Jul 07 | Author: Mike Plante
Influential filmmaker and artist Bruce Conner died at his home yesterday morning, he had been ill for many years.
Blasting out of Kansas like Superman, Conner made an undeniable mark on film and art that still resonates today. He took film leader, a ‘secret’ part of film, and reedited it as featured content. He reinterpreted found footage into his own heavily political – and often hilariously entertaining – short films, such as A MOVIE (1958), or into beautiful, airy films like TAKE THE 5:10 TO DREAMLAND (1977). He combined both social criticism and existentialism in films like REPORT (1963-1967).
Conner also shot new, painterly images, found in films like BREAKAWAY (1966) and LOOKING FOR MUSHROOMS (1959-1967). In his shorts, you see the roots of today’s political satire, music videos and commercials, from slick editing that gives meaning under the surface, to landscape emo moments.
Alongside his films Conner made tons of art in all forms: collage, assemblages, no-camera photography, painting, intricate pen drawings and even Rorschach inkblot tests. When Toni Basil told him to go check out the band Devo in 1977, Conner was so inspired that he saw shows at Mabuhay Gardens three or four times a week, taking amazing photos of punk rock bands that ended up in the pages of Search and Destroy.
Successful in the art world, he stayed DIY his entire career. Often fighting for his work to be displayed or projected correctly and with his personal attention, he never sat back and simply sold items. More often than not he was annoyed by the business of the art world, at one point refusing to sign his pieces, later offering only a messy fingerprint.
Artwork is a slippery term. Conner would take out ads in newspapers, playing with words, fonts and expectations of society. He collected addresses of Bruce Conners in other cities and wanted to hold a convention.
When running for city supervisor of San Francisco in 1967, he made it one big art piece, while questioning what public office and celebrity really stood for. Bumper stickers said “Superconner.” A speech listed desserts instead of political sweet talk. He got over 5,000 votes.
When hired by San Jose State to teach a painting class, they wanted a set of his fingerprints and signature. He stated he couldn’t sign their forms as his signature made something art, according to galleries. Not to mention his fingerprints and touch appeared on artwork and was his property. They agreed to make a limited edition of his application with fingerprints and signatures, forcing the government to play by new, esoteric rules.
When he felt pigeonholed by one art form, he would simply move to another, although he made films right up to this year. As bad physical health prevented him from editing easily (his flatbed was donated to San Francisco University years ago), Conner finished a new edit of footage he shot in 1966 this year, titled EASTER MORNING, with help from producer Henry Rosenthal.
Conner was cantankerous and one-of-a-kind. He would wear an American flag pin. When asked why, he said, “I’m not going to let those bastards take it away from me.”
Conner came to CineVegas 2004 for our Vanguard Director Award, when we were lucky enough to present 90 minutes of his films. He insisted he had to be done with events at 9pm, but then stayed up until 1, dancing at the party.