11×14, 1976, James Benning © James Benning

11×14 (1976)

Regie: James Benning; Drehbuch: Serafina Bathrick, Ted Brady, Barbara Frankel. 82 min
O Panama (1985) Regie: Burt Barr, James Benning; Darsteller: Willem Dafoe. 28 min
Seine erste lange Arbeit begründete Bennings singuläre Stellung in der Filmkunstwelt. Jetzt liegt das auf 16mm gedrehte Werk digitalisiert und restauriert vor. 11×14 ist eine linear wie zirkulär angelegte Reise durch ein ländliches Amerika. Züge schieben sich ins Bild, Sattelschlepper durchqueren Landschaften, Menschen fahren Auto, liebkosen sich, bleiben stehen. In präzise kadrierten statischen Einstellungen inventarisiert Benning seine Lebensumwelt in Echtzeit und erzwingt so, jenseits dieser Mini-Narrative, ein Nachdenken auch darüber, wie wir Bilder lesen. O Panama, nach Kurzgeschichten von Burt Barr gedreht, gleicht einem vertonten Fotoroman. (M. M.)
In Anwesenheit von James Benning

James Benning has become famous for making movies which are at once exhibitions of landscapes or simply spaces and exhibitions of the guiding principles he entertained to structure his gaze – and accordingly the acousmatic space opened by this gaze. His method peaked with films like 13 Lakes or 10 Skies. 11x14 is a reminder that the structural practice of Benning has a prehistory in his own work: The title refers to an American picture frame format, and therefore to the essential excerptedness of every image. But while Benning later on liked to highlight the frame by working with a fixed camera (and containing all the action within the potentially narrational space opened up in the image), in 11x14 he points towards the spaces between images – and even to the fantasies those images might trigger. Apparently random and meaningless scenes from the American midwest become parts of a possible story, which never actually comes around. The result is, as Benning claimed, practical theory, and at its best: 11x14 creates awareness of the ways movies are built, and it does so in brillantly intelligent and consequently often very funny way. (Bert Rebhandl) 
Only once did the artistic trajectories of James Benning and Burt Barr intersect, but that they did with a Bang!, as O Panama is a gem that makes both their oeuvres shine a bit more brightly. In some ways, this visit with a deliriously ill man is closer to Barr's work at the time, like The Woman Next Door (1984) or The Dogs (1989), both urban alienation cacophonies done in a very rigorous, reduced style (Barr is now remembered mainly for his minimalist video works showing e. g. an ice cube melting ...); then again: O Panama shares many a concern with Benning's early adventures in experimental narrative like Honeylane Road (1973), 8 1/2x11 (1974) or 11x14 (1977), making this into something like a coda of a development discarded. From nowadays perspective, the probably most intriguing aspect of this exercise was the choice of actor to carry this one-man show: a young Willem Dafoe in full Wooster Group furor just at the cusp of becoming a Hollywood star with Streets of Fire (1984; Walter Hill), To Live and Die in L.A. (1985; William Friedkin) and Platoon (1986; Oliver Stone). Which is to say that O Panama contains all of mid-1980s US moving image art – nothing less. (Olaf Möller)