The singular title of Bruce Conner’s A Movie positions this avant-garde short as though it were a prototypical example for the entire medium. In fact, Conner’s film is the self-conscious inheritor of a particular tradition within the movies, a particular use to which moving pictures have been put: the filmic spectacle. Where Conner’s film, constructed entirely from a wide variety of found footage, diverges from this tradition is in its recognition that in spectacle, the content hardly matters so much as the sensations conveyed through the film. Conner claims the cinema as essentially an art of montage, of combination, cutting together disparate materials from Hollywood epics, car and motorcycle races, plane and boat crashes, war footage, the atomic bomb, and sexy girls. It’s like a catalog of the cinema’s sensationalist devices, all of them blended together with little regard for their origins. A rapid-fire montage towards the beginning of the film switches almost seamlessly between horses in a cavalry charge, a trotting elephant, a train, and cars speeding around a track. The viewer has to strain to even notice the transitions, which happen almost subliminally because the scene’s dominant feel is maintained across each fluid cut: it’s speed, pure and simple, and the racing, speeding object hardly matters in comparison to the overall impression communicated by the montage. Conner is exposing the most basic workings of cinema here, intuitively grasping that he can cut together very different material and still achieve something that “feels” right because its editing has the proper rhythms.
Bruce Conner was born in McPherson, Kansas, in 1933 and studied art at Wichita University, the University of Nebraska, the Brooklyn Art School, and the University of Colorado. Moving to San Francisco in 1957, Conner became involved with the Beatniks. He continues to live and work in San Francisco.
Conner first made a name for himself in the 1950s with assemblages/sculptures of found objects. In the late 1950s, he began making short movies that proved highly influential and established him as one of the seminal figures in the history of independent, avant-garde filmmaking. Conner’s first film, A Movie (1958), a visual collage created from bits of B-movies, newsreels, and other footage, has been listed on the National Film Registry of the Library of Congress. Connor was also responsible for Crossroads (1976), produced with funds from the National Endowment for the Arts, which turned the destructive and sinister atom-bomb test in Bikini Atoll into elegiac visual… read more
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