations of five passages from Kaczynski’s own writings.

two moons
Produced by James Benning | 2018 | United States | 42′

Capturing the trajectory of Earth’s rising moon on a consecutive pair of winter nights, the film serves as a pensive, nearly mathematical demonstration of a celestial phenomenon often regarded as commonplace. Here Benning turns his camera not to the American landscape, but to a new, otherworldly frontier.

The United States of America
Produced by James Benning | 1975 | United States | 27′

In 1975, James Benning and Bette Gordon drove from New York to Los Angeles, documenting the process in a series of brief, real-time tableaux that would become their joint film The United States of America. Radio news, advertisements or pop music soundtracks their road trip, while a diversity of scenery gradually passes their forward-facing camera.

Produced by James Benning | 2021 | United States | 103′

1975’s The United States of America serves as the point of departure for this film. Rather than being a reiteration of the earlier work, it showcases vistas now contained within fixed frames. 52 shots—one for each state, plus Washington, D.C. and Puerto Rico—document one of Benning’s most ambitious undertakings to date.