James Benning took the founding of the New York Times in 1851 as a departure point for his latest film, Deseret. In the best Benning tradition, Deseret unfolds magnificent landscapes captured with a stationary camera during a dozen-odd trips throughout the calendar year - deserts, plains of snow, lonely trails, trees in bloom, cemeteries, ruins, unfriendly rocks, empty settlers' houses, roads that seem to be leading nowhere, a few isolated human figures. Deseret's starkly composed images suggest a space haunted by the official history written back East in the Times. Benning collected 93 stories about Utah, boiled them down to a few lines and used a different shot to 'illustrate' each sentence. As we reach 1900, his black and white footage spectacularly turns to color. The stories told recount the loss of American innocence: from the woes and persecution of the Mormons, the fights with the Indians, the struggle to become a state, to the turning of Utah into a testing ground for nuclear power. And beyond the power of words, Benning's camera keeps probing: do landscapes remember?
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