In avant garde film history, the landmarks feel particulary distant. Any of the films prior to 1960 that form the foundation of what we consider avant garde today feel like we need a map to really get what they mean. That's why the era of the DVD release with those highly-researched booklets was such a godsend. The one of those that never needed anything for me to arrive at its doorstep was Bruce Conner's legendary A MOVIE.
A MOVIE has no plot. That's not 100% accurate. It's not a single movie, it's a bunch of tiny movies. Conner uses titles, and End cards a lot throughout the piece, which makes one feel like you're watching a shorts program. The individual films often do have plots, of a sort. The most famous sequence features a submarine which spies on a stripper, then launches a torpedo that explodes as a nuclear bomb. There's a segment that could more-or-less be seen as the evolution of Speed, from horses, charging elephants and wagons, to cars (and car crashes!). There's a segment of Human attrocities, and more. These are not specifically called out, and as such are much more powerful. The soundtrack is completely divorced from the images, which is nice, and Conner understood how to edit found material better than nearly anyone.
This is a movie that doesn't make a lick of sense, so you struggle to find some sort of meaning within it, and Conner knew this would be the effect, so he left breadcrumbs, while at the same time, failing to give you any real MEANING. That's right: he's forcing you to find meaning in something where there is fundamentally no meaning, and then making you think that the not-nearly-random connections have something important behind them. THAT is the real meaning of A MOVIE - there is no meaning other than what you dig out of it, and a filmmaker can make you dig even where there is no treasure buried.
Klaus at Gunpoint
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