The revelatory experience of first encountering Bruce Conner's films produces that same "holy shit" mind shock you felt when you discovered the Ramones or the Stooges or Borges or Burroughs. You realize: So this is where everything changed. Conner's methods—found footage collage, rapid cutting, pop music lifts—are rooted in the experiments of Vertov, Buñuel and Joseph Cornell (to name a few), but something special happens to the disparate strains of the avant garde in Conner's short films. Transducing the adventurous sound and vision of the first half of the 20th century into something rowdier, wittier, and simply more entertaining than what came before, Conner's films (commencing with A Movie in 1958) anticipate the good, the bad and the ugly of our visual culture: New Hollywood, MTV, YouTube, and just about every rock-soundtracked montage you've ever seen. Yes, you can pin Tony Scott's worst moments on him. But thank him for Scorsese while you're at it.
And thank PDX Fest, NW Film Center and Cinema Project for teaming up to screen the lion's share of Conner's brilliant work over two nights. Before he died last year, the famously testy Conner swept the Internet clean of most of his work, and his widow continues to police the bootleggers. You can find a couple of his music videos online, but the majority of his output is rarely screened outside of classrooms and museums.
The first night's program features Conner's best-known stuff: A Movie, his first foray into found footage editing; Ten Second Film, whose title does not lie; and the Warholian Marilyn Times Five, a hypnotic deconstruction of an old stag film starring a Marilyn Monroe look-alike. The second night highlights Conner's meditative side, with the eerie associative editing of Take the 5:10 to Dreamland coming terrifyingly close to actually convincing me I was dreaming. The retrospective concludes with Easter Morning, Conner's last film and as good a way to say goodbye as any: Plants, lights, flesh, and sky flow into each other to the sounds of Terry Riley, and for a few minutes, the screen seems more alive than usual, and so do we.
The first part of
screens 7 pm Tuesday, May 5 at the NW Film Center's Whitsell Auditorium. The second screens 7:30 pm Wednesday, May 6, at the Clinton Street Theater.