James Benning’s California trilogy and other films from 1999-2007 now available

Posted December 4th, 2017 in New Acquisitions, New Films, News / Events

The last works James Benning made before transitioning to digital production–including the California trilogy (El Valley Centro, Los, and Sogobi), as well as his conceptual “remake” of One Way Boogie Woogie, titled 27 Years Later, and others–are now available to rent through Canyon Cinema.


Casting a Glance (2007 | 81 minutes | COLOR | SOUND)

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.”



RR (2007 | 110 minutes | COLOR | SOUND)

“The film is called RR, but I like to call it “Railroad,” because RR sounds like a pirate movie.”
– James Benning

RR consists of 37 static shots, filmed in 37 locations in the USA, crossed by passing freight trains..



13 Lakes (2004 | 133 minutes | COLOR | SOUND)

“Benning’s deceptively simple titles for 13 Lakes belies the richly nuanced worlds of light, shadow, stillness, and change in each films’ 10-minute long shots. Structurally and conceptually minimalist, 13 Lakes presents as many bodies of water from across the United States – each chosen for its unique historical, ecological and geographical characteristics, and each framed to divide the image evenly between water and sky. The precision and rigor of the film’s form intensifies the experience of duration, with Benning’s long takes embracing both his subject (to which he is acutely attentive) and his audience (to whom he generously offers the time for audio-visual immersion), inviting us to share in his sober contemplation of the ever-subtly shifting mystery of the natural world.”
– Harvard Film Archive



One Way Boogie Woogie / 27 Years Later (2004 | 120 minutes | COLOR | SOUND)

“In 1977 I shot One Way Boogie Woogie in Milwaukee’s industrial valley. As a kid I played there, hopping freight trains and fishing in the Menomenee River. In 1977 the valley was beginning to die. Factories were moving out. The steel foundries were rusting. I wanted to document its decay. Using friends, family, and three Volkswagens, I shot in March on brightly lit days creating 60 one-minute narratives. Then 27 years later I decided to make the same film again. I located all 60 prior camera positions and most of my old friends and family. Things had changed with age. A few people had died, some of the buildings were gone. I used the same soundtrack from the old film, cutting the new images to it. It is a film about memory and aging.”
– James Benning

These films are only available as a single package and cannot be rented separately.



Ten Skies (2004 | 101 minutes | COLOR | SOUND)

“Filmed around Val Verde, California, this series of skyscapes gracefully visualizes human civilization’s interaction with, and impact on, the landscape. The skies and cloud formations chosen by Benning are affected by pollution from an industrial factory, jet trails, and smoke from an accidental wildfire, all clearly legible upon the firmament. And yet, despite these ominous environmental undercurrents, Benning conceived Ten Skies as an anti-war film, describing his work to be “about the antithesis of war, [about] the kind of beauty we’re destroying.” This intention is affirmed in the reflective serenity of his images; the varying tones, textures and colors of the atmosphere, and the shifting transformations of billowing clouds that produce astonishing perceptual revelations about scale, ephemerality, and the cinematic frame.”
-Harvard Film Archive



Sogobi (2001 | 90 minutes | COLOR | SOUND)

“I wanted to go back and make a film purely about landscape and the environment. I had two ideas: I’d either make all of the shots pure nature with no human traces, or I’d 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 California Trilogy – El Valley Centro, Los, and Sogobi can be rented as a package for the discounted price of $1200.



Los (2000 | 90 minutes | COLOR | SOUND)

“The second episode of Benning’s ‘California Trilogy’ concentrates on the outskirts of Los Angeles. As with rural predecessor El Valley Centro, we get 35 static shots of 150 seconds each, this time taking in various industrial and residential corners of the sprawling mega-city. As before, the cumulative effect is staggering: Los can be taken as 35 short movies, each not only saying something about the state of modern California, even as they poses fascinating questions about Benning’s own technique. Viewing becomes an active, enthralling experience – and the film-maker’s choice of shots transforms the whole of the Greater LA region into one colossal work of art, making it even ‘greater’.”
-Time Out London

The California Trilogy – El Valley Centro, Los, and Sogobi can be rented as a package for the discounted price of $1200.



El Valley Centro (1999 | 90 minutes | COLOR | SOUND)

“All of James Benning’s films share an affinity with landscape photography; exquisitely composed, with minimalist content, they reveal a love of nature and the West in particular. The long duration of his individual shots invites contemplation, and whether through written text, captions, or voice-over, he draws our attention to the social implications of place as well. Each site is revealed as at once beautiful and ugly-complicated by its history. In his extraordinary new film, he turns his attentive gaze on California’s Central Valley. Images of plowing and harvesting expose a region deeply connected to agribusiness. Strangely unpopulated-a few fisherman at a canal, a couple of fruit pickers, two women practicing for the rodeo-the area appears to be a company town, where corporate values dominate. It not just the abandoned nuclear plant, crop duster, and oil rigs, but the huge fields that dwarf tractors, and the total absence of unaltered landscape that signal corporate values are at work. Water is regulated, the land is furrowed, and fires burn under control. Human sound is faintly heard, but perhaps only remembered.”
– Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive

The California Trilogy – El Valley Centro, Los, and Sogobi can be rented as a package for the discounted price of $1200.


Eight additional films made between 1976 and 1998 are also available to rent from Canyon. For a complete list of Benning’s titles in the catalog, click here.