In a career that spanned more than half a century, Bruce Conner (Kansas, 1933-San Francisco, 2008) worked in nearly every medium of the fine arts.
The product of an unpredictable and unclassifiable spirit, Conner’s extraordinary body of films continues to enchant, provoke and engage audiences. Conner knew the canon of classic cinema as well as the avant-garde and had a particular affection for hybrid forms. His films, which cut together disparate footage that nevertheless seems to maintain visual continuity (thanks in part to powerful musical accompaniments), pay homage to visual and sound effects that often override the narrative logic.
Conner possessed an almost alchemic ability to transform found footage into works of great beauty and power. Behind the seeming anonymity of stock footage and countdown leader, the hand of the artist is evident. He not only exhibited a formidable mastery of the formal possibilities of cinema but took particular interest in unmasking the social and political messages that were imbedded in the B-movies, newsreels, porn films, and educational shorts from which he sourced his material.
By the 1960s Conner was pushing at cinema’s limits of visibility through his hyperkinetic shooting and editing strategies while developing an ever more caustic critique of the media. Report (1967), a film about President Kennedy’s life and death, implicated both the media and the marketplace in his assassination.
Conner’s rejection of any form that might threaten to become a signature style brought a change to his films at the end of the 1970s, when he began to radically decelerate the flow of images in more reflective works. In Crossroads (1976), he reassembled government footage of the infamous 1946 underwater nuclear test off the Bikini Atoll, using slow motion and a meditative score by Terry Riley. In Take the 5:10 to Dreamland (1976), he used slow fades to black and an oneric electronic score by Patrick Gleeson. In the 1990s he began to rework his own earlier films, including a version of the manic Looking for Mushrooms (1959-1967) slowed to one-fifth the original speed and now backed by a Terry Riley score. Many of these final works took Conner back to former films and unfinished projects, creating a mandala-like arc to his cinematic oeuvre.