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13 ways of looking at a lake

Butler, A. (2017) 13 ways of looking at a lake. In: Gibbs, J. ORCID: and Pye, D. (eds.) The Long Take: Critical Approaches. Palgrave Macmillan, London, pp. 177-191. ISBN 9781137585721

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To link to this item DOI: 10.1057/978-1-137-58573-8_12


James Benning’s 13 Lakes (2004) runs at 135 minutes and consists of thirteen ten-minute takes, each showing a major North American lake, from the Salton Sea in the West to Lake Oneida in the East, and from Lake Ponchartrain in the South to the Alaskan Lake Iliamna in the North. The film has been understood as a landscape work with environmental concerns, although I argue that this is only one aspect of the film. Benning’s compositional concerns have also been noted, but rarely analysed in detail. This essay considers the relationship between spatial composition in the shot (the placing of the horizon line and the construction of point of view) and durational composition (movement in the shot, changing weather conditions and the cumulative effects of duration). The film is considered in relation to conventions in landscape painting and photography, as well as cinematic conventions (stressing, for example, Benning’s consistent disregard for the ‘rule of thirds’ in favour of symmetry). The addition of duration to the tradition of landscape art makes the act of contemplation a key element in the work itself, so that although the filmmaker remains resolutely behind the camera, offscreen and out of sight, the film registers his presence in the landscape almost as forcefully as it records the scene before the camera. Benning's implicit self-inscription is related to his lifelong concern with national identity.

Item Type:Book or Report Section
Divisions:Arts, Humanities and Social Science > School of Arts and Communication Design > Film, Theatre & Television
ID Code:67346
Publisher:Palgrave Macmillan


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