. Conversations at the Edge (CATE)

The Films of Bruce Conner

Posted by | Conversations at the Edge | Posted on | April 13, 2009

Thursday, April 16 & Friday, April 17, 6pm | Guests in person!

Bruce Conner, A Movie (1958). Image courtesy of the Conner Family Trust.
Bruce Conner, A Movie (1958). Image courtesy of the Conner Family Trust.

Explosive, elegiac, and ecstatic, the films of Bruce Conner (1933-2008) have had an enormous impact on film and pop culture, echoing through the rhythms of MTV, on-line remixes, and the use of found footage in art and cinema around the globe. Conner began making films in the late 1950s by piecing together scraps of newsreels, stag movies, and Castle novelty films into viscerally edited fever dreams that illuminated the shadow-world of America’s subconscious such as A Movie (1958) and Report (1967), and later, into lyrical assemblages of mystery and nostalgic longing, such as Take the 5:10 to Dreamland (1977) and Valse Triste (1979). He extended his propulsive approach to editing into innovative collaborations with numerous pop musicians, including the singer Toni Basil (Breakaway, 1966), David Byrne and Brian Eno (Mea Culpa, 1981 and America Is Waiting, 1981), and DEVO (Mongoloid, 1978), as well as with minimalist composer Terry Riley in Looking for Mushrooms (1996) and the monumental Crossroads (1976).

These two programs survey Conner’s 50-year career and include a rare public screening of SAIC’s own print of Marilyn Times Three (1972), an early version of what would eventually become Marilyn Times Five (1973), which is also included in the tribute, affording an extraordinary opportunity to view Conner’s working style.

Filmmaker Michelle Silva, representative of the Conner Family Trust will be present for an audience discussion after Thursday’s screening. Silva and Bruce Jenkins, co-curator for the Walker Art Center’s exhibition, 2000 BC: The Bruce Conner Story Part II, will be present for an audience discussion after Friday’s screening. Special thanks to Jean Conner, Michelle Silva of the Conner Estate, and Bruce Jenkins, Henrietta Zielinski and Thomas Hodge of SAIC.


The Films of Bruce Conner, Program 1

Thursday, April 16, 6pm

TRT ca. 70 min. Program notes courtesy of the Harvard Film Archive.

Mea Culpa

1981, 16mm, b/w, 5 min.

In his first collaboration with David Byrne and Brian Eno, Conner used footage from educational films to create a rhythmically austere imagetrack for music from their pioneering “sampling” album, My Life in the Bush of Ghosts (1981).

A Movie

1958, 16mm, b/w, 12 min.

The ultimate found footage film, A Movie summarizes—and critiques— the history of modern cinema in just twelve minutes.

The White Rose

1967, 16mm, b/w, 7 min.

An elegiac musical documentary capturing the slow removal of Jay DeFeo’s iconic “painting” The Rose from the San Francisco loft from which she had been evicted.

Marilyn Times Three

1972, 16mm, b/w, 8 min.

An early version of what would eventually become Marilyn Times Five.

Take the 5:10 to Dreamland

1977, 16mm, color, 5 min.

An oneiric, autobiographic chapter in Conner’s cinema with a mysterious, evocative soundtrack by Patrick Gleeson.

Valse Triste

1979, 16mm, color, 5 min.

A lyrical companion piece to 5:10, this poetic found-footage memoir counts as one of Conner’s most intimate films.

Looking For Mushrooms

1996, 16mm, color, 15 min.

Conner returned to his first color footage of travels in Mexico and his early years in San Francisco, radically slowing down the original material—by adding five frames per shot—to craft a spellbinding and hypnotic superimposition of two worlds.

Easter Morning

2008, DigiBeta video, color, 10 min.

Conner’s exquisite final work is a step-printed reinterpretation of footage from his 1966 unreleased film, Easter Morning Raga, that further reveals his abiding interest in the psychedelic as an alternate way of seeing.


The Films of Bruce Conner, Program 2

Friday, April 17, 6pm

TRT: ca 80 min. Program notes courtesy of the Harvard Film Archive.


1966, 16mm, b/w, 5 min.

Shot at multiple speeds (and forwards and backwards), Conner’s dance film uses incredible rapid-fire montage to deliver a beautifully frenzied response to Maya Deren’s motion studies.

Marilyn Times Five

1968-73, 16mm, b/w, 14 min.

Conner’s response to structural cinema is at turns hilarious and sad, appropriating the strained performance of Marilyn Monroe imitator Arline Hunter.


1964, 16mm, b/w, 4 min.

An ecstatic portrait of actress Vivian Kurtz that features footage of a 1964 Conner exhibition and couches a humorous critique of the art market.

Ten Second Film

1965, 16mm, b/w, silent, 10 sec.

Conner created a ten second scandal with this very short film, commissioned by the New York Film Festival as a “trailer” and promptly rejected for being simply “too fast.”


1978, 16mm, b/w, 4 min.

A hilarious “educational” film that features a pulsing Devo soundtrack.

America is Waiting

1981, 16mm, b/w, 4 min.

Working again with Byrne and Eno, Conner’s early music video offers a satire of patriotism and national security.


1967, 16mm, b/w, 13 min.

Haunted by JFK’s assassination, Conner obsessively filmed television coverage of the killing, funeral and miscellaneous contemporary programming, repurposing the footage into both a sorrowful portrait of a lost hero and a blistering critique of postwar consumerism.


1976, 35mm, b/w, 36 min.

Conner followed his fascination with the atomic bomb to an absolutely brilliant furthest extreme, “expanding” 27 different shots of the 1946 Bikini Atoll a-bomb test footage into a mesmerizing two-part epic that juxtaposes the enhanced “realism” of Patrick Gleeson’s sound track in the first half against the hallucinatory trance music of Terry Riley that closes the film.


Known for assemblage, drawing, painting, collage, photographs and conceptual events, Bruce Conner first attracted public attention in the 1950s with his nylon-shrouded assemblages—complex sculptures of found objects such as women’s stockings, costume jewelry, bicycle wheels, and broken dolls, often combined with collaged or painted surfaces. He turned to short filmmaking in the late 1950s, pioneering a fast-paced collage style that established him as an important figure in postwar independent filmmaking. In the mid 1960s, he collaborated on a number of light shows for the legendary Family Dog at the Avalon Ballroom in San Francisco. During the 1970s, he became a fixture on the West Coast punk scene, documenting much of it in a series of photographs from the era. His films and artwork are represented in the collections of major museums and archives in Europe and North America, including the Harvard Film Archives, la Cinémathèque Francaise, the Guggenheim Museum, and the Centre Pompidou Museum in Paris. A Movie (1958) was selected for the U.S. National Film Registry at the Library of Congress.


2000 BC: The Bruce Conner Story Part II (Walker Art Center Archive)