#291) A MOVIE (1958)
OR “Less-Than-Precious Images”
Directed by Bruce Conner
Class of 1994
The Plot: Edited down from hours of stock footage, B-movies, and newsreels, “A MOVIE” is 12 minutes of seemingly random clips set to three of the four movements of Respighi’s “Pines of Rome”. As the film progresses (albeit with a few false endings), the clips seem to take on a narrative, or possibly an examination of how and why we watch movies. And for those of you with no interest in ‘50s experimental film, stick around for some brief nudity.
Why It Matters: The NFR write-up is primarily a regurgitation of the film that, thanks to a presumed typo, refers to the director as “Brucer” Conner. Clearly they are fans. There’s also a more detailed (and orthographically accurate) essay by art history professor Kevin Hatch.
But Does It Really?: It’s short and represents a director not found elsewhere on the list, so this checks out for me. Added bonus: “A MOVIE” is the kind of experimental film you are encouraged to add your own layers to. PLUS you get to watch all kinds of cool clips from other movies! There’s something for everyone!
Shout Outs: Among the clips featured are two tragic events turned NFR inductees: “Hindenburg Disaster Newsreel Footage” and “Tacoma Narrows Bridge Collapse”. On a significantly lighter note, Bruce Conner was partially inspired to make this film by the comic use of stock footage in “Duck Soup”.
Everybody Gets One: An up-and-comer in the San Francisco underground art scene, Bruce Conner was known for his assemblages: art pieces using found objects. He wanted to create a similar experience using film, but quickly learned how expensive and time-consuming it is to do your own filming. One trip to the bargain bin later, Conner started editing stock footage while listening to classical music on the radio (hence the inclusion of “Pines of Rome”). “A MOVIE” is Bruce Conner’s first film.
Seriously, Oscars?: Unsurprisingly, there was no Oscar nomination for the avant-garde “A MOVIE”. The Live-Action Short winner of 1958 was the Disney nature film “Grand Canyon”, which is as different a movie from “A MOVIE” as you can get.
- If you don’t know who made this film, the first thirty seconds have got you covered. I legitimately thought my computer froze on me.
- I never went to film school, so sometimes this blog experience can turn into a significantly cheaper alternative. Case in point: While researching “A MOVIE” I learned that the countdown at the beginning of a film reel is called a “film leader”. Thanks, internet!
- We begin as all movies should: with naughty footage from a ‘50s stag film. To the best of my knowledge, that’s Marilyn Monroe look-a-like Arline Hunter, whose footage Conner reused in 1973’s “Marilyn Times Five”.
- Among the titles Conner purchased for this film are such names as “Thrills and Spills” and “Headlines of 1953”. There’s also an indeterminate Hopalong Cassidy movies, which I believe is the closest Hopalong will ever get to the Registry.
- This whole thing is giving me very strong “Decasia” flashbacks. Though this footage is in much better condition; I would label it as “Pretty OK-sia”.
- The most highlighted section of the film: footage from a submarine mixed with the aforementioned stag clip, plus an atomic bomb. The onslaught of innuendos would make Hitchcock proud.
- All of this footage with motorcycles and car crashes leads to the obvious question: Where’s that fat guy taking a cannonball to the stomach? And while we’re at it, what about those clips of people testing out their flying machines?
- Surprise guest star Teddy Roosevelt. Bully!
- The third movement is when things get a bit dark. We got the Hindenburg and Tacoma, followed by plane crashes, firing squads, and malnourished children. It’s a real downer.
- The last shot is a scuba diver at a shipwreck. If that’s not a metaphor for the kind of found art that Bruce Conner makes, I don’t know what is.
- Bruce Conner continued making all kinds of art up until his death in 2008, primarily repurposed found footage that deconstructs the movie-viewing experience. Most notable of his later work is “Report”, a meditation on news coverage following the JFK assassination.
- Future NFR filmmaker Peter Hutton has cited Bruce Conner as an influence. That still doesn’t excuse him for making a film that is nothing but 16 minutes of silent Hudson River footage.
- I’m still in a Muppet state of mind, so I’ll use this as an excuse to play “Hey, A Movie!” from “The Great Muppet Caper”.
- If “Pines of Rome” sounds familiar, you’re thinking of the flying whales from “Fantasia 2000”.
Further Viewing: “A Movie by Jen Proctor” is a 2010 shot-for-shot remake using YouTube clips. Be warned: This update contains 9/11 footage.