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The United States of America

Cinema release 26.5.2022
Film still from James Benning
  • Director

    James Benning

  • USA / 2022
    98 min. / DCP / Original version

  • Original language


James Benning’s first film called THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA was a 1975 trip across the country, capturing its scenery through a car windshield. This second one also crisscrosses the nation, but without a car, carving it up instead into a series of static shots of just under two minutes, one for each state, presented alphabetically, from Heron Bay, Alabama to Kelly, Wyoming. The names of the places are nondescript, but the images attached to them are anything but, immaculately composed shots of landscape, cityscape and the spaces in between. As we move from A to Z, the images coalesce into a portrait of today’s USA, tracing out its fault lines almost in passing: fenced-off facilities, a river bed running dry, factories and refineries, run-down streets and gas stations, a camp under a bridge. The past is there too, seeping up through the songs and speeches that sporadically pierce the background noise or the motifs that evoke a whole career; the clouds, trains and cabins are stand-ins for films, not just states. As always, there’s time for more abstract thoughts too: each image may stand for a state, but representativity is slippery. Which state is more cinematic than the rest? (James Lattimer)

James Benning was born in 1942 in Milwaukee, USA. He completed a degree in film studies and has been making films and created numerous installations since 1972. James Benning has been a frequent guest at the Forum and Forum Expanded since 1977, such as with 11 x 14 (1977). Films (selection): 1972: Time & A Half (17 min.). 1975: The United States of America. 1977: 11 x 14 (83 min., Forum 1977, Forum 2018), One Way Boogie Woogie (60 min.). 1979: Grand Opera. An Historical Romance (90 min., Forum 1980). 1985: O Panama (28 min., Forum 1987). 1986: Landscape Suicide (95 min., Forum 1987). 1997: Four Corners (80 min., Forum 1998). 1999: El Valley Centro (90 min., Forum 2002). 2000: Los (90 min., Forum 2002). 2002: Sogobi (90 min., Forum 2002). 2004: 13 Lakes (133 min., Forum 2005), Ten Skies (101 min., Forum 2005). 2005: One Way Boogie Woogie / 27 Years Later (120 min., Forum 2006). 2007: RR (110 min., Forum 2008). 2009: Ruhr (121 min.). 2010: John Krieg Exiting the Falk Corporation in 1971 (71 min.). 2011: Faces (135 min.), Milwaukee/Duisburg (Installation, Forum Expanded 2011), Twenty Cigarettes (99 min., Forum 2011), Small Roads (103 min.). 2012: Nightfall (98 min.), Stemple Pass (121 min., Forum 2013), Easy Rider (95 min.), One Way Boogie Woogie 2012 (90 min.), BNSF (194 min.). 2014: Natural History (77 min.), Farocki (77 min.), Concord Woods (121 min.). 2015: American Dreams (85 min.). 2017: Untitled Fragments (75 min.). 2018: L. Cohen (45 min., video installation, Forum Expanded 2018), glory. 2019: Maggie’s Farm (84 min., Forum 2020).

Berlinale Forum compiled a playlist with the songs of the film. Additionally, the essay „Please Remain Seated!“ by Lucas Forster explains the rootedness of Benning’s film in his oeuvre. 

"But while THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA is meditative and reflective in ways that are characteristic of Benning's earlier work, this is a landscape that is haunted by its past, evidence of which can be seen, heard and felt throughout the film.... One thinks of Benning's other film with America in the title, _American Dreams (Lost and Found)_. The multiple narrative devices in that film complicate any neat image of the country, and one can see both _United States of America_ films as their own separate strands of America to mentally superimpose. It becomes clear: In reusing the same title as his decades-old film, Benning forms a necessary dialectic between America's scenic beauty and its sinister underbelly. "Lovin' you, I can see your soul come shining through."

(Jim Gilles, The Hollywood Times)   

Funded by:

  • Logo Minister of State for Culture and the Media
  • Logo des Programms NeuStart Kultur