The Man Who Loved Women

The cinema valentines of avant-garde giant Bruce Conner

What comes across strongest in 2002 B.C. is the sheer, sexy, stylish verve of Conner's shooting and editing style--and buckets and buckets of love. In "Vivian," a 1964 record of Conner's friend Vivian Kurz's art exhibit, Conner uses a speedy welter of angles and clumsy bits of face-making improv to douse Kurz with authorial affection. From what we see in the nearly three minutes of "Vivian," our subject is like many a young art student, striking Duchampian postures with more than a little insecurity while lying in a glass case. She seems to always be bunched up on the floor, shy and depressed, whether she is or not. But Conner illuminates her with rockets' red glare as if she were Liz Taylor striding down the carpet at Mann's Chinese. As much as the movies encourage multiple layers of interpretation, their most potent impression is a very personal, very individually directed amorousness. Conner's girl movies have the happy kamikaze dive of a great pop love song.

Down periscope: A strange spectacle from brilliant voyeur Bruce Conner
Canyon Cinema
Down periscope: A strange spectacle from brilliant voyeur Bruce Conner

When Conner feels the need to be a deep-dish thinker, he generally comes off as an academic Warhol--Conner understands the images he's banalizing, which makes them less monumental, less imposingly empty than a Warhol canvas. His real gift is the troubadour's. He uses a blindingly elaborate (and devastatingly effective) film technique to spell out three little words. He radically discovers the leg up cinema has on sex: He makes you feel you're the lover and the beloved at once. You can't imagine how cool it feels.

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