Twenty Cigarettes | Chicago Reader

Twenty Cigarettes

Does the American Cancer Society know about this? In what might be seen as a revolt against the big studios' crackdown on characters smoking, veteran experimental filmmaker James Benning presents 20 vignettes, each a head-and-shoulders close-up—shot dead-on in a single take—of someone lighting and smoking a cigarette. Except for one good old boy who talks to his dog, none of the performers speaks, and the duration of the shots invites you to examine the minute details of the various backdrops—a tree trunk, a cinder-block wall, a painted fa├žade of corrugated metal—as well as the people themselves. Occasionally they look into the camera, but mostly they stare off in space, their thoughts sometimes registering in their faces but as evanescent as the smoke they exhale.



  • James Benning


  • James Benning

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