San Francisco

Bruce Conner

California College of Arts and Crafts

For no more than two or three seconds, the camera rests on two small, nuzzling fawns. It cuts without warning to a bizarre shot of a band of African natives swarming over the gigantic carcass of a dead elephant: one begins to turn the huge ear as if it were the leaf of a giant book, but the camera cuts to another mob, this time swarming over the bodies of several human beings in the process of having their dead bodies strung up by the heels. The camera shifts again to a shot of the trembling, uncontrolled sobbing of an African child. Two hands reach for the child’s shoulders to comfort her. The scene is replaced by an aerial view of an endless acre of corpses, naked, mangled, strewn about like so much straw. Cut to a firing squad. Cut to the burning zeppelin, von Hindenburg. Cut to bridge crashing into water. Cut to huge atomic cloud, growing, growing, encompassing the whole earth. Cut to the silent depths of ocean. A strange, hideous figure paddles toward the camera, becomes identifiable as a human being, a skindiver. He turns, maneuvers toward a bulk of encrusted wreckage, hovers for the slightest moment over a black, gaping hole, and disappears down into it, back into the primeval, protozoic loam and slime out of which he evolved. The sun glitters on the water.

This is the final sequence of Bruce Conner’s A Movie. The second film, Cosmic Ray, lasts, in its entirety hardly longer than the single sequence described above. A stripper, her routine insanely speeded-up by the camera, jiggles, struts, jiggles and struts. The camera cuts to an army of marching soldiers, and back to the stripper. It cuts to an old Mickey-Mouse cartoon: a huge cannon emerges from a window and fires its cartoon volley. Back to the stripper, jiggling, strutting. The film cuts to a V-2 rocket, to massive batteries of cannons, huge, insanely phallic, destroying cities and armies. Back to the stripper. (Was that a skull flashing from her crotch?) Big Berthas. The Mickey-Mouse cannon fires again—and collapses like a cooked spaghetti. The stripper again, and it is indeed a skull, nestled obscenely between her legs. The meaning of the entire lunatic, grotesque history of a century of slaughter is directed to the two or three inches between a woman’s legs. The film ends.

To John Coplans goes the credit for bringing these two incredible films to the Bay Area. He has thus far been unable to interest any museum or theatre in exhibiting them to a wider public.

Philip Leider