James Benning’s ‘Stemple Pass’: Minimalist Horror for Trump’s America

Vague Visages


Although President Elect Donald Trump has not yet been sworn into office, the term “Trump’s America” has already become a usual suspect in film criticism. Indeed, it’s difficult to avoid reflecting on this seismic political event when viewing contemporary American films. Recently, I’ve found myself thinking back to James Benning’s Stemple Pass, an experimental film released in 2012 (incidentally, midway through Barack Obama’s eight-year presidency). Benning’s film deals with distinctly American subject matter, and those sociopolitical fixations warrant close analysis. Those fixations include the obsessive lust for “returning to the past,” an intensifying fear of the outsider and the tenuous connection between the human and the nonhuman (this last topic underpins issues like factory farming and capital expansion at the cost of environmental damage).

I caution against referring to Stemple Pass simply as a work of “non-narrative” cinema, because its progression is so rigorously and specifically designed. The film…

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