L. Cohen, 2017, James Benning © Viennale

L. Cohen (2017)

Regie: James Benning. 45 min
O Panama (1985) Regie: Burt Barr, James Benning; Darsteller: Willem Dafoe. 28 min
45 Minuten, eine Einstellung – L. Cohen scheint, als habe Benning sein reduktionistisches Prinzip ins Extrem getrieben, aber ist in Wahrheit vielleicht sein bewegtester und berührendster Film. Eine öde flache Gegend, verrostete Gerätschaften, abblätternde Ölfässer, weit hinten ein schneebedeckter Berg, und genug Zeit, all dies und mehr Details zu erfassen. Nach gut 20 Minuten kippt die Situation, ein Ereignis bricht herein über diese Landschaft und gibt sie erst nach drei, vier Minuten wieder frei. In die Stimmung aus Staunen und Melancholie fügt sich ein Song von Leonhard Cohen. (B. K.)
In Anwesenheit von James Benning

On the left, a yellow jerrican and two tires leaning against three rusty barrels. On the right, an abandoned combine harvester in a patch of untended hay. Behind, a hillock with a line of electricity poles hides a car park, where only the tops of a few vehicles are visible. Crows are croaking in a hazy summer sky in the centre of which snowy peaks appear – a mirage perhaps. Those who know the work of James Benning will sense how many unobtrusive presences this barren Oregon landscape harbours. Those who are entering it for the first time will understand, quite naturally, that filmmaking can find its full force – as Benning tirelessly teaches and practices – simply "by looking and listening". In truth, the initiated have no advantage over novices. All are on equal footing if they deploy the intuitive knowledge passed down by Thoreau and Bergson, where the secret organization of phenomena emerges out of a long-sustained attention in which the landscape is a function of time – geological, historical and biographical, each new film bringing into play references inherent to the entire oeuvre. It is worth knowing that the title of the film echoes the last line of a famous song used on the soundtrack of One Way Boogie Woogie (1977/2005/2012): "sincerely, L. Cohen". (Antoine Thirion)  
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)