Title card says city/state, we see a two-minute shot of a location in that sate, and on to the next one. I knew the gimmick ahead of time – that each shot was actually made in California – but it didn’t harm the viewing experience at all. Movie says you’re in the future, you imagine the future. Movie says the past, you picture the past. Movie says Omaha Nebraska, who am I to argue? It’s well-researched, because Katy looked at the Minnesota shot and said that must be Hibbing, which is what the title card told us. Possible references to previous Benning films (there’s a train and a sky). Usually ambient sound but every eighth or tenth state there’s a voiceover about oppressed people. Aside from the game-playing and real/imagined locations, it’s a very relaxing movie to watch, even more so than the slower-paced Allensworth, but my imagination ran wild on Allensworth while this mostly felt picturesque.

Hibbing MN:

A remake of sorts, per Film Comment.


“My main idea for this film was to set up a problem that is almost insolvable, which is what America is at this particular time … it’s not a film I made to fool anybody. I think it’s an important statement about how we can create what we think the U.S. is, and take it as real, even when it’s completely false. I think any construction of meaning for the U.S. can only be false, because how can you include everything? There’s always a contradiction.

Ajo AZ:

A James Benning history lesson from Erika Balsom in Ten Skies:

Benning’s interest in structure is of no recent vintage: his Grand Opera (1978) pays explicit homage to Snow and Frampton … [yet] the bulk of his production comes definitively after [structural film’s] heyday and breaks with some of its key features. As the seventies wore on, many came to see the purging of content characteristic of structural film as a dead end and began to re-engage with narrative. Formal rigour was not so much abandoned as it was increasingly complemented by concerns with subjectivity and the social. Benning’s practice, particularly as it developed through the eighties and nineties, is best understood as part of this multifaceted response to avant-garde cinema’s high modernist moment.

By Ten Skies (2004), Benning had left behind the discursivity of earlier works … to adopt a metric form almost entirely free of written or spoken language. From the new talkies to the newer silents. The film is, in some sense, a resurrection of the reductionist, phenomenological impulse that Sitney saw as being at the heart of structural film. In the early twenty-first century, as cinema migrated and mutated under the pressures of technological change, such ontological inquiries assumed a renewed relevance.

If, for structural film, the screen was primarily a surface, for Benning it is both surface and window. His interest in structure is not a matter of making content subsidiary to outline but in exploring the tension that exists between the two … As Benning describes Ten Skies, ‘The structure itself is rigid, and then what it’s containing is fluid. It’s almost like a sieve.’

Durkee OR:

Benning in Film Comment again:

Artists are often afraid of humor. And then when people write about my films, they want to shy away from it, too, because somehow [they think] humor demeans the work. But I don’t believe that at all. I think things are funny. And sometimes you don’t make them up. Like the shot of the horses in the film that are staring at the camera. They’re motionless except for their ears, which move a little bit. They’re completely hilarious, but in a very sad way. Or the racetrack shot, with just five cars in the race, and one car getting further and further behind. It’s kind of a pathetic race, even though the audience really seems to be enjoying it. I think that’s hilarious.

Allensworth was “the first self-administered African-American municipality in California.” Each shot represents a month, per title cards – it’s mostly shots of structures that date from the era. Static scenes broken up by trains (I counted three, one of them visible), or by Nina Simone (June) or Leadbelly (November) songs,

Lawrence Garcia:

In the post-film Q&A Benning remarked that with this film, he simply wanted to get people interested in this town … Much more revealing was his stated interest in the fact that, since Allensworth collapsed within a decade of its founding, we are seeing not original buildings but reconstructions built when the town was memorialized as a state park in 1974.

I’ve been reading Erika Balsom’s Ten Skies, and instead of watching the degraded youtube rip of that film (which the book tolerates, if not endorses) I watched a couple of nicer video releases.

Balsom on Benning:

Those familiar mostly with the filmmaker’s most recent output will venture that his is a cinema concerned above all with the investigation of form and the contemplation of beauty. Such perspectives are not entirely wrong – L. Cohen (2017), for instance, is a gorgeous 45-minute single-shot observation of a solar eclipse – but they are certainly incomplete. From his earliest works in the seventies, Benning has explored histories of settlement, the problem of political community, and the various ways that human actions mark the land in the United States. Probe his entirely sui generis filmography and you will find personal chronicles, accounts of murder, indictments of whiteness, and an attention to the particularities of the Midwest. We are, in other words, a very long way from formalism.

I’ve seen one short Owen Land film before and wasn’t so high on it, but I’m ever intrigued by the idea of a structural-experimental parody artist, or whatever he was, so I’m checking out everything I can find. All these were credited to George Landow – he changed his name soon afterwards.

Film in Which There Appear Sprocket Holes, Edge Lettering, Dirt Particles, etc. (1966)

Approx a one-second loop repeated a couple hundred times. Possibly one of those color reference images. Mekas was a fan. Why add film projector sound when any proper screening (not on a digital file in my living room) would have its own film projector sounds – is that part of the meta nature of the project or was it added during the video transfer?

Diploteratology: Bardo Follies (1967)

1. A few-second loop of a boat exiting a tunnel while a person (real? animatronic?) waves on the left side
2. Three porthole views of the same image distributed across a mostly black screen
3. The image begins to get replaced with the bubbly butterfly-wing textures of celluloid melting or dissolving
4. Replacing the porthole views, we get fullscreen strobing freezeframes of the melt-dissolve textures
5. Left/right split-screen of film melts in motion
Fully silent.

Remedial Reading Comprehension (1970)

“This is a film about you … not about its maker.” That’s more like it, layers upon layers. A woman dreams a classroom, a man jogs in place in front of a screen of someone jogging, an alarm sounds while we read about phony teaching techniques at a preordained pace, and why not throw in a commercial for pre-cooked rice.

Thank You Jesus for the Eternal Present (1973)

An annoying one – high-contrast images of street scenes, closeups and a trade show, while overlapped sound loops are praising God/Jesus. Pretty short, at least.

Wide Angle Saxon (1975)

Lively one with usually-sync sound, cutting between all sorts of things. Bible stories, and stories of modern people influenced by bible stories. Repeated outtakes of a reporter self-conscious that he can’t remember Panamanian generals’ names but who keeps pronouncing “junta” with a hard J. A terrified artist pouring red paint on things and people, who gets his own title sequence. “Oh it was a dream” – does this end with the woman from the beginning of Remedial waking up? Were the six years between films all her dream?

New Improved Institutional Quality (1976)

Woman is giving exam instructions on the soundtrack, and the guy onscreen is following them. The instructions involve writing numbers on a photograph, so the guy goes inside the photograph, writing the numbers with a giant pencil. Then he shrinks further when confronted with a woman inside the picture, nestles in her shoe, and then flies silently through some previous Land films (Film In Which, Remedial). Weird, I would not have got the references if I hadn’t been watching these together.

new improved sprocket holes, edge lettering:

On The Marriage Broker Joke (1979)

People in panda suits introduce versions of films about the marriage broker joke, which it sort of eventually gets around to telling. Marketing discussion with an offscreen speaker doing a bad Japanese stereotype accent. Ends with more religion stuff. The onscreen text was probably meant to be readable, but my video copy is horrendous. Rosenbaum called it an “obscure blend of deconstructive slapstick and various issues arising from his then-recent conversion to fundamentalist Christianity”

P. Adams Sitney in Artforum:

From the start, Land was unique in his subjects and in his relationship to the processes of filmmaking. Television, advertisements, linguistic confusions were the materials of his first films, and they remained his favorite subjects. Above all he used cinema as a means to explore the illusory nature of images.

He had no scruples about mercilessly making fun of his fellow filmmakers (and of me) so long as he prominently mocked himself and his own works, as he did with wry humor in films such as New Improved Institutional Quality and On the Marriage Broker Joke. His religious convictions never dispelled his fascination with the absurdities of human behavior. The drives for possessions, certitude, beauty, sex, money, and food — especially sex — make Land’s fictive humans ridiculous, confused, and devious. His ability to invent and to people his films with memorably ridiculous characters was unmatched, even by the late George Kuchar, among American avant-garde filmmakers.


I… developed the technique of fabricating fantastic stories about myself and relating them in a perfectly deadpan manner so as to convince my hearers of their authenticity. This was not done maliciously, but out of a sense of the absurdity of all phenomena and the arbitrariness of all information. This may be a form of poetry, which in Greek means making—as in “making it up.” Usually it is called “lying.”

Thanks to Andy, I finally had the chance to see one of the most talked-about avant-garde films of all time. While it’s important to talk about experimental film, it’s more important to actually see the damned things – and while anyone can order a copy of Visionary Film for $26.95, it’s nearly impossible to see Wavelength on any given day.

Unfortunately, it’s one of those times (see also The Leopard) when I check out one of the Great Important Works of Cinematic Art and come out less than impressed. I didn’t find the audiovisual experience very enlightening compared to the descriptions I’ve read of the film. Didn’t dislike it (though I came close to disliking the soundtrack) but not an overwhelming experience like Zorns Lemma, either. A few updates to those written descriptions: (1) It’s not a single, continuous zoom a la Last Days – the zoom moves sporadically and the camera slightly changes position from time to time. (2) There’s sound – a sinewave tone that starts low and ends high, with other quieter tones joining it at times and sync sound during the four action scenes. Those action scenes: Woman gets bookshelf delivered, two women listen to “Strawberry Fields Forever”, man dies, girl makes phone call expressing concern that there’s a dead man in her apartment. (3) There’s a twist ending – after zooming the full length of the apartment, the photograph on the wall is of waves in the sea. I get it, ha ha. After reading Sitney and Snow, I see why the movie is interesting, even exciting in theory, but the viewing experience just wasn’t there… wouldn’t want to see it again anytime soon.

P. Adams Sitney: “This is the story of the diminishing area of pure potentiality. The insight that space, and cinema by implication, is potential is an axiom of the structural film.”

Snow: “I wanted to make a summation of my nervous system, religious inklings, and aesthetic ideas. I was thinking of planning for a time monument in which the beauty and sadness of equivalence would be celebrated, thinking of trying to make a definitive statement of pure Film space and time, a balancing of ‘illusion’ and ‘fact,’ all about seeing. The space starts at the camera’s (spectator’s) eye, is in the air, then is on the screen, then is within the screen (the mind).”

Hollis Frampton: dead man:

Actors included Joyce Wieland and Hollis Frampton (as the man who dies). Assisted by Ken Jacobs, and sound by Ted Wolff, who unsurprisingly didn’t do any other film sound after this. Snow screws with the camera a bunch: focus, filters, film stocks (supposedly – I hardly noticed), light settings, time of day and lighting inside, etc. My favorite part is one or two frames where the picture on the wall towards which we are slowly zooming is highlit by a sunburst of drawn lines (screenshot below). I’m glad I got to see it anyway, and glad Andy played this and not Warhol’s Empire or something.


When I got home, watched WVLNT (2003) and Prelude (2000). The former was a shortened version of Wavelength “for those who don’t have the time” – he cut the movie into three equal parts and superimposed them. Except for the now-intolerable soundtrack, I liked this version much better! There’s much more to look at.


Prelude was a cute intro bit from the same Toronto Film Festival that brought us The Heart of the World. It’s hard for me to tell exactly how cute since my copy is such low-quality (think it came from streaming realvideo on the TIFF site), but it seems to be a single camera take, clean picture on a clean set, with unsynched sound edited in all over the place – actors and film crew talking about films in general and the one they are presently inside. This and WVLNT travel a similar road as Snow’s SShtoorrty, with its color-coordinated set, single camera move and superimpositions.


Wonderful 16mm screening at Emory, but not well-received by the students and regulars who came to be entertained. Silly students and regulars, it is not a university’s job to entertain you!

Scorpio Rising – 1964, Kenneth Anger
Couldn’t remember if I’d seen this before, but of course I have… opening credits bedazzled onto a motorcycle jacket were immediately familiar. Despite the nazi imagery and comparisons between bikers headed for a gay orgy and Jesus and his disciples, I heard no complaints. I think people enjoyed the juxtapositions (well-prepared presenter Andy warned us about ’em in advance) and grooved on the hot 60’s rock radio score (kept hearing “oh I love this song” from behind me).

Lemon – 1969, Hollis Frampton
Lovely film, second time I’ve seen it. Should be shown every year. Only comment overheard: “I don’t know about the second movie. Just a lemon.” Mostly people were quiet about this one. I choose to believe that they were awed into silence, contemplating its light play and imagining possible deeper meanings, and not quietly wondering what they needed to pick up at the grocery store. A movie can feel much longer or shorter than it is. Lemon is supposed to be seven or eight minutes long, but I say it feels like four, five tops.

Zorns Lemma – 1970, Hollis Frampton
(no apostrophe, in tribute to James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake)
Okay, this one feels its length… its exact length, measured second by second.
1) Black screen, voice reads us some children’s poetry, each line beginning with a successive letter of the Roman alphabet (so I=J and U=V) to make 24.
2) The meat of the piece, 24 seconds, one letter per section. First section we see each letter once. Then a word beginning with each letter. Then again (different shots, different words). Again. Again, but X has been replaced by a shaking, roaring fire. Again, with the fire. Again. Again. Again, but Z has been replaced by the ocean, flat horizon, a wave rolling out to sea. Again with the fire and the ocean. Again. 24 letters at 24 frames per second (though it’s 25 seconds if you consider that each alphabet section is followed by a second of black, a shout-out to our PAL-locked buds in Europe who see everything on video a little faster than we do). And on until, some 40 minutes later, each letter has been replaced (C was the last to go). No audio except the groaning and laughter of my fellow filmgoers.
3) Sound and Vision together! A visual cooling-down after part two, two people and their dog walk across a snowy field from bottom of the screen to top as six alternating female voices on the soundtrack read us some philosophical writings about light – at precisely one word per second.
4) The audience members (those who hadn’t walked out) were horrified!

D. Sallitt liked it:

The bizarre experience of taking a test during a movie was completely distracting, so that I absorbed the materiality and the narrativity of the alphabet images only indirectly, during brief rest periods. Somehow this strengthened my investment in the images: I don’t think I would have found the “letter H” guy’s walk around the corner very interesting in itself, but that corner took on mythic spatial qualities for me.

Hahaha, I know what he means about the corner. Of the little movies that replace each letter, seen in one-second increments, some stay pretty much the same (the fire, the tide) and some progress as time passes (someone peels and eats a tangerine, this guy walks towards a corner). Everyone breathes a little sigh of relief when, finally after a half hour, the man disappears around the corner in a one-second bit toward the end. Next bit is just the corner. Next one the man comes back around the corner! Must be considered one of the biggest twist endings in non-narrative avant-garde cinema.

excerpts from S. MacDonald:

Even a partial understanding of Frampton’s films requires a rudimentary sense of the history of mathematics, science, and technology and of the literary and fine arts. … Nowhere is Frampton’s assumption that his viewers can be expected to be informed, or to inform themselves, more obvious than in Zorns Lemma, the challenging film that established Frampton as a major contributor to alternative cinema. Zorns Lemma combines several areas of intellectual and esthetic interest Frampton had explored in his early photographic work and in his early films. His fascination with mathematics, and in particular with set theory … is the source of the title Zorns Lemma. Mathematician Max Zorn’s “lemma,” the eleventh axiom of set theory, proposes that, given a set of sets, there is a further set composed of a representative item from each set. Zorns Lemma doesn’t exactly demonstrate Zorn’s lemma, but Frampton’s allusion to the “existential axiom” is appropriate, given his use of a set of sets to structure the film. Frampton’s longtime interest in languages and literature is equally evident in Zorns Lemma. …

The tripartite structure of Zorns Lemma can be understood in various ways, at least two of them roughly suggestive of early film history. The progression from darkness, to individual onesecond units of imagery, to long, continuous shots. … If the second section of Zorns Lemma is Muybridgian – not only in its general use of the serial, but because the one-second bits of the replacement images “analyze” continuous activities or motions in a manner analogous to Muybridge’s motion studies – the final section is Lumieresque.

As set after set of alphabetized words and their environments is experienced, it is difficult not to develop a sense of Frampton’s experience making the film. The film’s collection of hundreds of environmental words suggests that the film was a labor of love, and an index of the filmmaker’s extended travels around lower Manhattan, looking for, finding, and recording the words.

For most viewers the experience of “learning” the correspondences is fatiguing – especially since the process of watching sixty shots a minute for more than forty-seven minutes is grueling by itself – but the laborious process has been willingly (if somewhat grudgingly) accepted. The experience of learning the correspondences is the central analogy of the second section. It replicates the experience of learning that set of terms and rules necessary for the exploration of any intellectual field.

In a philosophic sense, Grosseteste’s treatise [spoken during the third segment] is an attempt to understand the entirety of the perceivable world as an emblem of the spiritual. And, on the literal level, what Grosseteste describes in the eleventh century is demonstrated by the twentieth-century film image: For a filmmaker, after all, light is the “first bodily form,” which, literally, draws out “matter along with itself into a mass as great as the fabric of the world.”