James Benning captured the American landscape through the windshield of a car in 1975, resulting in the short film The United States of America. In 2021, he made this update, consisting of a series of intriguing, static shots lasting about two minutes, one for each US state, from Alabama to Wyoming. We see a tent camp under a bridge with the sign “No stopping anytime,” sunflowers, industrial areas, palm trees, refineries, earthworks, an abandoned gas pump, a racetrack, empty parking spaces beside closed shutters.
These thoughtful observations, sometimes subtly humorous, merge to become an alternative portrait of the USA of today, without the big stories that the country usually prides itself on. The places we see are often falling into disrepair—a world where people have taken what they needed, leaving only remnants behind. Benning shows the United States as we think it looks, but nothing is what it seems. A film as an exercise in watching carefully, with a brilliant twist in the credits.