Crossroads (Bruce Conner, 1976)

“What I’m getting at is: a native village is bombed, and the bombs happen to be beautiful when they land; in fact it would be odd if all that sudden destruction didn’t liberate some beauty. The form a bomb takes in its explosion may be in part a picture of the potentialities it destroyed. So let us accept the idea the bomb is beautiful.”-Norman Mailer, Pontifications

Bruce Conner’s Crossroads, an assembly of government atomic test footage manipulated by the filmmaker and scored by Terry Riley, is an object of troubling beauty. The film is both noteworthy for the alternating sense of meditative calm and grim foreboding it establishes, and in its mind-bogglingly coherent employment of visual metaphor despite only being slightly altered from the original found footage by Conner.

The growing mushroom cloud of water which is repeated in different iterations and seen from varying distances until the film’s coda of quiet reflection on water. It becomes a phallus, a crown, and eventually blends with the clouds it was initially shown contrasted with. The mix of symbols; the ascension upward not genuinely being progress, the mix of vague visions of visual grandeur mixed with sexual urges leading to absolute destruction; these things aren’t especially original together.

Conner’s film is still an exceptional one for the fact that it’s the only film I’ve ever seen, including Conner’s earlier A Movie which manages to capture fully the enticing and hypnotic features of these forces, the beauty of the bomb and the attractiveness of self-annihilation. The viewer is sucked in by the slow rhythms and wonderful imagery until a long coda at the end of still water with a boat’s silhouette lingering ominously in the left corner. The different movements have been marked by the presence of cross-hairs; are they pointed toward the boat or toward ourselves?

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