"The world in miniature" : testing Bruce Conner's CROSSROADS
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The subject of this thesis is Bruce Conner’s 1976 film CROSSROADS, a 37- minute filmic portrait of the world’s first underwater nuclear detonation at the Bikini Atoll on July 25, 1946. CROSSROADS consists of 23 segments of declassified United States National Archive footage and two original soundtracks composed by Patrick Gleeson and Terry Riley. Documentary and aesthetic at once, the work invites a meditation upon the terrifying violence and evanescent beauty of a key 20th century icon: the atomic mushroom cloud. In this thesis, I examine CROSSROADS under the generative conceptual prism of the miniature as theorized by Claude Levi-Strauss in The Savage Mind and Gaston Bachelard in The Poetics of Space. I expand upon the miniature idea flexibly throughout this paper: I find that it is equally relevant to nuclear weapons testing history, landscape, cinema, description, and the artwork of Bruce Conner. Remaining focused on questions of scale and making relevant comparisons to works of art, films, and contemporary visual culture, I structure my analysis loosely around episodes in the life of the film: the production of its source material in the 1940s, Conner’s process of modifying it in the 1970s, and the resulting work’s reception after its premiere in 1976.