In just 12 lively minutes, Bruce Connor's A MOVIE challenges several traditions about watching films. This refreshingly brief and clever experimental short, made in 1958, contrasts with longer, more pretentious films of the American avant garde film movement.
A MOVIE contains no real narrative, but, rather a series of black-and-white images from newsreels and old films that are connected to each other by the nature of their placement. After a simple opening "title" sequence, a woman strips seductively, and the words "The End" appear. Next, an "Indian"
attack on several stagecoaches is intercut with an elephant stampede and a drag race crash. "The End" appears again. Several topless native women carry large objects on their head. A blimp floats over Manhattan, where acrobats walk near the skyscrapers. The opening titles appear again, followed by
submarine footage where a naval officer looks through a periscope and sees a nude woman.
Suddenly, the images become more apocalyptic. A torpedo from the submarine results in a mushroom cloud on an atoll. Boating and surfing scenes contrast with bicycle and motorcycle races. A plane crashes in the water. Teddy Roosevelt gives a speech. A bridge collapses. A plane catches on fire in
the sky. A volcano erupts. The Pope is crowned. A zeppelin catches fire. A car crashes in a drag race. A parachute jumper catches fire. A tropical paradise contrasts with sad-looking animals in a "Third World" setting. A bridge shakes during a hurricane. The burning zeppelin explodes. A boat
sinks. Some people are shot in a firing line. Other people are hanged. More people lie dead in a battlefield. A mushroom cloud again forms on an atoll. African natives surround a dead elephant. An African girl enters into a native ritual. A manatee swims in the ocean. The zeppelin crashes to the
ground. An ocean diver finds a buried ship. A school of fish swim about. The sun shines through the water surface.
As with other avant garde art, A MOVIE's original techniques have been co-opted by the mainstream--particularly in music videos and TV commercials--but the cleverness of Bruce Connor's conception has not diminished, because it stole from the mainstream in the first place! By simply re-editing and
remixing existing footage from commercial features, shorts and newsreels, and by using unexpected musical accompaniment (from Western classical to pseudo-Egyptian sources), Connor re-invents narrative film conventions. The accelerated and dialectical montage (which mimics Eisenstein) results in a
new meaning of the images, and one's responses depend on inferential associations: the nude woman, Teddy Roosevelt, the dead elephant, the burning zeppelin, and even the title sequences and black film leader (which separates some of the images) appear in cinematic quotation marks. What the new
messages say may be open to question (it's playful yet pessimistic), but A MOVIE's self-reflexive assemblage at least forces a reconsideration of how history and culture are traditionally represented.
Interestingly, A MOVIE's contrast of styles, themes and moods creates a disjunction of form that anticipates the artistically and politically revolutionary work of the French New Wave (which officially began in 1959, the year after A MOVIE came out). The faux raccord (or false match cut) of the
nude woman in the submarine periscope is just the sort of innovative montage technique Godard, Resnais, and other New Wave directors would perfect throughout the '60's.
A MOVIE deserves its landmark status, even if Bruce Connor was not the first artist or filmmaker to collapse high and low art forms. Still, A MOVIE may be one of the first New American films to move from modernism to postmodernism by reclaiming the past with an ironic and knowing wink toward the
future. Obviously, by today's formal standards, A MOVIE no longer has the capacity to shock, but it still has the capacity to encourage critical thinking, and that's no small feat. (Violence, nudity.)
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- Rating: NR
- Review: In just 12 lively minutes, Bruce Connor's A MOVIE challenges several traditions about watching films. This refreshingly brief and clever experimental short, made in 1958, contrasts with longer, more pretentious films of the American avant garde film moveme… (more)