It’s difficult to conceive of a body of work more antithetical to the imperatives of mainstream commercial cinema, or indeed of the culture at large, than the films of James Benning. Characterized by long takes, minimal camera movement and an increasing emphasis on landscape, they explore the very nature of visual perception: What draws the attention of the human eye? How does duration affect the way we look at an image? Benning’s structuralist impulses are on full display in Ten Skies and 13 Lakes, companion pieces consisting entirely of ten-minute, fixed-camera shots. To a momentary glance, it might appear that nothing is “happening” in these carefully composed, richly textured images, but Benning’s brilliant use of real time unlocks their inexhaustible potential. The skyscapes are in constant flux due to perpetual shifts in sunlight and cloud patterns; the lakes produce a cornucopia of imagery, conjuring ephemeral mirror-worlds in the sunshine. Once you get into the rhythm of these contemplative, supremely beautiful films, the effect is nearly hypnotic. Also showing is Benning’s One Way Boogie Woogie/27 Years Later, a series of 60-minute-long shots of various Milwaukee locations filmed in 1976 followed by an identical sequence of the same locations shot in 2003, accompanied by the original 1976 soundtrack.
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