Monday, July 7, 2008

Bruce Conner (1933-2008)

Bruce Conner has died.

A local artist and filmmaker with global impact, his work meant a lot to me, and I feel lucky that I got to hear him speak before film screenings three times in the past several years. Though I'd seen a few samples of experimental/personal filmmaking before then, always on VHS tape, I can credit a viewing of Conner's film the White Rose at the De Young Museum in 1996 with lighting the fuse that would eventually explode my interest in exploring this particularly expansive cavern of cinema. My first visit to SF Cinematheque was to see a program of his films, and I've been back countless times.

Enough about me, though. Here's Conner talking about himself and his mid-1960's peers in a 2001 interview, as published in Scott MacDonald's indispensable book Canyon Cinema: the Life and Times of an American Independent Distributor:

A lot of the people involved with Canyon were living at a level that people working in film today would see as poverty. But many of us had decided that this was the life we had to live if we were going to be artists or filmmakers. It was almost like taking a vow of poverty in a religious order, and we had a faith that this was one of the more important things in life. We did not consider what we were doing as a career -- unlike people who go to school today and take film classes or video or art classes and consider this preparation for a career. That idea didn't exist then, at least not among us. We were people who were willing to suffer a lot of indignity and deprivation, and to withstand things that might damage our health or well-being or standing in society, to do this type of work -- we dedicated ourselves to art. There were people going to jail because of what they were doing as artists and filmmakers. It was a social environment that's very hard to convey to people now.
Image is from Easter Morning, shot in the 1960s, completed this year, and internationally premiered at the Directors' Fortnight at Cannes, 2008. A collection of Conner's still photography is currently on display at the Berkeley Art Museum. I'll be visiting it soon.


  1. Conner is great! I should revisit his stuff again. It is a strange coincident that I come to read your blog after a long break moments later I discover a 2-dvd set of Brakhage, probably borrowed from my friend John but god knows when, and put it next my tv to view some of it when i take a break from writing or reading.
    - moazzam

  2. Thanks for the comment, Moazzam. As much as I'm glad that Conner and Brakhage are reaching new audiences through modern technologies (mostly through "pirate" video streaming, and DVD viewing, respectively), I'm also somewhat sad that these avant-garde filmmakers whose work, arguably above all others', is compromised when removed from the materiality of the medium they were created for.

    On that note, Brakhage's great Dog Star Man is playing at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts this Thursday.