Garry Rusoff remembers the rad movie maker Bruce Connors

This reminiscence by A1GoodGuy, the writer Garry Rusoff, now a teacher in LA, tells of meeting up with Bruce Connors. Connors was the San Francisco cult movie maker and creative person, whom it seems from Garry’s tale also helped invent light shows. Connors was a big influence on the ace graphic designer Barney Bubbles. Barney met Connors in ’68 at Connors’ house in San Francisco, but unlike Garry, Barney had a trying time of it, said he had to listen to Connors wife complain for an hour or more, in what he described as a fetid pigsty. As I mention below, Barney said, “You shouldn’t get too close to your heroes.” But Garry had a trip…

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BACK IN THAT TIME:  By Garry Rusoff      Copyright 2009

University of Southern California in the mid-60s: wild friends and strange events in a theme ride into the total unknown.  Culture in the upheaval of being reinvented.  Back in that time there was a wounded USC student hurting from his father’s early death.  That night with Bruce? It was because of Catfish Tonk.  He was an actor, a druggie and the temptation into the unknown for me, an easy way out into the furthest edge of the groove of the 60s.  David /Catfish and I and Margaret,a girl whom we were both trying to make, shot up to SF in my tiny TR3.

Once in the City we parked out in sleeping bags at his friends who shared whatever they were ingesting in the way of food and psychedelics.

We ended up with Bruce Connors at his studio.  I knew instantly that I was in the presence of “Art.”  Here was a man living his art every second.  He was inventing his reality as if he were creating the universe and tonight it was a light show, the likes of which I never knew could even exist.  His cat on a ladder was the center of the night’s theatrics, and its silhouette curled nonchalantly as Bruce juggled lamps, shades and  objects this way and that.  It was a living show, complete with shadows, bubbles, lava-lamp shades of dimensions stretching out to that strange new beyond.

I was watching him as much as his light show.  He created worlds and galaxies with unending dimensions and unstoppable energy.  Nothing was ever perfect for more than a moment or two and then he’d jump up and change the scene with dramatic flair while the cat licked its paw with apparent disinterest.  Bruce scooped the cat one rung up on the ladder.  Perfect!  For a second or two … then onto a new perspective.

We were running around doing his bidding, putting on his show, taking part like demigods in his roiling universe.

That time ended.  Next morning I found Catfish with Margaret in her sleeping bag.  Oh well.  The TR3 limped back home with a broken engine, never to recover.  But my mind’s eye had been stretched, pummeled, contracted and expanded and morphed into many molecular components by the combined action of San Francisco, Bruce, and Catfish.  No girl, dying car, but many neural connections born that night in the marathon light show in Bruce’s studio.

***

David Wills adds: In Bruce Connor’s obituary, by Kenneth Baker in the SF Chronicle, I read that Connors famously said, “On the 12-step program of Artists Anonymous, the first is never acknowledging any of your work, after never signing it… ” Connors also made a movie of clips from found old newsreels and flicks with a music backing that some say was grandmother of all music videos. In 1991, it was selected for the Library of Congress, by the National Film Registry.

There are definite direct connections between the Connors’ ethic and the Bubbles show. I can recall the always plugged-in Fulcher (Barney B’s birth name, as he was then still called) in 1964 mentioning him and the 1958 movie. The movie would be a natch for Barney to enthuse over – found object, industrial, and collaged. Barney did see the Connors’ movie in 1966, he made sure I watched it too, “It’s very important.” he said. He called my mum to tell me. I saw it on TV at my parents house in Teddington, while he watched it in Whitton – there was no TV at our shared A1Good Guyz HQ, at Leigh Court, West Kensington, London.

From the NY Times, “A key figure in the San Francisco Beat scene in the late 1950s, Mr. Conners first became known for his assemblages made from women’s nylon stockings, parts of furniture, broken dolls, fur, costume jewelry, paint, photographs and candles. These works, created between 1957 and 1964, had the aggressive appearance of avant-garde sculpture but at the same time seemed old and musty, like broken-down junk found in a forgotten attic or props for a scary Hitchcock-like movie. They were a vehement rejection of the optimistic, consumerist spirit of mainstream American society”

The Grandfather Of All Music Videos: “In the late 1950s, Mr. Conners also began an influential parallel career as an experimental filmmaker. Under the influence of his friend and fellow filmmaker Stan Brakhage, he created collages of found and new footage.”

Like I say, a big influence. Fulcher did meet Bruce Connors in 1968 in San Francisco, but he had an awful time, he said Connors’ wife kept him talking for hours in this dismal junk ridden apartment. Barney said you shouldn’t get too close to your heroes.

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