Bruce Conner, A MOVIE (1958, 16mm, b&w/sound, 12min.); © Conner Family Trust, San Francisco, California

Bruce Conner, A MOVIE (1958, 16mm, b&w/sound, 12min.); © Conner Family Trust, San Francisco, California


Bruce Conner: The Complete Films

October 14 – 20, 2010

The filmmaker and visual artist Bruce Conner (1933-2008) is one of the most popular protagonists of the American avant-garde; several of his films such as Cosmic Ray (1961), Breakaway (1966), America is Waiting (1981) or His Eye Is on the Sparrow (2006) are among the most entertaining and moving works in the medium’s history. At the same time, Conner was one of the few genuine innovators of film – starting with his early masterpiece A Movie, made without a camera at the age of 25. The status of this film in the tradition of found-footage cinema is not unlike that of the New Testament in Christianity.   

Until Conner, no filmmaker worked with pre-existing footage so consistently and with such great variety. From A Movie through Marilyn Times Five to proto-music videos like Mongoloid or Mea Culpa he continued to find new strategies of deconstruction and reconstitution – in order to extract rare moments of wisdom and beauty from the scraps of civilization and industrial movieland. At times, Conner turns into a Tex Avery-type pop surrealist, but he can also resemble a spiritual visionary à la Jim Morrison; there are cases where his films border on cornball humor (Permian Strata) but then he always finds a mysterious, intimate tone which evokes Proustian states of memory and emotion – as in his late 1970s diptych Take the 5:10 To Dreamland and Valse Triste.

All of this is driven by a healthy dose of skepticism towards the U.S. – the shock of the Kennedy assassination ran deep (Report, 1963-67) and continued for decades afterwards (Television Assassination, 1963/64-1995). Only the will to see could promise deliverance, or at least consolation: from the late sixties on, Buddhism was present in Conner’s work, as was the search for keys to the doors of perception – the various versions of Looking for Mushrooms are acid trips on film, and Crossroads, a study of nuclear mushroom clouds, can be considered a mandala. Ultimately however, all is in flux.

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