11 x 14

James Benning
1977

16.02. 15:00 OV Akademie der Künste
18.02. 17:30 OV Arsenal 1

35 mm, 82 min. Without dialogue.

A man and a woman stand before an embankment. She’s crying, he’s smoking. A train crosses from left to right in the top third of the image; in the bottom third, a VW enters the frame from the right and comes to a halt. A man gets out of the car with a child in his arms and walks forward to the left until he’s no longer in frame. The woman and the man embrace and leave in opposite directions. The shot is over. More of them follow: the VW reappears, the people too. Two women lying on a bed move in slow motion, music can be heard; it will later return as smoke rises from a chimney. On the wall, there hangs the photograph of a house that will later become another frame in the film.
11 x 14, the first feature-length film by James Benning, is film theory in images. It is composed of single shots, each of which individually narrate something and hold the film together via recurring elements. What is narrated is pure form.
11 x 14 was shown at the Forum in 1977. It has now been restored by the Austrian Film Museum in collaboration with Arsenal – Institute for Film and Video Art and returns to the Forum once again. As the smallest unit of a festival, a film can become its narrative. (Stefanie Schulte Strathaus)

James Benning was born in Milwaukee, USA in 1942. He began working as an independent filmmaker in 1972, even before studying film at the University of Wisconsin, starting with short films and subsequently moving on to longer experimental works. Starting in the 1970s, he also created a number of screen projections and computer installations. From 1977 to 1980 he taught at the universities of California and Oklahoma. Besides his current film work, Benning has taught at the California Institute of the Arts since 1987.

James Benning’s film L. Cohen (2017) will be presented as part of the Forum Expanded program this year.

The restoration of 11 X 14
11 X 14 was restored by the Austrian Film Museum, Vienna in cooperation with Arsenal – Institute for Film and Video Art, Berlin in 2017.
Scanning and digital image restoration were carried out in 2K starting from the original 16mm colour reversal in close collaboration with James Benning. Sound was digitised from a 16mm optical sound negative by L’Immagine Ritrovata in Bologna.
The restoration was completed by the Austrian Film Museum, resulting in a 35mm negative for long-term preservation, a 35mm projection print (produced by Laboratório ANIM – Cinemateca Portuguesa – Museu do Cinema Lisbon) and a DCP for digital screenings.

Crosswise

The objective behind 11 X 14 was to formulate a number of ideas using methods that are conventionally thought to be contradictory to the ideas themselves. The contradictions are used to develop a continual feeling of paradox.
I wanted to make a narrative film concerned first with the elements of form and structure; that is, to make composition, colour, texture, and on/off screen space the real narrative, putting the story in the background. The underlying story does not attempt to depict reality but to provide a context to encourage each person to interact with the formal and metaphorical elements of the film. The narrative is purposely both open and open-ended to emphasise that the reality of the film should come not only from the film itself but from each individuals’ experiencing the film, deriving his or her own metaphor.
The film‘s style, however – the use of real time and a documenting, stationary camera – contradicts the idea of metaphor.
11 X 14 is also an attempt to create spherical time-space. The editing structure emphasises the inherent linear quality of film; however, through the repetition of certain icons, sounds, and events, it is hoped that all the scenes will interlock and relate crosswise rather than through simple juxtaposition. (James Benning, 1977)

Chronicle of an unexplained journey

Imagine a film composed of as many discrete story fragments as there are shots. Imagine each of the fragments suggesting a relationship to one another. However, clues are not so simple: some may be false; some may just be too good to be really useful; and some may suggest a mystery where there may be nothing to solve. If you’ve imagined this, you have begun to imagine 11 X 14, a beautiful film of great originality. Comprised of tantalising sections which invite being assembled, 11 X 14 is a bizarre chronicle of an unexplained voyage across the country and the uneasy stops taken along the way. (From an announcement by the Museum of Modern Art, New York, about the New Directors, New Films Festival in April 1977)

More than ‘true’

At last, the first Midwest film.
James Benning has made nineteen short films before 11 X 14 (which is feature length). He has won film competitions and has had at least three shows in NYC. For me, he is a new filmmaker because I had never heard of him until two months ago. That’s a real problem for the independent film community and particularly for filmmakers who’ve only begun to work in the ‘70s and outside New York. There are so many films and no real spokesperson for them. How is anyone to find out about them? The audience for independent film is not very large, but it has begun to infiltrate cities all over the country. And there is very little contact between New York and other film communities.
So it was an accident that I saw Jim Benning’s film and it was an exciting accident because 11 X 14 establishes Benning as a major American filmmaker.
With a brilliant eye formed by the past ten years of pop and minimalist painting and by the experience of the Midwest, which is the source of the iconography of much of that painting, Benning has made an American landscape film, a landscape first dominated, then submerged, by the highways and power lines which connect it. Its characters are cars, trains, and planes. They take their fix at the filling station: their reading matter is billboards and signs. At the MoMA screening, someone referred to ‘the choreography of the trucks’.
The film was shot with a camera fixed on a tripod. There are a few pans, a few shots from moving vehicles. Benning used a wide-angle 10mm lens throughout, which produces a flattened space in which one is, paradoxically, more aware of depth. The colour (the stock is Ektachrome Commercial) was very carefully controlled in the lab and is incredibly vivid: blues, reds, yellows, greens. Shots take anywhere from a few seconds to eleven minutes. The film was nearly completely scripted and choreographed before the shooting. The sound is meticulously post-synced so that gradually one becomes aware that it is more than ‘syn’ as the colour is more than ‘true’. Most of the framings are symmetrical with the camera at a ninety-degree angle to the horizon line. The space is remade in some way within each shot.
The time is travelling time, that peculiarly slowed-down and distanced time, slowed down regardless of the speed at which one is moving, when there is nothing to do but look and listen, when images and sounds are ‘noticed’.
Benning calls 11 X 14 a narrative. It is, in the sense that a narrative is a kind of travelling. There is a complex of connections between the shots and also a group of people who appear sporadically throughout. But with the kind of cool, goofy irony which shapes all of the film, Benning allows almost no information about the people to reach us through the space. Their faces are blocked by window frames, their voices are covered with noises. Even their sex is ambivalent. And this ambivalence – an ambivalence about how images are to be read – pervades every aspect of the film. A loading and then vacuuming out of meaning occurs in almost every shot. Almost every shot has some unexpected turning. There’s a bit to look at, and it’s really something to see.
(Amy Taubin, Soho Weekly News, New York, 28 April 1977)

Production company James Benning (Val Verde, USA). Director James Benning. With Serafina Bathrick (The woman), Paddy Whannel (The man), Harvey Taylor (The young man), Barbara Frankel (The woman’s friend 1), Bette Gordon (The woman’s friend 2), Tim Welsh (The boy 1), Rick Goodwin (The boy 2), Ted Brady (The man’s son), Michael O'Brien.

Films

1972: Time & A Half (17 min.), Art Hist. 101 (17 min.). 1973: Honeyland Road (11 min.). 1974: 8½ x 11 (33 min.). 1975: Saturday Night (3 min.), The United States of America (25 min.), 9/1/75 (22 min.). 1976: 11 x 14. 1977: One Way Boogie Woogie (60 min.). 1979: Grand Opera. An Historical Romance (90 min., Forum 1980). 1981: Him and Me (88 min.). 1983: American Dreams (lost and found) (56 min.). 1985: O Panama (28 min., Forum 1987). 1986: Landscape Suicide (95 min., Forum 1987). 1988: Used Innocence (95 min.). 1991: North on Evers (87 min.). 1995: Deseret (82 min.). 1997: Four Corners (80 min., Forum 1998). 1998: Utopia (93 min.). 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), Casting a Glance (81 min.). 2009: Ruhr (121 min.). 2010: John Krieg Exiting the Falk Corporation in 1971 (71 min.), Pig Iron (33 min.), Pascal’s Lemma (document) (17 min.), Reforming the Past (60 min.). 2011: Two Cabins (30 min.), Faces (1973) (25 min.), Faces (135 min.), Milwaukee/Duisburg (Installation, Forum Expanded 2011), Twenty Cigarettes (99 min., Forum 2011), After Warhol (65 min.), Small Roads (103 min.). 2012: Nightfall (98 min.), Stemple Pass (121 min, Forum 2013), Easy Rider (95 min.), The War (55 min.), One Way Boogie Woogie 2012 (90 min.), BNSF (194 min.). 2013: US 41 (52 min.). 2014: Natural History (77 min.), Farocki (77 min.), Concord Woods (121 min.). 2015: 52 Films Project (300 min.), American Dreams (85 min.), Fresh Air (46 min.). 2016: Dancing in the Street (6 min.), Ash 01 (20 min.), Fall Equinox (77 min.), Spring Equinox (77 min.), Scorched Earth (61 min.), Red Cloud (61 min.), Measuring Change (61 min.), Time after Time (44 min.). 2017: Untitled Fragments (75 min., videoinstallation, Forum Expanded 2017). 2018: L. Cohen, 11 x 14.

Photo: © Österreichisches Filmmuseum © James Benning