Last week a friend suggested we go see Bruce Conner: The Art of Montage which had just opened at the Film Forum for a two-week run. The Kansas-born Conner (1933-2008) started his career in San Francisco in the 1950s painting and creating assemblages and sculptures from found objects. In 1958, he created his first film, A MOVIE, "a visual collage created from bits of B-movies, newsreels, and other footage," (from IMDB) which has since "been listed on the National Film Registry of the Library of Congress." Conner continued creating influential, experimental films pieced together from found footage, establishing himself as a pioneer of avant garde filmmaking.
The Film Forum's retrospective is screened in two parts. Program A, the more accessible of the two, features shorter films often soundtracked by pop music and peppered with several scenes of nude dancers or models. COSMIC RAY features Ray Charles' What I'd Say playing over rapid-fire clips of women dancing; MARILYN TIMES FIVE features Marilyn Monroe crooning I'm Through With Love looped fives times over grainy, black-and-white footage of a woman stripping, posing, or rolling an apple along her body; and BREAKAWAY features a young Toni Basil go-go dancing to a song featuring her vocals. Program A also shows THE WHITE ROSE, footage actually shot by Conner documenting the removal of artist Jay DeFeo's painting The White Rose from her San Francisco apartment in 1967 with accompaniment from a Miles Davis song. Program B offers five longer-running films including MONGOLOID which plays a DEVO song of the same name; AMERICA IS WAITING which shows footage of Jackie and John Kennedy leading up to his assassination; and CROSSROADS, over 30-minutes of footage showing atom bomb tests in the South Pacific. The black-and-white, slow-motion imagery of blasting mushroom clouds is oddly beautiful and mesmerzing. Conner's hypnotic and haunting imagery paired with music is considered a precursor to music videos—as the New York Times' Manohla Dargis states, "MTV should have paid him royalites."
Each program is just over 70-minutes long, and a separate admission is required for each. Head over to the Film Forum and lose yourself in Conner's dreamy, poetic film collages. Learn more at filmforum.org and read NYTs Mike Hale's review here. Through November 23rd.
Below is a You Tube clip showing theartVIEw's highlights from Bruce Conner's current exhibit at Austria's Kunsthalle Wien. The video shows glimpses of the films CROSSROADS, COSMIC RAY, and BREAKAWAY.