One of America’s greatest and most influential living filmmakers, Bruce Conner, died yesterday morning at his San Francisco home at 74 years of age. His experimental films changed the course of film and pop culture, from the use of found footage in the landmark A Movie (1958) to the way that the combination of music and imagery employed by Conner in Cosmic Ray (1961), Breakaway (1966), and Mongoloid (1978) was ripped off by countless music videos without the understanding, depth of feeling, and ideas contained within the Conner originals. Conner’s work as a visual artist—in the form of assemblages, collage, and photography—seems to get more recognition with each passing year; his photography work is part of the current Carnegie International.
One of the less-frequently remarked upon themes within many of Conner’s films is the spirit’s attempt to transcend the material world. Today seems like a fitting day to look at two of Conner’s films that emphasize this element, one in a pop mode and the other poetic. Both are about as perfect of films as you could ever hope to find.
Breakaway stars Toni Basil on the screen and on the soundtrack. Hopefully this film is what history will remember her for.
The tremendously undervalued Take the 5:10 to Dreamland (1976), one of Conner’s greatest achievements, is a much more meditative affair and the dissolve between the feather and the rocket is one of the most rapturous cuts in the cinema. (Although computer screens may not lend themselves to conveying the ecstatic moment in general. Both Breakaway and Dreamland should really be seen as projected light on a movie screen for them to be experienced fully.)
– Chris Stults, Wexner Center Film/Video Assistant Curator