Bruce Conner

film 2 of 4

Cosmic Ray

Film Review by Dean Duncan Feb 5, 2015

The start of this film—a scratchy film leader rolls while Ray Charles makes an introduction, then starts that elemental riff—is about as propulsive, as exciting as abstract cinema gets. What’d I say! Then, of course, come all the naked girls.

They’re cut glancingly, coyly even—it’s all very compelling, in the way that naked girls tend to be. These images certainly go with the music. More than that they go with the music’s elemental subject, with this singer’s, with this gender’s ardent enthusiasm about it. Very powerful. And yet. Am I just being a fuddy-duddy? Cosmic Ray is not, shall we say, gentlemanly.

There’s a point to all this, or rather another point. Conner immediately starts cutting in a series of seemingly non-sequitur images. They quickly resolve into what is now a very/over-familiar sequence of ideas. Erotic display, sexual impulse and desire. These are soon displaced onto the field of military aggression. Or, its male power, male imposition as manifest both personally and geopolitically. Either way, disaster! Proliferation, escalation and then the End.

As a kinetical assembly Cosmic Ray retains most all of its power. Conceptually it feels facile, lunkheaded even. Is that fair? Conner’s film was made before Dr. Strangelove, after all. Maybe it’s a bit like Jean-Luc Godard’s vastly influential French feature, Breathless (1960). What’s the big deal, asks the modern viewer? Well, these innovations were so grand and appealing that everyone adopted and absorbed them. They’ve been so thoroughly appropriated that they don’t seem innovative anymore. But they are.

Plus, naked girls.