Bruce Conner, 1933-2008

July 16th, 2008 · 5 Comments · By

I was saddened today to learn of the recent death of artist and filmmaker Bruce Conner.

He passed away on Monday a week ago, but somehow I didn’t hear about it until this evening when my mother gave me a clipping she had saved of a New York Times article on Conner which, 6 paragraphs down, mentioned his death. (Am I totally out of the loop, or is it just that Conner was never as much of a household name as Bergman or Antionioni?)

If you’ve never head of Conner, I advise you to seek out his films immediately. He began making “found footage” films in the late 1950’s, and was essentially the first significant filmmaker to treat his films as a collage, assembling a wide source of appropriated imagery into dense, exciting, immersive studies on war, art, politics, sex, death, pop culture, and the media. He was an acclaimed cinematographer and still photographer as well, shooting original footage for several of his films, and he was also an incredible sculptor, painter and illustrator.

I’ve often claimed that the notion of having a “favorite” artist, musician or filmmaker is a pastime for dilettantes and charlatans… so, let’s just say that if I were to make a list of the filmmakers whose works had inspired me the most, whose ideas and clarity of vision were the most significant and engaging, and whose films I found to be the most consistently thrilling, stimulating, valuable, and honest — Bruce Conner’s name would be pretty fucking close to the top of the list.

His attention to detail was so sublime, the depth of his insight was so rich, and his innovations were so extraordinary, that he ranks in my mind and one of the most significant and powerful artists of the 20th century. I also find his work to be tremendously respectful of both his subjects and his audience; his work often dealt with extreme or sensational subjects, yet they never embodied those qualities themselves; his films were always tremendously thoughtful, well-considered, and honest; like all the best films, they provided stimulating statements that engaged the audiences’ intellect, rather than bludgeoning them with pretentious self-righteous import like so many filmmakers today.

Conner’s work is not as widely available as I’ve often wished or hoped that it might be. It’s widely screening in educational, museum, and festival settings — he’s certainly been canonized in that regard — but he hasn’t quite enjoyed the acclaim and attention that other experimental filmmakers like Stan Brakhage and Kenneth Anger have garnered recently. I attempted to organize several film screenings of Bruce Conner’s work throughout late 2006 and early 2007, and was told by everyone I talked to that Bruce was in ill health, was feeling reclusive and introspective, and had withdrawn all of his films from distrubution — so the screening never came together. Given the circumstances, his death at age 74 has not come as a shock, but I was still sad to hear about it. At the very least, I might hope that we can now see a renewed attention to his work; it’s important, entertaining, and incredible stuff, and I feel that almost everyone who sees it with an open mind can take away something valuable and extraordinary.

It seems almost crass to provide links to some illegal bootlegs of Bruce Conner films that are streaming on the internet, but that’s precisely what I’m going to do now. I hope Conner’s family and the caretakers of his estate will forgive me; please know that I intend only the greatest respect, and that I hope to organize a legally sanctioned, local retrospective of Conner’s work on film as soon as such a thing is possible.

Here, then, are several Bruce Conner films, each of which a provided life-changing viewing experience for me:

A Movie (1958) — his first film! an all-time avant-garde classic!

Cosmic Ray (1962) — a Ray Charles/Mickey Mouse/war-film mashup!

Breakaway (1966) — shot in collaboration w/ a young (and rather attractive) Toni Basil, of “Oh Mickey You’re So Fine” fame!

Marilyn Times Five (1973) — an obsessive, fascinating, and patience-testing deconstructed study of some early Marilyn Monroe soft-core stag film footage!

Crossroads (1976) — made entirely from declassified nuclear test footage, with a hypnotic Terry Riley score!

Valse Triste and Take the 5:10 to Dreamland (1977) — a pair of 1977 psychodramas about adolescent sexual development, with footage from vintage educational and industrial films!

Mongoloid (1978) — an early Devo video by Bruce!

Where videos are available online I’ve just linked directly to the YouTube (or whatever) pages b/c embedding them in wordpress has proved such a tremendous pain in the ass. Sorry, folks. I know this isn’t quite the same as seeing them on a screen in 16mm, but it’s the best we can do at the moment. Hope you can appreciate them regardless.

Tags: news

5 responses so far ↓

  • 1 James // Jul 17, 2008 at 12:06 am

    My girlfriend in college once gave me a xerox of a Bruce Conner flyer, which subsequently hung above my desk until I graduated.

    It contained that photo at the top (which for some reason has always eerily reminded me of a young George W.) and a quote by Bruce in which he pledged that none of his films will ever promote the denigration of a culture, person, or idea.

    I now can’t seem to dig up that xerox, nor can I find that exact quote anywhere online… I’ll buy two beers for anyone who can track it down.

  • 2 Anonymous // Jul 22, 2008 at 5:19 am

    James,

    The photo and quote you mention used to be included in Canyon Cinema’s outline of Bruce’s films. Can’t find it on-line anywhere now but since it is also hanging above my work desk, the quote reads:

    “I want to assure the programmers funded by the National Endowment of Arts that my movies will never contain obscene or indecent material. You will not see the denigration of the objects or beliefs of the adherents of a particular religion or non-religion. Neither will you see the reviling or debasement of any person, group or class of citizens on the basis of race, creed, sex, handicap, age or national origin.

    This is my pledge to the citizens of this great nation. I will maintain these high standards at all times.

    BRUCE CONNER

    The photo is the basis of at least two other works, Connerhead and Bombhead, which are worth a look if you haven’t seen them.

    Thanks for the beers…

  • 3 Anonymous // Jul 22, 2008 at 5:45 am

    Ah… found it…

    http://web.archive.org/web/20070203175109/http://www.canyoncinema.com/C/Conner.html

  • 4 James // Jul 23, 2008 at 8:01 pm

    Well spotted, er… whomever you are.

    “Connerhead” i haven’t seen… but “Bombhead” is, in fact, the cover of the exhibition catalog for the “2000 BC: the Bruce Conner Story Part II” show, which is about as comprehensive a collection of Conner’s visual art as one could hope to find, and is a fine book indeed.

  • 5 snowwhite // Jun 29, 2009 at 9:40 pm

    I’m not good at explaining, so just go to my poop = dofus power leveling
    it supposed focus {dofus kamas} ,high level with high equipment,^_^
    don’t miss it