Why ‘A Movie’ Challenges You, the Viewer? – Interpreting Bruce Conner’s 1958 Short

‘A Movie’ is an anti-film and its aim is to generate an emotional mood and an intellectual response among its audience members – the title itself is upside down in one frame, as if it is telling the audience how different the experience is going to be. Some expressions I would use are: ‘amazed’, ‘awed’, ‘shaken’, ‘curious’, ‘involved’, ‘challenged’. Take the last expression, for instance. What is so challenging about ‘A Movie’? It runs for not more than twelve minutes, looks very dated and is mostly prepared out of ready-made footage through the simple process of splicing. Its opening credits don’t bother to exclude info meant for the projectionist, and most of the time one feels as if Bruce Conners the director was suffering from some mental disorder, because he kept inserting ‘The End’ and ‘A Movie’ repeatedly in the course of the film. One uses the word challenged when faced with some material that manages to alter or re-inspect his/her perception, and it generally is kept for material that knows what it is doing. Bruce Conners’ first attempt, however schizophrenic, certainly knows what it is doing, and that is simply why it matters.

I think whenever you are spoon-fed with data especially in documentaries, you don’t really think much about it after the end credits. Informative data is more for students interested in the subject – Al Gore’s documentary will have more environmentalists in the audience, and Lisa Simpson… What casts a deeper imprint are works that lead you along a path, but do not reveal everything to you, and ‘A Movie’ does this. Facts are not what the film bombards you with, but rather visuals that bring within you some form of reaction. You may be baffled, amazed, repulsed, confused etc but you have a reaction, and you dig deeper to know what really caused that reaction. I shall dissect ‘A Movie’ in order to let you know why I experienced the aforementioned expressions.

The film starts with the title and the year of release. The title itself raises some curiosity as to what the movie is about. Then comes the director’s name BRUCE CONNERS in a font size that almost takes up the entire frame. In the background is music apt for epic films. We soon realize that the director’s name is to be reckoned with since it takes a very long time to clear the screen. Why the delay? I thought it was to stress that the film is a one-man effort and therefore we had to assume he was the editor, producer, sound mixer etc. After that vanishes, we get bizarre visuals that are generally seen by the projectionist and would’ve been kept out in any other film. Why keep that? Maybe to say this will not look like a well polished film. We also see, in blurry font ‘End of Part Four’, after which begins the countdown from twelve to four, interrupted by a shot of a woman undressing, and then finishing the countdown and then saying ‘THE END’! I felt the director wanted to say “Please, don’t see any further. I’ve given you what you came for! After this there’s very little that’s entertaining!”

The movie begins with horses galloping, either ridden by Indians or cowboys or carriage driven. The animals are moving at a fast pace with cinematic music in the background. I thought this was to say how different men have been using same animal in similar ways as a locomotive down the years – first the Indians, then cowboys and then people inside carriages. The next shot is of a rampaging elephant from behind, and later come four wheeled vehicles, mostly cars that race dangerously. The horse and the elephant have four legs and the car has four tires, and all run on land – so we keep this thread in mind. Slowly come the crashes that are accompanied by slightly forewarning sounds in the background. The last crash is the worst, and we see ‘THE END’ again, maybe to say that ‘this seems like the end but it isn’t’.

The third segment is longer, starting with Polynesian women carrying huge things on their heads, then tightrope walkers balancing dangerously. There’s something falling from the sky but I couldn’t make out what it was. After this, there’s the puzzling moment where a naval soldier seems to view a bikini-clad girl through the periscope in the submarine and he signals to blow her up, creating a sexual pun according to many viewers. Maybe also to address violence against women, but that seems unlikely. There are shots of miniature cycles and scooters, plus shots of two-wheeler vehicles racing. The music is serious and low throughout. Segment four may clear some of the confusions risen. It consists of shots of African tribes starving in some shots and killing an elephant in another, lots many crashes and accidents, natural disasters, and terrible moments of dead bodies on display. By now you’ve seen man destroying himself using almost everything he has, and he isn’t even bothered by killing the same animals he used as locomotive before. Questions arising: ‘Are we to take this just as a movie?’ and ‘When will this end?”.

Finally, the scuba diving scene without any end credits. I immediately thought of the lost city of Atlantis. The destructive man may have no choice but to find a solution below. The film itself wants us to dig deeper, and find out what started all this and what can be done now. It may also allude to getting ‘pearls’ only after getting deeper – probably to say we should watch the film again to get closer to its implicit messages. This is why I used the word ‘challenged’.

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