The blog of author Dennis Cooper

James Benning Day


‘Employing neither psychologised stories nor non-objectivist abstractions, James Benning’s approach to narrativity does not fit within the history of narrative cinema, nor with much canonical avant-garde work, and can pose an interpretative challenge to the spectator. For the first-time viewer of any of these films, the immediate impression is of radical, almost unnerving stillness generated by the long takes from a fixed camera position. Benning’s consistent exploration of cinematic duration, his painstaking mapping out of a space over time, suggests that his work can be easily contextualised in the history of long take cinema, along with Straub-Huillet, Ophuls, Welles and others.

‘However, Benning’s work cannot be fully explained by theories of the long take as they relate to forms of narrative cinema, such as those of Bazin or Mitry, as the eschewal of narrative continuity and dramatic elements, particularly characters, militates against either the long take aesthetic (viz Bazinian realism) or the synthesis theory of montage and long take (as proposed by Mitry). However, in the narrower context of experimental filmmaking, Benning’s interest, in P. Adams Sitney’s words, in “film that insists on its shape”, invites descriptors like “structuralist” and “minimalist”, and the choice of long takes becomes part of the para-cinematic refutation of dominant cinematic codes (like the highly conventionalised notion of the post-modern audience “attention span”). Benning does not consider himself a structural filmmaker, believing he has “more to say” than those detached formalist experiments generally do, and explains this method of prolonged shots as a means to investigate place.

‘With his mathematics background, his structuralism manifests in the invocation of rigorous compositional logic – the films of the California trilogy, for example, being composed of 35 shots of 2.5 minutes length – “pose questions” and “solve problems”. Benning’s long takes therefore become understandable as an authorial strategy for the organisation of documentary materials and for interrogating the act of seeing. After several minutes of looking at a single shot, the effect on the viewer is powerful. The formal elegance of the compositions somehow becomes surreal over time, as we look into, instead of at, the place. This tendency locates Benning in the history of experimental filmmakers concerned with interrogating visual perception.

‘Benning’s landscape works, with their meticulous, reverential compositions, have been located in the history of American realist painting and photography, and also belong to the tradition of American nature writing. It is impossible to observe natural landscapes anywhere without some acknowledgement of the grim reality of human development and profiteering on wilderness, and Benning’s work is shot through with both a deep respect and love of nature, and a quiet sense of sadness at the devastation so regularly encountered. But he avoids essayism, or polemic, preferring instead critique by quotation, such as in the carefully inserted shots of ravaged landscapes, livestock and abattoir and other evidence of human despoilment that recur throughout his oeuvre. His is a restrained ecocriticism, “a certain political meaning” expressed through multivalent American symbols. Not for Benning the heroic American modernism of some of the avant-garde masters, but a different idea of wild places, less about individual expressivity and transcendentalism, and more about observation, time and consideration, no less sacred.’ — collaged





James Benning @ IMDb
James Benning interviewed by Neil Young
‘James Benning’s Art of Landscape: Ontological, Pedagogical, Sacrilegious’
‘Crossing Paths: Jon Jost on James Benning’
‘Life in Film: James Benning’s Favorite Films’
James Benning: 500 Words @ Artforum
Jonathan Rosenbaum on Benning’s California Trilogy
Book: JB & Liam Gillick ‘Drawing With Your Eyes Closed’
James Benning’s Hit List
‘Nudging the Mind: James Benning’s 13 Lakes’
James Benning interviewed @ filmkritik
James Benning’s films @ Canyon Cinema



James Benning driving and talking about America

James Benning checking on his military flat enamel kit

The opening of James Benning’s retrospective @ Jeu de Paume

Chantal Akerman’s homage to James Benning



from Senses of Cinema


Danni Zuvela: James, there are so many words people use to describe this kind of non-commercial film work – experimental, avant-garde, underground – all terms that have different but overlapping connotations and usages.

I’d like to frame today’s conversation in terms of “artist filmmaking”, and why film seems to be among the most marginalised artforms.

James Benning: Artist filmmakers are on the margins. I mean, there’s a number who have made a career out of it but even they tend to be marginalised. Nobody’s making any money out of it. Those wh
o do become well known are often known for their theory, which helps their films become known. People like Hollis Frampton, who wrote a lot – I think that helped his work become better known.

DZ: Artist filmmakers don’t fit into the industrial film world, but then they are ignored by the art world as well.

JB: They’re in-between! It’s the non-commodity status of the work; it doesn’t have a “value” in either world. If you’re an artist in any other medium, you find a gallery and have hopes of making a decent living. A few do climb to the top of that pyramid to make a living. I’ve never really made money from my work, unless it’s an installation.

DZ: Can you talk to me a little about your approach as an artist?

JB: When I first started out I didn’t know what art was. My definition of art was drawing and painting and stuff…what I did think was art wasn’t really art at all – it was the stuff I’d seen in arts and crafts festivals. Then once I got serious with film, I realised art has this conceptual side to it, which I’d never thought about, but made sense.

Now I think of myself as an artist who happens to use film, and I approach my work as an artist solving problems. I set up problems and try to solve them in an artistic and creative way and hope to find an audience, hope that someone will find it interesting…

It may be that it’s no different for any other artist, but it seems especially difficult for film artists. I’ve been in four Whitney Biennials. A painter only has to be in two to become self-sufficient, but for a film artist, that recognition seems of little benefit. Anybody that’s interested in the arts should be interested in my films – they have the same concerns as other work in the visual arts.

DZ: Can you talk to me a little about the way audiences engage with your films, and what sort of changes you’ve noticed in audiences over the years – have they become more receptive to fine art film? When your films were first shown, was that in a context of people having seen work they could reference yours to, like Michael Snow’s and Hollis Frampton’s?

JB: Back in the ’70s those works still weren’t seen by general audiences. I think most of those early screenings took place with just a few people in the room. A few very interested people, but they weren’t huge audiences, or even big – more just a small, art crowd. I don’t think most people would have seen Snow or Warhol’s work, though they might have been aware of it. That awareness tended to come later.

Over time film audiences have become more sophisticated. They’ve been to film schools and other venues where they could see work that’s different to dominant cinema. Unfortunately those places, those venues, are drying up – many places that used to show experimental film have gone out of business, or they’ve changed to become more accessible. That’s in the US, of course – I think the audience is even larger, and growing, in Europe – in Germany, Austria, England, my work’s played to large audiences who seem very receptive to what I’m trying to do.

DZ: Why do you think that might be?

JB: Oh, I don’t know – it’s more exotic than images of their home country perhaps, or maybe there’s less attention, less drive to make narrative works than in the US.

DZ: But your work is narrative, in a way.

JB: Yes, it’s experimental narrative…it’s non-conventional, for narrative. I think it’s about patience too – Europeans seem to be more patient with films, to have more understanding of the concerns and what I’m doing. I found they’re very poetic in the way they talk about films with me, the way they describe films. In Germany I found people would actually take in details about images…if somebody notices the frost melting on the grass in one of my shots, for example, I get very excited that they’re watching so closely. I find that the people who get bored aren’t able to describe anything they’ve seen in the image, because they haven’t worked hard enough at noticing things within the film.


17 of James Benning’s 58 films

Bnsf (2013)
‘Trains come and go. Without any passengers, they measure the broad expanse of the US land- scape. RR stands for railroad, as seen on signs at level crossings in the USA. BNSF is a long-established US railway company. At the end of the 19th century, the Amer- ican railway was considered the epitome of technical progress. Old Europe looked on in astonishment at the innovations rapidly devel- oping on the other side of the Atlantic. Today, goods traffic is still an evocative symbol of the transnational and transcontinental trade that constitutes capital- ist merchandise management. For two years James Benning collected shots of trains across the USA. Many of the images were produced on his trips to Robert Smithson’s Spiral Jetty. Scene flows into scene, image into image. The shot remains con- stant, it is only the train that moves through the picture. The sounds are often authentic, but between the twittering of birds and the whistles of the locomo- tives one hears a radio commen- tary of a baseball game, Eisenhower’s 1961 farewell address, an excerpt from the song This Land Is Your Land or a 1970 Coca Cola advertisement. In 2007, together with the film casting a glance (dedicated to Robert Smithson’s Spiral Jetty), which was produced at the same time, RR was the last film that James Benning shot on 16 mm. After this he went over to digital film production in HD.’ — Kunsthaus Graz

the entire film


Easy Rider (2012)
‘James Benning’s Easy Rider is a re-creation of Dennis Hopper’s 1969 classic film by the same name. For his 2012 film, Benning drove across the United States and re-filmed scenes in their original locations, raising questions about the legacy of 1960s counterculture in America’s landscape today.’ — Whitney Museum of American Art

the entire film


Faces (2011)
‘In its notes on the series James Benning: New Work, the Museum calls his Faces an “unexpected venture into the world of ‘found footage’ filmmaking.” As Benning explains, albeit in German at the Museum’s site, he’s reconstructed Cassavetes’s Faces in such a way that 1) it’s comprised entirely of shots of single faces, 2) each actor and actress is on screen as long as he or she is in the original and 3) each scene is exactly as long as it is in the original. So, to take Benning’s example, if a scene lasts half an hour and Gena Rowlands is in that scene half the time, then we will see Rowlands for 15 minutes and then the other two characters in that scene. This reconstruction, he notes, remains steadfastly true to its title.’ — mubi



20 Cigarettes
‘James Benning is known for his work chronicling landscapes, with people often being absent or confined to the margins of his work. Twenty Cigarettes however brings people to the centre. Benning structures the film by asking each of the twenty participants to smoke a cigarette, each shot lasts as long as it takes for this to happen. The smokers are therefore controlling duration and the cinematic frame through the choices they make in how they are going to move through the frame. The twenty participants are all friends of Benning and include the film maker Sharon Lockhart. benning provides us with not only space but also time to be aware of our own viewing, the self consciousness of the smokers on film only being mirrored by that of the viewer.’ — AVFestival

the entire film

James Benning answers questions about ’20 Cigarettes’


Two Cabins (2011)
‘Benning reconstructed Henry David Thoreau’s and Ted Kaczynski’s iconic cabins, and uses these structures to reflect on utopian and dystopian versions of social isolation. Mounted on the walls of each cabin are copies of paintings by so-called outsider artists, also made by Benning. On the surface Benning’s two cabins are night and day, invoking contradictory sets of reclusive intentions and divergent paths leading back out. Deeper inquiry reveals the Thoreau / Kaczynski equation to be inspired. Benning’s engagement makes discernable a multitude of contacts between their motivations, beliefs, and experiences of seclusion. Benning’s armature artfully unfolds a complex articulation of practices of dissent, nonprescriptive ways of living, and the politics of solitude.’ — motto distribution

the entire film


Small Roads (2011)
‘The first 12 shots, set in the Golden State (where Benning lives and teaches, at CalArts), shift almost imperceptibly from the Pacific coast to the parched environs of Trona. A shot with saguaro trees immediately signals a shift to Arizona, underlined by two speeding border-patrol vehicles that suddenly rush past the camera. A view of New Mexico’s White Sands offers a startling contrast of white horizon and azure sky, while a subsequent string of shots through the South and Midwest (including Texas, Missouri, Mississippi, Arkansas, Louisiana, Illinois and Wisconsin) allow Benning to explore the textures and moods of lush forests, the contrasts between hills and flatlands on either sides of certain roads and the volatile changeability of weather. Radically non-narrative though it may be, Benning’s work elicits profound states of meditation and involvement; “Small Roads” can perhaps be seen as the product of what happens when a motorcycling filmmaker, which Benning is, gets out on the remote blacktop. Less clear is how the helmer, in the course of shifting from 16mm to digital, manipulates his shots, increasing or decreasing colors, contrasts and even the speed of movements; pic’s masterful control of tech elements is the result of a thoroughgoing embrace of digital’s visual and audio capabilities.’ — Variety

the entire film


Ruhr is Benning’s second HD work after the minute-long Viennale trailer Fire & Rain, a corner he seems to have been forced into (by declining standards in 16mm lab work and projection), but one as exciting as it may be disquieting. Here: seven shots in two hours (ranging from 7 to 60 minutes); no restrictions imposed on duration by the length of film reels, or an obligation to heed the camera’s ontological impression of reality. Ruhr severs, for the first time in Benning’s work, the shot’s temporal relationship between what was there and what’s projected, in the same way Kiarostami cut up four months of footage into 28 minutes for the final shot of Five (2003). No longer does the canvas merely depict what the traveller saw. Ruhr is perhaps best described, in Mark Peranson’s words, as a “reality-directed document”: a concrete, revelatory study of place, but also an intricate act of betrayal.’ — mubi




‘Is RR an observation or a comment, a film of trains or a film about railroading in America? For nearly two hours James Benning is content to sit with his camera and watch trains pass, and the answer is probably all that and quite a bit more. Whatever RR is, the chances are slight that another movie will make it onto a big screen in Los Angeles this year boasting a director-cast relationship (and let’s not hold it against these wonderful players just because they’re made of metal) as perfectly dynamic as what Benning pulls off here. His ensemble is a real murderer’s row: 43 trains of all shapes and sizes, from a slinky Southern coal-hauler that moves across the Tennessee River Bridge like she owns the thing to a little work car that scuds across the frame with Chaplin’s sense of humor. Even better, Benning has the good sense to let them shape the picture: Each shot lasts as long as it takes the train to make its way across the frame, bringing out a triangular relationship between the camera (and its placement), its object and time that not many directors seem to have any use for these days.’ — Phil Coldiron, LA Weekly

the entire film

James Benning introduces ‘RR’


Casting a Glance (2007)
‘In 1970 Robert Smithson built his iconic Spiral Jetty, a 1,500-foot long sculpture of mud, salt crystals, and rocks jutting into Utah’s Great Salt Lake, embodying elemental and philosophical principles essential to the artist’s aesthetic. Smithson’s film of the same name intercuts footage documenting the Jetty’s construction with sequences in a natural history museum and his own poetic voiceover, the camerawork recapitulating the Jetty’s form in swirling aerial shots, dazzled by the sun’s reflections in the water. Benning first focused his camera on the Jetty when he searched for its remains during the cross-country motorcycle journey at the heart of his 1991 film North on Evers. At the time Benning supposed that “in a way [his] trip [had] ended there at the end of the spiral,” however the coil’s pull persisted – as an important reference in his 1995 film Deseret and then as the subject of casting a glance. Simulating the Jetty’s thirty-seven year history, casting a glance records the shifting ecology of the Great Salt Lake’s north-eastern shore, finding the earthwork “a barometer for a variety of cycles.” Benning has created a work “that [Smithson’s] film begs for, which pays attention to the Jetty over time.” – J.B.’ — Harvard Film Archive

the entire film


10 Skies
‘I thought about the ephemerality of film, of both that which is photographed and the photographs themselves, of the mediums focus on movement over time both physically perceptible (objects in front of the camera) and invisible (changes in emotion, tone, ideas, and other abstractions), united to a degree by the effect of simply photographing clouds in the sky, objects that are so subtly transient as to appear abstract yet can also be so monumentally, physically dominating in the composition. The cut to the next shot—the next sky, a billowing cumulus formation with splotches of hues both too dark and too orange, suggesting roots in a fire somewhere off-camera—was jarring and refreshing, as all other cuts would be. In fact, after the first shot, my principle pleasure of watching Ten Skies comes from the fact that Benning held shots so long that inevitably my attention grew lax, often in tandem with the skys own dissolution as shapes became blurry, moved off-camera, or simply dissipated; my mind wandered and points of reference in the frame became fewer and fewer. So each cut comes as welcome relief: finally, new shapes, colors, and subtle movements to soak in and visually rove around! Banal things like jets passing in the distance or a bird or two arcing across the corner of the frame become wondrous moments of relief towards the later half of each shot as, more often than not, one becomes overwhelmingly used to this section of the sky.’ — J. Ryans

the entire film



13 Lakes
13 Lakes is no more than what it promises: thirteen lakes (from across the United States) filmed in identical ten-minute takes. Each is a static composition, framing sky and water in equal measure. None features any human incursion, save the occasional boat, wave runner, automobile, train and, in the Crater Lake sequence, the off-camera sound of gunshots. This is a film where any human imprint is light and vanishing. Benning’s film manifests movement, even if this motion does not facilitate traditional dramatic exposition. In the case of 13 Lakes, the movement depicted calls attention to the moment-to-moment transformation of the natural world. Whether it is the slow drift of cumulus clouds, raindrops falling on a tranquil mere, or a brisk wind sweeping across the surface of the water, the protean quality of the natural world is emphasized. And since the movement being depicted has nothing to do with authorial manipulation, it is motion which cannot be fully circumscribed within the confines of the frame. This is a transformation occurring continually, on- and off-screen. Nevertheless, these transformations are captured by a camera, commensurate with the editorial choices of the filmmaker (both in terms of what is shot and how it is depicted). It is, in other words, a work of art, however minimal it may be in its conception.’ — Senses of Cinema

the entire film


Sogobi (2002)
‘I wanted to go back and make a film purely about landscape and the environment. I had two ideas: Id either make all of the shots pure nature with no human traces, or Id add some shots that would slowly refer to human encroachment. Of course, that is what I did in the end. 9 or 10 shots are like that. However, the first shots are of pure wilderness, almost Biblical and then around the tenth shot a fire helicopter enters from the top of the frame, invading the space both in picture and sound, a helicopter coming from top, kind of like God, dipping down.’ — James Benning

the entire film


Four Corners (1998)
‘“Four Corners” idiosyncratically uses scrolled thumbnail bios and a single representative canvas from four visual artists (Claude Monet, Alabaman primitivist Moses Tolliver, a Native American canyon-wall conjecturally born in 142 A.D., and Jasper Johns) as “chapter headings” that kick off separate segments of precisely 13 shots investing one location each. Three are sites near the titular New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado and Utah intersection, their variously decades — or centuries — spanning voiceover sagas invariably dealing with the tragic impact that ill weather, Spanish conquest, intertribal conflict, the U.S. government and/or latter-day poverty and alcoholism has had on Indian tribal survival. The fourth place is the Milwaukee neighborhood where Benning was raised amid working class German-Americans; now it is a grim African-American ghetto where one prolonged shot of juvenile b-ball players briefly shows a drive-by shooting in the background. All these shards of complex information are very cleanly laid out, albeit with little relation to conventional overall narrative structuring or overt, subjective thesis-making. Nevertheless, pic ultimately conveys a good deal more about the disposability of life and cultural tradition in U.S. history than many more hectoring docus.’ — Variety

the entire film


‘One of the main characteristics of experimental films is that they tend to make hash of the terms we use to speak about narrative features, and James Benning’s haunting, beautiful, and awesome Deseret (1995) — his eighth feature-length film — performs this valuable function from the outset. To say that Deseret is “directed” and “written” by Benning requires some bending of the categories. He “directed” it insofar as he conceived the project, filmed the images, recorded the sound, and edited the sound and images; he “wrote” it insofar as he compiled and edited the texts that are read offscreen by Fred Gardner, though he didn’t write them. Broadly speaking, Deseret — whose title refers to the name the territory of Utah originally proposed for itself when campaigning for statehood in the 1860s (it joined the union as Utah in 1896) — consists of the subtle, artful, and complex interface of the condensed news stories, the recorded sounds, and several hundred stationary shots. Each shot generally corresponds to a sentence in the narration, the only exception being that each of the film’s 93 segments begins without narration; the narration of a news story always begins with the second shot, on the lower portion of which is superimposed the story’s date.’ — Jonathan Rosenbaum

the entire film


Landscape Suicide
Landscape Suicide is a symmetric film. Between the five minute long prologue and epilogue, the last three “set pieces” of the film mirror the first three. While the Protti section is followed by the landscape montage and the household sequence, the Ed Gein section is preceded by them. In a way, Landscape Suicide also acts as an examination of the narrative property of cinema. We are first given Protti’s version of what happened verbally and then the images of the locations they took place in. One is thus able to situate the now-coherent account into its proper geographical location and conjure up, more concretely, the visual equivalent of Protti’s account. On the other hand, the locations of the incident are given before the oral account in the case of the Gein murder. In this case, one tries to reconstruct the incident by simulating the events being described within the locations already familiar. Benning resolves the “how” of the incident into “what” and “where” and asks us to put them back together to find out “why”. In essence, Benning divorces genre cinema from its exploitative nature by splitting up its action into words and locations. With some effort, one should be able to stitch up all the elements of Benning’s film to obtain a teen-slasher and a psychological thriller.’ — The Seventh Art

the entire film


Grand Opera
‘A transitional film at the end of his first decade of filmmaking, James Benning’s Grand Opera introduces a degree of storytelling to his previously more formalist devices. Benning calls the film his “first attempt at writing my own kind of history” and, in a sense, it also serves to write himself into history, acutely measuring his place as a Midwestern experimental filmmaker, then based in Oklahoma, in relationship to the avant-garde scene situated in New York. The film thus features homages to the prominent experimental cinema of the time, including a spoof of Wavelength, as well as cameos from Michael Snow, Hollis Frampton and Yvonne Rainer. Woven with these sequences are other characteristic Benning gambits – a compilation of every house he ever lived in, a preoccupation with the history of Pi, and the looming threat that a building will explode.’ — Early Monthly Segments




One Way Boogie Woogie
‘In 1977, concerned about the decaying nature of his native Milwaukee, filmmaker James Benning shot One Way Boogie Woogie, an hour long film composed of 60 shots of industrial urban landscape: smokestacks, sidewalks, three Volkswagens, people few and far between, an animal here and there. In characteristic fashion, Benning’s apparently simple, static shots are exercises in meticulous painterly composition, and their careful sequencing ensures that the director’s playful humour is given full expression. His most well-known film, Boogie Woogie was canonized as one of the definitive structuralist films – a surprisingly personal, affecting work from one of America’s most revered experimental filmmakers. Presented along with Boogie Woogie is 27 Years Later, in which Benning revisits his earlier masterwork in a characteristically unique manner. For 27 Years Later, Benning returned to Milwaukee to shoot ‘the same film again’. The shot by shot re-staging uses very obviously different stock – the colours are brighter, there’s a distinctly modern tone. Buildings are showing their age, or gone; people likewise. Seen together, these two films offer a cogent illustration of how America has changed in the intervening years, fraying in places, gentrified in others. Benning’s method, and his affinity with his subjects is extraordinary – as if he completely absorbs the landscape, imbues it with geo-political and cultural relevance, and re-presents it to us in a striking mix of formal rigour and mischievous invention. Since premiering to great acclaim at festivals around the world, the two films have been screened together, offering audiences a fascinating, unique experience of change and progress in America.’ — Film Studies Center

the entire film




p.s. Hey. ** Wolf, Yay! Brophy is pretty fucking good on a lot of levels, yeah. No, I have been swamped and utterly occupied with editing and so on re: Zac’s and my new film, so I made a plan to start ‘Twin Peaks’ as soon as we get our month-long break in August, so no, not yet. But it’s not easy. I’m guessing you’re already involved? Stuff you can tell me? I don’t care about spoilers. Love, me. ** Dóra Grőber, Hi, Dóra! I’m really glad that her work caught your interest. Very cool about the photo exhibition! Wish I could see it, darn. Organizing the subtitles was interesting. There were a lot of lines that we wound up having to cut in the editing for various good reasons that I wish we could have found a way to keep. That was a big reaction. The cake didn’t really attack my stomach so much. It was more like my whole body felt poisoned or something. I guess I’m not used to eating giant amounts of sugar. The stuff is powerful. It’s so nice that we’re both in the middle of editing our big projects. Well, my editing is done, but doing the color and sound work feels like editing too. That’s so exciting about your book’s advancement! I’m guessing you really trust the opinions of the people you’re going to show it too? Still, that’s brave. Not that you need to be told this, but remember that everyone’s opinion is subjective. My end is good. Zac and I went to see a good video show yesterday by this Tunisian artist Ismail Bahri, then we investigated the annual fun fair that goes up in the Tuileries every summer. It has a new, very tempting haunted house ride this year called ‘Psychos’ that I will definitely partake of. That plus working on stuff was my day. Gosh, it’s Wednesday already. How was yours? ** David Ehrenstein, Hi. Wonderful piece on Allan Carr, kudos. Yes, indeed, about Brigid Brophy. I haven’t read her Firbank book, which is kind of insane of me, so I’m going to get that right now as close to now as possible. Thanks a lot! ** Steevee, Hi. Your friend is so rigid. I’m not personally of the opinion that rigidity is the way to institute change. Having been a politically engaged young teen in the late 60s, I have to say I think your ex-hippie friend is totally right. Great luck with the Guardian and Slate pitches! ** Millie Wilson, Hi, Millie! Gosh, thank you so much for coming in here, and, of course, my enormous pleasure about getting to spotlight Brigid Brophy. How are you? I keep wishing you and I could meet up, have a coffee, catch up, etc. If you ever get to Paris, promise you’ll let me know so we can, if you’re into the idea. Or somewhere else even by chance. Take care. Lots of respect to you! ** Nick Toti, Hi, Nick. Thank you a lot for sending that. I really appreciate it, and I look forward to reading it as soon as I get a chance. Fine Wednesday to you! ** Jamie, Hey, hey. Cool about Nadal. ‘A human teardrop’ … ha ha ha, what does that mean? That’s funny. I like that. Trains are great when they’re special occasion treats. It’s a shame. Oops, about the schools not being in you guys’ ideas. Do you know why? Yeah, plunge the money into one last cartoon and blow it completely out and make a masterpiece. That’s my impractical advice. Film stuff is in between but busy-ish anyway. Non-film stuff is low-key-ish for the moment, which is nice. Sure, I’ll let you know what the color grading is like. It’s going to be super, super nerdy, I’m pretty sure. If Hannah could see what the film looks like right now, she would know right away what color grading means. It’s all messy and bleached out and visually kind of schizophrenic. I’ll have a solid Wednesday, but you have to have one too. Deal? Explosions in the distance love, Dennis ** _Black_Acrylic, Hi, Ben. Ah, right, art college advice. That’s good. Theoretically they will have your best interests at heart. Cool about the meeting and the scored suave socks. ** H, Hi. Thank you. She’s very special. The film is edited, yes, and we start working on the color correction on Monday. We get our fireworks here on the 14th. I think I’ll actually be able to see them from my window in this ‘new’ apartment. Have a good day. ** Jeff J, Hi. I’ve read three books by her, all very, very good. I think ‘In Transit’ might be my fave. Did I do something on her on the old blog? Yeah, that wouldn’t surprise me. Ooh, okay, I obviously need to get the Criterion ‘L’Argent’. I didn’t know that Bresson quote, no. Wow, yes. Thank you a lot for passing that along, Jeff. I’m so sorry about your friend. I saw, via a link you put on FB, some paintings by him involving views through a car windshield. They’re very, very striking. Hang in there, man. That’s so tough. I’m so very sorry. Love, me. ** Misanthrope, My pleasure. Ha ha, no, I don’t think I’m like that, eek. That guy you know will probably feel very lonely when he dies. Yeah, if you don’t have holiday-oriented decorations in the supermarkets and holiday prompts in TV advertisements and stuff, you don’t know a holiday is happening. Most holidays are 90% that kind of stuff anyway. Or the ones that don’t involved getting gifts or which are not Halloween, I guess. I always forget everybody’s birthdays. I still don’t remember my late mother’s and father’s birthdays. I used to really not like Federer for reasons I don’t remember. Now I like him. The French really like him, in no small part because he speaks fluent French. ** Okay. Today I am devoting a post to one of the greatest and holiest of filmmakers (in my opinion, obviously), James Benning. He’s one of my very favorite filmmakers, and one of Zac’s too. He’s one of the filmmakers that Zac and I think and talk about as a role model when we think about making our films. For whatever that’s worth. Anyway, enjoy, I hope. See you tomorrow.


  1. MyNeighbourJohnTurtorro

    Hi Dennis. Very pleased to see Benning under the Cooperscope, he’s a monumental filmmaker, now that you mention it, the influence is there in LCTG. Has he influenced your writing at all, if that’s even possible? And I saw you haven’t watched Twin Peaks yet, I really, really love it. The most recent episode is the most surreal and extraordinary work he’s done, not just since Eraserhead and Inland Empire, but since the early short films he made prior to Eraserhead. The tone shifts over the course of the eight episodes, as it deals with Cooper’s escapee from the Black Lodge and the machinations of Cooper’s doppelganger from the final episode of season 2. There are lots of other plots and threads which are intriguing, bit entirely unpredictable. I’m genuinely delighted and excited by it.
    Oh, and we arrive in Paris on the 13th and stay until the 19th, coffee and cherry pie?

  2. Jamie

    Yoly Moly, Dennis. What’s up? Was Wednesday as solid as hoped for? Mine’s hot so far. Our last flat was on the ground floor and never saw a second of sun, but this new one’s on the second floor and the difference in heat is insane. I’m sure in the winter it’ll be a wondrous thing, but so far I don’t like it.
    The Chinese schools didn’t like the games that were a part of our package. I didn’t think they were so great either, tbh, so fair enough. It does indeed look like we’re going to splurge the last of the project’s cash on a nicer piece of animation.
    James Benning sounds and looks great. I’m thinking that a big(ger) screen might be best for some of his films. Do you have any particular faves, or can you recommend a good place to start with his work?
    I asked Hannah about Brigid Brophy and she said she saw her daughter speak at a conference a couple of months ago and it was really interesting. She (Hannah)’s planning to write about In Transit in her next piece of academic writing, by chance, so I’ll point her in the direction of your post.
    What else? Who knows. I’m going to try to cool off.
    Have a grand Thursday.
    Sweaty love,

  3. steevee

    Benning is a great filmmaker, although I’m not 100%. sure the ability of video to let him do takes of unlimited length is always a blessing. It interests me that several people I know who basically have no interest in other American avant-garde filmmakers but like experimental narrative directors like Straub/Huillet, Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Pedro Costa, Tsai Ming-liang, etc. follow his work and will go see a film like 13 LAKES or RR. But when I first saw 13 LAKES at the Tribeca Film Festival, it was a horrible experience, with most of a completely unprepared audience walking out. I loved it at the time even so, but seeing it years later at Anthology Film Archives with an audience that, given the much different context, got it was much more enjoyable.

    My friend sent me a brief E-mail yesterday saying “How are you feeling? Are you doing anything for the 4th?” I replied truthfully that the Nashville Scene assigned me a movie review at the last minute and that I had to spend the day watching it and then writing my review. This kind of small talk in E-mail is perfectly fine and not likely to make either of us angry. But if she says something like “let’s go out to dinner next weekend,” I will make an excuse why I can’t do it.

    Have you heard either of the 2 albums Anthony Pateras just released? If you like minimalist drone music, THE SLOW CREEP OF CONVENIENCE is pretty impressive. It’s also completely different from BEAUTY WILL BE AMNESIAC OR NOT AT ALL, the one other Pateras album I’ve heard. I actually wound up exchanging some interesting E-mails with him about why his music is now on Bandcamp, not iTunes. I didn’t know that Bandcamp pays an 85% royalty rate, and when someone downloads an album, the artist receives the money for it the very next day! In the generally scummy music industry, that’s basically utopian.

  4. David Ehrenstein

    James Benning’s films are incredibly beautiful

    Whatever happened to hs daughter Sadie? She made several films with a toy video camera that got great acclaim, then she seems to have vanished.

    • steevee

      Sadie briefly became a musician, playing keyboards with the band Le Tigre, and then she vanished from that career as well! I have no idea what she’s doing now, although her cover version of “Born To Be Wild” plays on the soundtrack of one of her dad’s films.

  5. Wolf

    What a total winner of a day! Where to even begin…
    First, perfect framing just gets me every time, and admittedly if the framing’s perfect that’s me sold already. I’m that easy haha. I started watching the BNSF file then realized it was 3 hours, ahem. But. Yes. In a weird kinfod unrelated way it reminds me of those nature cams that are set up somewhere on an Alaska salmon run with dead-on framing (seriously some of those have been set up so perfectly), and you just tune it to watch some bear-catching-fish action (by you I mean me, mostly, I guess) but in Alaska it’s 5am at that time so no bears are up yet, and you just end up watching the sun rise slowly for an hour and checking out the way the water’s color shifts slowly and the leaves and the clouds and re-adjusting your visual and mental expectation of ‘occurring’ and ‘now’ and ‘motion’ in such an interesting way. Like that dog barking at 5mins+ in the cabins video and I’m all ‘holy shit! A dog barked!!!!’ as if that was the most blockbuster-ey action of the day.
    So yeah, this is great stuff. Then again, being European and a creature of the wild I’m probably predisposed to appreciate it!

    On Twin Peaks… man, you’re in for a treat!! I don’t know if I really wanna spoil it. You should rematch Fire Walk With Me before unless you watched it recently enough.
    TP ‘Ze Return’ is basically, I reckon, Lynch having found a way to be given all the funding he needed to make something with total creative control (because he had the TP ‘brand’ as hostage and only he could resurrect it) and running absolutely hog-fucking-wild with it. I mean, it’s actually breathtaking that something that ‘experimental’ is being broadcast on TV. It’s also a wonderful synthesis of all of his work, although mostly the very early film stuff (EraserHead) and the Lost Highway + period. With some massive elements of his non-film work (Blue Bob + his other musical stuff, his paintings, his photography). Look, it’s a total and unadulterated Lynch-fest. I still can barely believe it’s really happening.
    Are you excited enough yet?

  6. Dóra Grőber


    It’s so interesting that whenever you’ll watch the film you’ll know those lines you had to cut out in the end belong there and we, the viewers will have our very complete experience without them.
    Geez, I don’t know if feeling thoroughly poisoned by sugar is any better… It is indeed powerful stuff, haha.
    Very much so, yes! Yes, I only show it to people I truly trust for now. But thank you, still. I feel like these words of reassurance and encouragement are highly welcome! And then… soon I’ll try to find a publisher which, I assume, is not going to be very easy but I’m all hopeful!
    I don’t know Ismail Bahri! I’ll look his work up! Very exciting news about the haunted house ride! Please do tell me about it when you try it!
    I was very lazy today. I basically just read this Iggy Pop biography ‘Open up and Bleed’ and worked a little on SCAB. That’s about it. So good.
    How was the day on your end? I hope it was lovely!

  7. _Black_Acrylic

    Benning’s ideas are fascinating and his films look really wonderful but, like others here, I reckon they’d surely need a proper screen to do them justice. Or maybe I could just watch a DVD and sit really close to the TV?

  8. Misanthrope

    Denni, Hmm, Benning is different. I don’t mean that negatively. And I’m not brushing him off. It’s just totally different to me.

    I’m horrible at birthdays, except my immediate family’s. Of course, LPS and Kayla start reminding you the month before of their upcoming birthdays. But friends’ birthdays? I’m total shit with those. My one friend, Erin, with whom I’ve been terribly close for over 25 years…um, her birthday’s in October. I can’t remember the date. I remember yours but only because it’s so close to Elvis’…a guy whom I’ve never met.

    Federer, I think, is a good guy. He’s really smart and funny, but I think sometimes that comes off as arrogant. Part of it is his speaking English as a second language. I don’t know that he’s got good enough command -and he speaks it very well- to let that nuance through where you know a person’s joking and not being an ass.

    I’ve never seen anyone play tennis like him. So effortless, like he’s floating around the court. I still think Laver is the best all-time, but Fed’s a close second for me.

    I’m in the middle of making homemade ice cream right now. I’ll let you know how it turns out.

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