Review: ‘Twenty Cigarettes’

"Cigarettes" will blow through avant-garde-friendly fests and rep houses.

Compelling, if not quite addictive, James Benning’s latest, “Twenty Cigarettes,” unspools a pack’s worth of portraits of people lighting and smoking death sticks, in static single takes, evoking Andy Warhol’s “Screen Tests.” More intimate but less mesmerizing than Benning’s similarly austere landscape films (“Ruhr,” “Los,”), “Cigarettes” will blow through avant-garde-friendly fests and rep houses.

The 20 subjects seen, an equal mix of men and women, range broadly in age and ethnicity. Although some have a degree of renown already (helmer Thom Andersen, cultural studies professor Dick Hebdige), and others are just ordinary folk (bartender Tanya Barber), all are framed the same way, showing just their heads and shoulders. Sadly, this means that their hands — arguably the most expressive part of a smoker’s body — are usually out of the shot, but just watching them sitting as thoughts flit through their heads is interesting in itself. Pic would make the perfect companion to Richard Klein’s essay “Cigarettes Are Sublime,” in which he writes about how smoking is a “form of meditation … as well as a sacrament consumed.” Per the helmer, sound is slightly manipulated to vary the background noises.

Twenty Cigarettes


A James Benning production. (International sales: James Benning, Valencia.) Produced, directed, edited by Benning.


Camera (color, HD), Benning. Reviewed at Berlin Film Festival (Forum), Feb. 16, 2011. Running time: 98 MIN.


Sompot Chidgasornpongse, Francesca Sloane, Tedi Gentry, Thom Andersen, Stephan Pascher, Blake Derrington, Norma Turner, Fabian Vazquez Euresti, Sharon Lockhart, Dick Hebdige, Hye Sung Moon, Dave Crane, Janet Jenkins, Tanya Barber, Kelman Duran, Suzan Pitt, Jahcobie Coscom, Margaret Haines, Suzanne Dungan, Alan Reed.

Filed Under:

Want to read more articles like this one? SUBSCRIBE TO VARIETY TODAY.
Post A Comment 0

Leave a Reply

No Comments

Comments are moderated. They may be edited for clarity and reprinting in whole or in part in Variety publications.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

More Film News from Variety