Part of Fall 1990
Pleasure Dome is pleased to present James Benning’s most recent film Used Innocence. Over the last decade and a half Benning has established himself as one of the most important practitioners of the neo-narrative school along with Yvonne Rainer and Chantal Ackerman. Of the three, Benning’s work is perhaps the most austere, often focussing on pairing the minimal landscape of the American midwest with true stories of the dark side of life (such as murders) told in an oblique, elliptical way.
Used Innocence James Benning, 95 min, 1989.
“I’m not a journalist or a detective and I must admit I wouldn’t have even noticed this case but for her beauty. I saw her picture in the paper sometime early in 1986. It was from a court appearance. She was trying to get a retrial. She looked unusually beautiful and claimed her innocence.
“I got interested. I wanted to find out more. I read 3000 pages of trial transcript that summer, over 300 newspaper articles, and began to visit her in prison. Her case was very confused. Lots of people with no hard evidence. No smoking gun covered with fingerprints. My beginning notion was to remain objective (stay outside) and look for a solution. Be a journalist and/or detective. Find out if she was set up. She was found guilty of murder and had already served four years in prison. She was denied a new trial.
“A single mother had been shot at point-blank range. Her two sons of nine and eleven tried to stop the bleeding. She died as they packed her wounds with gauze. Someone did this at two-thirty in the morning. In the middle of their sleep. She and prison life interested me as much as her case. I no longer remained outside. I found her very complex. A self-taught Marxist-Feminist politically involved with prison reform. A hardcore lifer. And at times a naive, young, southside Milwaukee Polish girl. She became a real person to me. I could no longer make a story just about her case. It had to reveal more of her. And some of me.
“P.S. (September 5, 1990) On July 18, 1990 I wrote her the following post card: ‘Been on the road six weeks. Had some problems. Everything is okay now. Hope to see you soon. Call me’. The next day she cut through a window screen ran unnoticed through a wooded area, and climbed an eight foot unguarded barbed wire fence. She’s still missing today.”