Bruce Conner

film 1 of 4

A Movie

Film Review by Dean Duncan Feb 5, 2015

This is part deconstruction, part heavy-handed (or should we say youthfully emphatic) statement on dumb human ambition/aggression, and the nuclear places that they are likely to take us. And, or, sexuality. Ringmaster Conner inserts the image of a mostly naked woman in the midst of the academy leader—10-9-8-7…—and then follows the countdown with an end title. Right from the start, then, he is commenting on film conventions, and also offering an exposé of the expectations that derive from those conventions. As for the sensuality, I wonder if A Movie isn’t  a crafty, less innocent example of how the great filmmaker Norman McLaren (q.v.) would often frame his cinematic abstractions with anthropomorphic brackets. Either way, these interpolations make us sit still for all the artsy stuff.

Lots of strategical, aggressive disorientation follows. Conner’s name and “A Movie” keep showing up throughout the course of the film. We get some cuts that are both Breton discontinuous and Eisenstein/October associative: clearing the west, trains coming, up periscope. Then we come to the key and the core of the thing, which may have seemed fresh in those sort of tip-toeing times. The guy looks through a periscope and sees a woman! She presents herself provocatively. Torpedo away, off through the water, resolving into a mushroom cloud! Did Conner reason this out, or is it just a sloppy hormonal assemblage? Stanley Kubrick and Seijun Suzuki would elaborate this idea of displaced erotic energy leading us warward. But does that even mean anything? Aristophanes (Lysistrata, 5th century BCE) reversed that notion, and probably with better and more plausible results.

Moving to the film’s climax we see lots of dumb stunts, people endangering themselves for fun or for attention. Now we have another troublingly imprecise juxtaposition, as hijinx turns into combat footage, and back again. Daredevils, speed demons, warmongers, natural disasters, collaborator killings. What does it all mean? A mess, probably, but it’s interesting and even inspiring the way that Ottorino Resphigi’s stirring music brings this all together, pushes through the otherwise muddled thinking to a stirring conclusion. Musical parallelism: in the end Conner succeeds in tweaking cinematic convention with the most conventional film device of all.