Bruce Conner: The Art of Montage

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Bruce Conner: The Art of Montage

Film Forum's two-program, 17-film survey of the work of the late, great experimental director Bruce Conner is endlessly rewarding. A San Francisco--based Beat artist, Conner is best known for his free-form, found-footage debut, "A Movie" (1958). An everything-and-the-kitchen-sink assemblage, it's as much a template for latter-day Hollywood sensationalism as it is a presciently acid critique of same. Snippets of race-car footage, an elephant stampede and a charging cavalry propel us toward provocative glimpses of the Hindenburg in flames and mushroom clouds rising.

The hydrogen bomb is a Conner film staple: You'll see flashes of it in his Ray Charles--scored "Cosmic Ray" (1962), within a quick-cut montage of a tantalizing dancing girl. (Sex and death are often frantically intertwined in the director's work.) Equally nuclear, though much more contemplative, is the director's 36-minute masterpiece, Crossroads (1976), which offers several long takes of the Bikini Atoll testing grounds as they are engulfed in explosive billows. And then there's the caustic "Report" (1963--67), which plays breathless on-site radio reports of the John F. Kennedy assassination over news footage of the President's motorcade, discomfortingly long stretches of black and several cheeky period advertisements. There are few finer, more savage comments on how national tragedy is packaged and sold to the gullible masses.---Keith Uhlich

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