The late Bruce Conner was a visionary artist and consistent fixture of the San Francisco counter-culture up until his passing in July 2008. Well-known on the West Coast for his collage sculptures before turning to film assemblage, Conner emerged in the 1960s as a major avant-garde filmmaker. His early films A MOVIE (1958), a montage of found materials culled from various sources including war documentaries, nudie flicks, old westerns and disaster footage, assembled in a rapid collage to Respighi’s “Pines of Rome,” COSMIC RAY (1961), a four-minute quick mix of self-shot and sourced footage set to Ray Charles’ “What’d I Say,” and REPORT (1963-67), a meditative deconstruction of the JFK assassination, appeared during the development and explosive expansion of the post-Maya Deren underground film movement, and helped to define and shape an entire genre of experimental screen practice: the found-footage film.
COMMANDING THE AVANT -garde for the past 50 years and counting, cinema legend Bruce Conner continues to influence generations of experimentalists as well as the pop culture lexicon. When Conner coined the "film assemblage" genre with his pioneering film A Movie (1958), the film and music worlds could not help but appropriate his tour de force editing techniques – weak imitations eventually pervaded MTV. But though Conner's surface treatments have been rendered cliché by the mainstream, his visual and conceptual content has been spared. His aesthetics have transcended his name, becoming an integral part of film culture. A self-proclaimed thief of religious, political, and apocalyptic imagery, Conner subverts both the medium's iconic imagery and its ideology.
You may know BRUCE CONNER as an experimental filmmaker – whose films dominate their bastard grandchildren of music videos in style, form, humor and commentary, some 50 years after he started. You may also know his collage, assemblage, sculpture, photography, print making, painting and conceptual art. He even took a ton of photos of influential punk rock bands in the 1970s. Basically, if you are creative in any format, you would be inspired by something Conner made. Sadly, Mr. Conner passed away in 2008 after a lengthy illness. He was one of a kind. This interview took place in 2005, as his film LUKE (1966/2004) was making the fest rounds, and his show of punk rock photos was opening at the Barbara Gladstone gallery.
It was in 1967. They were shooting a scene in Cool Hand Luke on a country road, California flatland, very much like the Southern environment where the story was supposed to take place. Dennis Hopper invited me to visit the set. He also asked the producer and the director if I could shoot some film of their location production on that day using my regular 8mm movie camera.
"In 1964 I filled out an application for a Ford Foundation grant and used it as a means of fantasizing about several films I might make. One idea was The Attack of the Giant Baby. Another was The Bruce Conner Story Starring Vincent Price. Vincent Price in his crazed-artist role. He would open the door and be very polite and nice and say, 'Welcome to my house.' On the surface, he'd be an elegant, considerate gentleman. But hidden in the basement would be all these hideous collages and sculptures that I was known for at the time." Bruce Conner
Interview with Bruce Conner conducted by Paul Karlstrom in San Francisco, CA.
The following oral history transcript is the result of a tape-recorded interview with Bruce Conner on August 12, 1974. The interview took place at the artist's home in San Francisco, California and was conducted by Paul Karlstrom for the Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.
Interview with Bruce Conner conducted by Paul Karlstrom and Serge Guilbaut in San Francisco, CA.
The following oral history transcript is the result of a tape-recorded interview with Bruce Conner on March 29, 1974. The interview took place in San Francisco, CA, and was conducted by Paul Karlstrom and Serge Guilbaut for the Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.
Interview with Bruce Conner conducted by Paul Cummings in New York, NY.
The following oral history transcript is the result of a tape-recorded interview with Bruce Conner on April 16, 1973. The interview took place at Charley Brown's Restaurant in New York City and was conducted by Paul Cummings for the Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.