Breakaway: Films by Bruce Conner

Nov 11, 2010

(16mm and DigiBeta, 92 min)

Presented by The Sprocket Society
Co-presented by The Film Forum and Third Eye Cinema

"I’ve always known that I was outside the main, mercantile stream. I have been placed in an environment that would have its name changed now and again:  avant-garde film, experimental film, independent film etc. I have tried to create film work so that it is capable of communicating to people outside of a limited dialogue within an esoteric, avant-garde or a cultish social form. Jargon I don’t like.”
– Bruce Conner, in an interview with William C. Wees

The films of Bruce Conner (1933-2008) are some of the most influential, imaginative, and just plain fun of the late 20th century avant garde.  Unavailable on home video for 20 years and pulled from circulation by the artist in the years before his death, this is a rare opportunity to see these essential and hugely entertaining short films -- on the big screen and in their original formats, including several new prints.

Practically inventing the found-footage subgenre and credited with inspiring what became music videos ("Don't blame me," he once implored), Conner's films took montage to new heights, infused with a Dadaist pranksterism that could eviscerate media consumerism in one moment, and in the next moment embody a piercingly moving comment on the basic human drama.  His first film, A MOVIE (1958), was selected by the US Congress for permanent preservation in the National Film Registry.  His films and artworks are in the permanent collections of the Museum of Modern Art (New York), the Whitney, the Harvard Film Archive, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, MOCA in Los Angeles and the Walker Art Center, which in 2000 created the major exhibition of Conner's works in all media, 2,000 BC: The Bruce Conner Story Part II.

Bruce Conner was a brilliant polymath artist.  His work as a painter, collagist, photographer, sculptor, and conceptual artist is as celebrated as his filmmaking.  He was also a legendary prankster, with a chapter devoted to him in the classic Re/Search anthology, Pranks.  Conner was an artist who stayed on the forefront of underground culture:  in the late 1950s, he was a key figure in the West Coast beatnik scene; in the '60s he helped create some of the first psychedelic light shows at the Avalon Ballroom; in the 1970s and '80s he photographed the exploding punk scene for the legendary Search and Destroy zine.  A co-founder of Canyon Cinema, one of the most important underground film co-ops in the world, his friends ranged from Stan Brakhage to Larry Jordan, Michael McLure to Dennis Hopper.

Celebrating what would have been Conner's 77th birthday, The Sprocket Society and Third Eye Cinema are proud to present this very special program.

Highlights of the program include:

A MOVIE (1958) - Conner's first film, inducted in the National Film Registry
Cosmic Ray (1961)
Breakaway (1966) - with music and dance by Toni Basil
Marilyn Times Five (1968-1973) - new 16mm print
Mongoloid (1978) and Mea Culpa (1981) - with music by Devo and David Byrne & Brian Eno
Looking for Mushrooms (Long Version)  (1967-1996) - in Mexico with Timothy Leary, with music by Terry Riley
LUKE (1967-2004) - using footage Conner shot on the set of Cool Hand Luke; rare screening

...and more!

Sample videos:

Breakaway (1966)

Valse Triste (1978)

In praise of Bruce Conner:

"Bruce’s films changed my entire concept of editing."
– Dennis Hopper

"One begins by laughing at the juxtaposition of cowboys and Indians, elephants and tanks, but soon the metaphor of association becomes serious, as we realize we are witnessing the apocalypse."
– Freude

[Conner's films are] "Intermittently funny, erotic, horrifying and tragic...a wry commentary on the conventions and cliches of commercial media and a poetic alternative vision of what filmmaking could be."
– Ken Johnson, New York Times obituary

"I think Bruce will eventually be recognized as one of -- perhaps the -- most important West Coast artists of his time."
– Peter Boswell, curator of the 2000 Walker Art center retrospective, currently the senior curator Miami Art Museum

"Bruce Conner's ecstatic films — fabricated from bits of old documentaries and educational reels, from mass-cultural snips and snails and recycled movie tales — were at once salvage projects and assertions of individuality in an increasingly anonymous age. In their modest way (modesty, in this case, being less a virtue than a worldview), they were acts of resistance, an aesthetic rejoinder to a world drowning in its own image. Just as important, they are generally a blast — witty, exuberant, despairing, engaged, apocalyptic."
– Manohla Dargis, New York Times

More information:

Bruce Conner C.V.

"An Appraisal -- An Artist of the Cutting-Room Floor" by Manohla Dargis

Oral history interview with Bruce Conner, 1973 Apr. 16, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution

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