nedjelja, 26. kolovoza 2012.

Craig Baldwin - subverzivni kolažni filmovi i culture-jamming

Tribulation 99 (Craig Baldwin, 1999) | Image courtesy of Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive

Svojim kolažima tuđih filmskih ulomaka Craig Baldwin stvara zbunjujuće paranoično-apokaliptičke slike i izaziva trenutačna sociopolitička razumijevanja povijesti, politike i značenja čovjeka. Cilj mu je zbuniti, a ne razjasniti, poremetiti pretpostavke koje ljudi imaju jer su u osnovi pogrešne. U sklopu njegova projekta popularizacije eksperimentalnog filma Other Cinema izlazi i izvrstan časopis Otherzine.

File:Wax or the Discovery of Television Among the Bees.jpg

Wax or the Discovery of Television Among the Bees (1991)

One of my favourite science fiction films since I first saw it in the mid-1990s on video loan from the University of Wollongong via my local library, “Wax or the Discovery of Television among the Bees” is a home movie featuring inventive computer animation, archived film reels, stills, experimental filming methods, not a little humour and some live action; together these illustrate an unusual science fiction plot of body horror, a murder mission, a particular view of history (especially the history of communication technology, Iraq, World War I and the travails of the Jewish people) and an existence beyond death.
The film tells the story of Jacob Maker (director David Blair), a disaffected nuclear technician at the Los Alamos nuclear science laboratory who feels guilty that his work in designing and testing remote-controlled missile guidance systems, the early 1990s fore-runners of current drone aircraft, leads to refined mass slaughter; he tries to cope with the dissonance he feels between the nature of his work and his need to support himself and his wife by spending afternoons communing with his hive of bees. These are no ordinary bees: they’re descended from a special breed of  honey-makers brought back from Iraq, then British Mesopotamia, by Jacob’s grandfather James Hive Maker (William S Burroughs – yes, that William S Burroughs, famous junkie and novelist!) and his wife’s grandfather in 1917. One day while in a trance with his bees, Jacob receives an unexpected gift that totally transforms his life: the bees penetrate his head through his ear and punch the Bee TV into his brain. The Bee TV gives him a mission and a purpose in life: the universe is unbalanced and he must restore the balance by killing someone.
So a strange odyssey begins: Jacob ventures out into a missile test area, following the directions of the Bee TV, where he comes to The Garden of Eden Cave where he finds giant bees related to his Mesopotamian friends living in the Land of the Dead and revelations about his family history, the true nature of his bees and details of his mission, including the identity of his victim, come to him. He may be the reincarnation of his wife’s grandfather Zoltan Abbasid who married James Hive Maker’s half-sister, a former telephonist, inventor of a kind of telescope and enthusiastic member of a society dedicated to communicating with the dead. James was jealous of Abbasid and arranged for him to be killed by his bees so he, James, could inherit Abbasid’s bees. After death Jacob passes through lives in other dimensions before he is transformed into a missile sent to kill the reincarnations of those responsible for Abbasid’s death, now living in Iraq on the eve of the first US invasion of that country in 1991.
It’s a hokey story, yes, but one made serious and even plausible by the first-person / stream-of-consciousness point-of-view documentary style of narrative structure, presented in a casual, monotone and above all calm voice by Blair himself. Superficially linear in its story-telling, the plot flips back and forth between past and present, and between present and future, and presents a bewildering mish-mash of philosophies and mythology including esoteric occultism and spiritualism, Bible stories, motifs and themes, belief in karma and reincarnation, and New Age ideas about the karmic connections among the living that continue into their next lives after they have died. Startling and unusual computer animation tricks flip the screen, roll it, spin it around and even turn it into silhouettes of lever-arch folders to simulate the movements of birds and other flying creatures. Animated images can look quite dated but are still very inventive and  Blair and his wife, both computer programmers, use them cleverly to create three-dimensional figures and geometrical shapes and patterns, and to emphasise the alien nature of the bees, the Bee TV and the worlds they normally inhabit.
The information overload, gathered from a bewildering variety of unrelated and influences – Thomas Pynchon’s novel “Gravity’s Rainbow”, set during World War II, is one influence here – fleshes out the very bizarre story of karma and transcendence with the goal of atonement and redemption for past sins and the love for humanity that overcomes violence and death. The joining of Jacob, Zoltan Abbasid and their two bomb victims after death suggests forgiveness on both sides. Karma works in such a way that those who kill with violence will themselves be punished with death by violence, as the dead seek vengeance on those who kill them. Jacob himself is both victim and murderer … or is it the other way around? In its own, rather flat way, “Wax …” turns out to be a surprisingly moral and political film. It passes no judgement on the morality of the Iraq War or the wars that follow in its wake but it does suggest that those who kill may themselves be killed in the same way … if not in this life, then in the next.
Repeated viewings are needed to understand the film more fully; each repeat reveals something new and unexpected humour emerges as well – how can there be telephones to dial the emergency number even in the deepest caves or the most barren deserts? Those overwhelmed by the many esoteric references that relate to nothing in their current lives (to say nothing of what they might have experienced before their birth and what will greet them in their next lives) can just relax and enjoy the strangest of strange head trips. - nausika


(1991) 16mm film, color/sound, 48 mins.

A pseudo pseudo-documentary, obsessively organized into 99 paranoid rants, parlaying every imaginable scrap of "found" footage, re-filmed TV, and industrial sound into a revisionist history of alien intervention in Latin America. A melange of satire, political fantasy, and black comedy, the film takes on crack-pot paranoid theories, environmental deconstruction, and CIA intervention -- and more -- all in one shot.



Sonic Outlaws (1995) at UbuWeb

(1995) 16mm film, color/sound, 80 mins.

Sonic Outlaws is an energized discourse on contemporary controversies concerning copyright infringement, "fair use," and culture-jamming. Stemming from an investigation into the infamous Negativland-U2 suit, this dense montage of interview, music, and stock footage spirals out into the similarly inspired activities of John Oswald, the Tape-beatles, the Emergency Broadcast Network, the Barbie Liberation Organization, the Situationists, and a multitude of others now working with "found" sound. Practices of phone-pranking, billboard alteration, media-hoaxing, and the digitalization of intellectual property, seen in light of the law in a period of rapid artistic and technological change, foreground emerging tensions between imagination, authorship, autonomy, and the marketplace.
Baldwin's project itself morphs from a compilation doc into a veritable collage, likewise problematizing relations between "cover versions," homage, pastiche, parody, and criticism. All the while it suggests methods of creative resistance -- and perhaps the hope of an "electronic folk culture" -- in the midst of an all-consuming electronic environment under increasing corporate control.
Note: Also check out the Sonic Outlaws web site!


Cijeli film:

Synopsis: A radical hybrid of spy, sci-fi, Western, and even horror genres, Craig Baldwin's Mock Up On Mu cobbles together a feature-length "collage-narrative" based on (mostly) true stories of California's post-War sub-cultures of rocket pioneers, alternative religions, and Beat lifestyles. Pulp-serial snippets, industrial-film imagery, and B- (and Z-) fiction clips are intercut with newly shot live-action material, powering a playful, allegorical trajectory through the now-mythic occult matrix of Jack Parsons (Crowleyite founder of the Jet Propulsion Lab), L.Ron Hubbard (sci-fi author turned cult-leader), and Marjorie Cameron (bohemian artist and "mother of the New Age movement"). Their intertwined tales spin out into a speculative farce on the militarization of space, and the corporate take-over of spiritual fulfillment and leisure-time.
Year of Production: 2008
Director, Producer, Writer: Craig Baldwin

" allegorical cyclone of images and ideas haunted by sardonic humor and gnostic longing" Erik Davis, Techgnosis

"...this new work hits your synapses like a cluster bomb, assailing your tremulous gray matter with a barrage of cinematic fragments (most recycled, some newly shot), miscellaneous rants and ruminations"––Manohla Dargis of the New York Times

"...Mock Up on Mu is a modern American myth fashioned from all manner of cultural detritus"––Jim Hoberman of the Village Voice

"...Nuclear waste, floating space weapons, cocktail-bar seductions: All blur anarchically with footage and sound from sources ranging from The Brain That Wouldn’t Die to Capricorn One"––Joshua Rothkopf of Time Out New York

"...Featuring everything from badass Spaghetti Westerns to seedy Vegas crime thrillers to papier-mâché Z-movie sci-fi extravaganzas, the lifted material forms an alternative U.S. history in which a plot by Hubbard and Martin to colonize space (and employ energy technologies in the service of militarization) is resisted by Parsons and Cameron, who enlist occult magick to fight the power"––Michael Joshua Rowin of L Mag

" often hilarious, sometimes inscrutable, always original film that’s part pop-cultural fantasia, part capitalist critique"––New York Magazine

"MOCK UP ON MU...tells the story what happened with Lockheed Martin, L. Ron Hubbard and the mother of the new age movement all got together in the California desert after World War Two."––Nathan Lee , WNYC Audio interview with Richard Hake. click here to listen to the review

"[N]o one chops and cuts the viscera of our schizoid culture with quite the glee and gusto of Baldwin, and MOCK UP ON MU will send its dazzled, slightly befuddled viewers blinking into the bright sunlight of a subtly altered world."–Peter Culley
"In MOCK UP ON MU Baldwin may have found a new method of cinematic storytelling. Don’t expect Hollywood to pick it up soon."–David Bordwell

(1992) 16mm film, color/sound, 40 mins. Nao Bustamante, Matthew Day and Gina Pacaldo star in Baldwin's aggressively reconstructed Conquistador chronicle. Baldwin collages the black-comic restaging of the 1540 European invasion of those lands now known as the American Southwest with wildly diverse "found" imagery, video-to-film FX, and a time-warped musical mix, to critique not only the genocidal Spanish soldiers-of-fortune but also documentary conventions of historical representation. Animated graphics, collateral material and multiple voices interpenetrate the epic collage, conjugating a delirious, open-ended historiography that updates issues of imperialism, tourism, treaty rights and environmental protection from the 16th century to the present, and beyond.

(1986), 16mm film, color/sound, 30 mins.
This kaleidoscopic, amphetamine-paced tour de force uses a barrage of found-footage images and rapid-fire narration to trace a history of Zaire since its independence in 1960. The CIA, German munitions manufacturers, and American popular culture are all indicted in this comic critique of neo-colonialism.
Centering on President Mobutu's lease of 1/0 of the country's total land area to a West German rocket firm, the film explores both the explicit and implicit historical contradictions that this astonishing arrangement poses and is posed by. With sources of imagery ranging from corporate advertising through 50's instructional films to Tarzan flicks, and musical components oscillating between aboriginal sounds and contemporary electronic compositions, a critical irony is established between the several voice-over discourses and an energetic montage of "found" visuals. Self-reflexively ordered like a plastic model kit, the film perhaps proposes another, more imaginative model of historiography.

(1978), 16mm, color/sound, 20 mins.
Mobilizing wildly diverse found-footage fragments, obsessive optical printing, and a dense "musique concrete" soundtrack, a maniac montage of pop-cultural amusements, cowboy iconography, and advertising imagery is re-contextualized within the contemporary geopolitical crisis in a scathing critique of U.S. cultural and political imperialism.

Collage Maestro Craig Baldwin
By Andy Spletzer

Beginnings and Tribulation 99.

Talking with Craig Baldwin is a lot like watching his movies: The ideas come at you rapid-fire with very few pauses, often diverging into tangents that end up folding into the arguments. It's entertaining, exhausting, exuberant and ultimately edifying. His films are cinematic collages that combine industrial films, science fiction movies, exploitation classics and whatever else he has in his archive with voiceover narration and sometimes new footage, creating conspiratorial-sounding stories that take a documentary-like look at history, while speculating how events will affect us in the future. Or in simpler terms, he says, "All my films are really informed by this critique of imperialism." The 1978 film Wild Gunman is the first one on his filmography, though he did tell me, "When you make a filmography it's really, totally arbitrary. Most artists actually make a lot of little short films before they actually officially list any of them." Wild Gunman is based on an old carnival game where you strap on light-emitting six-guns and shoot at film loops of cowboy villains, and the movie incorporates its footage before it spins out to include the Marlboro Man and cowboy movies, and eventually critiques the export of tobacco and American culture. "It's kind of about Africa and Palestine," he adds.
The 1986 film RocketKitKongoKit is about how Mobutu in Zaire leased out 1/10th of his country to a German rocket firm so they could test their rockets. Of course, Baldwin incorporates Tarzan and science fiction films to support his arguments. He says, "My films are not a transparent report on history, or journalism. I do certainly encourage people to go and get the story. Go to Peru, or go to Iraq, and get the story. I'm not that sort of filmmaker. What I'm doing is dealing with representations of Iraq, or representations of Peru, mediated through Hollywood. I deal with real historical situations, but try to establish a critique of it through, I guess you could say, a conjugation of images."
More than just a filmmaker, Baldwin is also the force behind Other Cinema, which started in the late 70s and continues to screen underground work, and the new branch, Other Cinema Digital, which distributes DVDs of artists who have screened at Other Cinema. And his own stuff, too, of course.
I spoke with him on the phone about his filmography - particularly the feature-length films Tribulation 99 (soon to be released on DVD), and Sonic Outlaws and Spectres of the Spectrum (both of which are now available on-demand, for sale and for rent) - as well as his methods and theories of collage cinema.

What led you to start working with film?
I came to San Francisco when I was still an undergraduate in college. My roommate had an uncle who ran a porn theater and I needed a part-time job while I was going to school, and that was available to me. When I spent time in the booth there, I could see how the film just became completely trashed. It was 16mm, parts were cut out, there's projectionists up there making splices all the time, there were whole reels all over the floor, and it wasn't really what you would call a clean house. But as far as 16mm goes, when I saw how you could get your hands on the stuff, hold it to the light, and it was just a piece of celluloid you could flip over right to left or top to bottom or, you know, you could scratch on it, that to me was a breakthrough. That's really what drew me to film. The power I felt over it, and the ease with which I could work with it.
This was, of course, when they were still shooting porn on film.
Oh yes, totally. I'm not interested in porn on video at all. It bores me. There's no cutting, there's no míse-en-scénè, there's no staging. It's just documentation. It may as well be a surveillance camera kind of thing. That's not the kind of film that I'm into. I'm more into the - what do they call it? - the architecture, the Eisenstinian stuff, the editing, montage.
So the porn industry supplemented your film school.
Simultaneously I was taking film history and production, but for me it was really more of not seeing film as a precious thing, and that film is not necessarily theory-driven. I don't disavow theory, but it was really more about an experience of human subjectivity, of being in your body in a certain place.
Your first feature-length film was Tribulation 99. In it, there's a focus on Latin America, albeit through the use of clips of old science fiction films.
In the case of Tribulation, like all my other films, they can all really be read as political satires. It was initially inspired by Reagan and the Contras. Just like in RocketKitKongoKit, it was this critical investigation of history, about US moves to try and manipulate and compromise the sovereignty of people of other countries, and to blow it up, you know what I mean? Exaggerate it. Blow it up to a parody or a grotesque. Just take that and actually treat it as if the fantasy were real. That's why I call it a pseudo-pseudo-documentary. The model is Chariots of the Gods from Sun Classics and UFO movies from that period, the 70s or 80s.
Really, the CIA was way more imaginative than any Hollywood writer. What they were doing for political purposes, not just in Nicaragua but also Cuba, had much more of an imaginative punch than any tame little yuppie in Hollywood who is writing a romantic comedy. What they were doing was taking fantasy and fiction and turning that into political tactics. So, God, just turn it around! I was thinking, just turn it one more time.
You say you were inspired by UFO movies?
What is a UFO movie, like UFO: Exclusive or Chariots of the Gods? The whole thing is some kind of wild fantasy, but they use the language of documentary to convince people, and it seems credible because of the form of the documentary. I put the script together the same way I put my picture together. It's just a montage of wild urban myths. By running both these lies at each other - it's like fission, what you get is truth.
The lowbrow or the exploitation films, they've got so much over the other straight documentaries made by the National Council of Churches or the Democratic Party. [I like to] use the garish, the lurid, the sensationalistic, the fantastic, the spectacular - there's a good word - spectacular form of the pseudo-documentaries, but in fact make it real. Give it real information. So that's what I meant by turning it one more revolution in terms of the form. Actually, Tribulation 99 turns out to be real even though it looks like it's all fake. So that was the intention or the core of it, Reagan and the Contras.
It's almost like, by adapting footage from sci-fi, you're taking it from the establishment's point of view, and then exploding it further.
It wasn't establishment. Establishment didn't go for that stuff. It was more like fantasy. To use fantasy to talk about facts, it's just not done in the documentary world. Tribulation never succeeded in any documentary festival. People reject it out of hand as an "experimental film" or a "cult film." It's totally a documentary. It's about the history of US intervention in Latin America.
Using clips from science fiction and monster movies.
When you take these things out of their narrative context, then you see the imagery, especially if it is foregrounded with other kinds of imagery. You say, "What is the nature of this image?" There's a kind of a self-reflexivity. It's not necessarily academic. Everyone clearly sees this as a compilation film, and then we say, "What is the relationship of this image to history?"
Instead of documenting instances and events, it's almost like you're making an essay or a speculation.
Why make a documentary just about the past? It's already sort of foreclosed. I'm much more interested in really doing something with the past rather than jerk off on it like the History Channel does. How many times can they say, "That was a sad day." Not to get on my high horse, but they're just selling the past back to you, and they're reinforcing so many fucking stereotypes.
My whole thing is, "So what if that happened? What are we going to do about it now?" Things are a lot worse now [laughs], you know what I mean? How dare you turn people's heads to the past when there's so many things that have to be addressed now? I think that you should know the past, but I think the idea is to use it to gain a better understanding of how we got to where we are now, not just geopolitically, but also in terms of film history. If you could do that, then that would be a real juggling act, and that's what I'm trying to do.
The whole thing is to get out of this nostalgia for the past: "That was a horrible thing." The Holocaust, that's a complete genre. I'm not putting down Holocaust movies, but they should update it to what's going on now. There's a holocaust going on right now.
I think what I was trying to say before about the found footage coming from the United States - it becomes a United States-centric view of the rest of the world. I'm thinking of the subtitle Alien Anomalies Under America, where instead of illegal aliens, as we might consider them, they are actual aliens.
Yeah, it's a joke. You're absolutely right. It's a self-reflexive poke in the eye at jingoism and nationalism, where the United States is the center of the world. Everything is a threat to "us." It's paranoia, that's what it is. It's a way of folding paranoia into the title of the movie, as if we're under threat every second. It's not, like, my big insight, but what I try to do is jack it up a little bit to the level where you can feel it, tactically. So that's why there's all the freaky music and why all the monsters are coming out from under the ground.
It's a hook. It makes it entertaining, and then draws you into the ideas that start to develop, where you start to realize that there are elements of history that are coming through in the film, even if it is couched in a conspiratorial narrator's tone.
You got it. You nailed it. That's exactly right. Unfortunately, a lot of people don't get into the history. My friend says, "I play this to all my students all of the time, and they love it, but they don't know anything about Nicaragua." You're in college and you don't know anything that went on in Chile and Nicaragua? You flunk. That's the way I feel about it. I'm a teacher myself. I think the whole lack of world historical education in the United States is appalling. It's abhorrent.
I like the fact that you do fold real facts and historical events into this documentary essay.
Tribulation 99 is an effort to make a historical film that is couched, as you say, in the language of science fiction. I'm drawn to that because we live in science fiction, by the way. Cinematically, it works. I'm not really into straight documentary journalism. My thing is to tell stories that happen to be true, but use the beautiful parts of cinema, which is building tension, revealing things, having suspense, scaring people, beautiful imagery and stuff like that. I'm a filmmaker. I identify myself as a filmmaker, and a visual artist.
I'm not trying to do what Noam Chomsky is doing. I read Noam Chomsky, but Noam Chomsky is a writer. He's an analyst and a researcher, and people read him and they get, more or less, a textural truth. What I'm trying to do is not create clarity, but again, this idea of opacity, of confusing people and destabilizing the assumptions that they have, which are basically wrong.
You can never empty out all of Tribulation

Craig Baldwin: Visual Outlaw
No Text / No Truth / Dissemination and Revolution
By Jack Sargeant
Craig Baldwin constructs his films predominately from the twentieth century image-reservoir of film and television, plundering the visual tropes condemned to the landfill of history and recycling them. Particular favourites include science fiction and fantasy B movies, as well as, what Baldwin describes as "those touchstones of surrealist magic"; ethnography, documentary and educational films. Baldwin cuts / splices / mixes / edits these examples of the collective cinematic unconscious into new formations which both reconstruct and circumnavigate the culturally constructed meaning of the original footage, opening up these received images to a multiplicity of interpretations.
Simultaneously to maintaining this act of image appropriation Baldwin seeks to create a political dialogue throughout his films. Unlike many political filmmakers, however, Baldwin does not attempt to achieve some dubious notion of cultural enlightenment via his films, rather he seeks to explore perceived socio-political ideas through a combination of absurdist paranoia and quasi-Dada humour, see, for example Tribulation 99: Alien Anomalies Under America (1991).
Baldwin's films also function as a political engagement with film and cinema, because of their usage of found footage, which is re-used and subsequently re-contextualised via the act of detournement. A practice which serves to challenge notions of the individual as a singular source of `creative genius', as well as raising questions concerning `authenticity', plagiarism and `artistic practice', instead suggesting that creativity, rather than being an elite process, is open to everybody .
Baldwin is also involved with programming films at San Francisco's ATA (Artists Television Access), an oppositional, underground screening space in the city's Mission District. This space offers a forum in which filmmakers and audiences are able to screen and view work which would otherwise be unavailable.
Wildgunman (1978) "My punk rock movie - the one film that doesn't have a written script, it is a diatribe, or a broadside, against the Marlborough Man, from advertising, the idea of the cowboy, sub/dom, manifest destiny..." A montage of images of cowboys, advertising and geo-political conflicts.
Tribulation 99: Alien Anomalies Under America (1991). The film combines footage of UFO's, gigantic dinosaurs, plagues, covert CIA and big business operations in Central American banana republics, mind control, Cuba, presidential assassinations (attempted and actualised), and more. Includes information on cattle mutilations, George Bush's college fraternity, and the fact that John F. Kennedy was killed by an android because "no lone human being could have possibly hit a distant moving target two times within 1.8 seconds".
Collated during Iran-contra, El Salvador, Nicaragua, etc. the film combines satire and paranoia in its condemnation of Reagan / Bush / Thatcher era foreign policy, and covert American intervention in South and Central American politics.
O No Coronado! (1992) Released on the quincentenial of European colonialisation, the film details the genocidal march of the Conquistador's through the Americas utilising archival footage, video-to-film effects. Unlike Baldwin's previous works, O No Coronado! also utilises a quantity of original footage ("Conquistador vignettes") shot by Baldwin. The film was awarded a Phelan Award In Film by the San Francisco Foundation in 1992.
While Baldwin's previous films had all dealt with American imperialism within the terrain of the other, his most recent film, Sonic Outlaws (1995), focuses on the implicit-imperialism within America manifested via the cultural homogeny as articulated via the entertainment industry. Sonic Outlaws details the "electronic folk culture" that has emerged through activist / artists such as Negativland, the Tape-beatles, the Emergency Broadcast Network, and the Barbie Liberation Organization, all of whom have sought to circumnavigate the socially dictated and accepted pleasures of culture, and to find new pleasures by playing with (and through) the debris of contemporary media. Further, these artists, like Baldwin, reject notions of socio-cultural truth in favour of an endless re-interpretation of cultural artefacts which exposes the gaps in master narratives and explode the unified text into a multiplicity of fragmented forms, each of which is open for multiple interpretations.

What was the first film that you made?

CB: They were just playing around with Super 8, stuff like that. The first one I made in a formalized way was - I made three or four when I was basically eighteen or so, Super 8 films, Why Not? was the name of one.

What kind of things was going happening them?

CB: A mixture of gestures, it wasn't sync, it wasn't dialogue based, gestures in front of the camera, plus extraneous material, collateral material, shots of this or that. Actually, I do remember being a subscriber to these Super 8 movie clubs, and I would get their reels, like movies from the silent era, old news reels, things like that. I took great delight looking through this old material. So even very early on, I used to [make] little home compilations, cutting up these little pieces, and then mixing them together. It's definitely what you would call experimental film.

I'm really interested in the fact you could buy so much footage so cheaply...

CB: Oh, you can do it now. You've got a huge, huge subculture right now of Super 8, regular 8 even, and certainly 16mm. I am a subscriber to these zines, in fact there is a great journal you should check out called The Big Reel. You can subscribe - you wouldn't want to - I mean had to stop subscribing. You know the Sunday Paper with eight sections, maybe a total of 120 pages? The Big Reel looks like that. They actually made it more tabloid size now, but it used to be huge sections newsprint style, and I would just be pouring over them on my studio floor, from here [gestures down restaurant] to literally the front door. And I would just be tearing holes in the knees of my pants by moving while it was splayed out on the studio floor because I would be so obsessed with it.

So there was a period of time where I never considered myself this kind of fine art filmmaker, or even a documentary filmmaker, because, for me, it's more like, a joy in the material, in the McLuenesque sense of being the proliferation of meanings, gestures, and images, and this obsessive collector sensibility, not a rarefied minimalist, but a maximalist. The playful quality of film. Once you subscribe [to The Big Reel and collector culture in general] like I say I had to stop, because I was spending all my money on collecting these films and what I would do I would cut them up, and that's how I made these collage reels that became my lightshow.

Then I became a regular recipient of a list from a particular group of people, who send me their list every month to this day, that I correspond with and I call-up on the phone and buy. The kind of films I ended up making were films which are filled with shots which I am attracted to, that I think are interesting or satisfying to look at. They give me some kind of visceral enjoyment. So this tradition of garage collecting or this exchange in the subcultural world - film geeks is what they'd be - people who fetishize the object of film. Not looking at what's new or glossy, but looking at the rotting old bones...

Also like old forgotten or neglected technologies, the most obvious being things such as 3D cameras, or eight-track tapes.

CB: Yes. So this idea of people with the flea market sensibility, or the do-it-yourself low budget, garage or junk aesthetic, so anyway this subculture I got into very early, you can go into camera stores and get little Super 8 digests of The Incredible Shrinking Man for example, or certainly porn. Most of it's just junk, there are so many of them. That's the whole American idea of this popular imagery, just pumping it out, just planned obsolescence. You can walk down the street and find records or eight tracks in the gutter. The same with Super 8 and 16mm, it's kind of disposable material. So my whole project was to reclaim it, redeem it, this trash, which had been ruled obsolete, no longer of interest, and certainly of no value because there was new product coming along, shiny new... this years model... that became increasingly more predictable, more banal, commercial, whatever, so I was increasingly drawn towards the...


CB: The detritus. The blemished. Whatever. Anyway, I was always part of that.

My early films were experimental films like a lot of other young filmmaker's films were. They were involved more with playing around with the camera. Very early on found footage found a way in the form of these Super 8 films, in the material to try and tell something that was beyond the level of the real... mythic would be the word... slightly above the level of the real, they had more to do with larger ideas. Essays, collage essays as I call them, put a lot of different images together which have a certain kind of meaning which people know, there is a certain self-conscious that certain shots mean certain things. Within the context, of course, of our received film history, and our popular culture we've internalized it.

But anyway, I made a film called Stolen Movie, in which I would break through the front doors, whatever would get you past the ticket office, of a theatre, and go and shoot Super 8 off the screen. This was certainly a transgressive gesture against corporate media, but also using found footage in a way - whatever footage happened to be on the screen (laughs) at the time I made it in. So it was like a chance operation: Dada, nonsense, provocative, Situationist, and also found footage in a way. All those kind of things, that was more my project, not to make a beautiful film, but to make a critical gesture against the film industry, which was so firmly in place, and was based on such bad, retrograde narrative ideas and stereotypes.

What drew you to Dada and Situationism?

CB: Well again, psychoanalytically I can not tell you why I'm drawn to it, it's more of a response of my nervous system, it wasn't because I studied Dada in school [that] I turned on to the ideas, it returns to my personal history. We were talking early about the whole whiff and the warp of American popular culture, and I was repulsed by it, and I found this need to separate myself from it and criticize it, so I had to get out of the suburbs, so I actually went away to university, but did drop out of school and travel around for many years before I did return to go to school. But the whole point was that I wanted to leave the middle class ideas that culture was accepted without question, was something that we conform to and find our identity in. I was someone who had a very critical, antagonistic attitude about popular culture, so Dada was in terms of art history a gesture that was opposed to a bourgeois culture and also high art. So I found spiritual resonance with the Dada, Situationists, punk, all those movements. Again to try and set up an agency for individual creativity outside of marriage, the family, commerce, and even Art. More of this idea of libertarian anarchism, or autonomy, which is the word I would use. So there was a rapport with the ideas not through academic wrote learning, but just because that was my origins, the whole development of my personality, from the straight, white suburbs, I was a creature of that, a victim of that. There's nothing extraordinary in that, it's a story a lot of people will tell you. Part of the milieu in which I grew up; comfortable middle class, I'm not putting my parents down for that, but as soon as I had the opportunity to leave that I did.

You started collecting this stuff for rock shows and so on in the seventies, at what point did you decide to start choosing pieces of film and constructing them as these mytho-narrative pieces?

CB: Good question. There wasn't any one particular point. It was just... you could take any chunk of the collage I would make and there would be a certain kind of form to it. I have fifty reels. I'm not talking about ten or twenty, I have fifty, or sixty, or seventy reels that I put together just going through it. You know, some people watch football, or play cards or whatever, it's just the kind of thing I would do, an expression of my lifestyle: look at material and hack it up, and re-configure it. For me that's fun, it's satisfying, it's creative too, by the way. Within each cluster, bundle, whatever you call it, little montage sequence, there is an aesthetic sensibility. It ain't no big deal by the way, there's a million of them out there, these little reels. But sooner or later they get more refined, more worked on, more elaborate. Some of them the performance is just one time out. Sometimes it's a particular project, and most of those projects tend to be kind of political in my life. Lets say there was a particular kind of wallpaper, the montage, when you are getting into a film project a lot of it has to do with language. Because, I always can find another image, I can always make the film a lot longer by adding a lot more of my image store. What really determines the whole shape of the project is the language, the literary part, the written part, so generally the point where there is a break is where there is a core, a platform or base, linguistically based, that's when I say a collage essay - a neologism I formed. Collage that's the visual part, the essay part is this kind of effort to make an argument, to make a point, tell a story (well, generally it's real history).

Lets say there was a particular thing I wanted to talk about, in RocketKitKongoKit basically in Mobutu's Congo at the time - in Zaire - there was a German rocket firm who leased out one tenth of the total landmass to test rockets in. So, that would be something that you would see in an investigative type journalistic magazine. I have a lot of African imagery, and a lot of science fiction imagery, I could just close my eyes and see: to lease out one tenth of the total land area of Zaire to test missiles in, what a story. Just in terms of larger visual structure the science fiction material not only picture but also sound, on top of this ethnographic material - stuff about geography and people's of the world - so, I could do that just by having a show, an installation, running two projectors side by side or whatever, but to get the details in a documentary way, to tell the story, to give it a little more body, and credence, of this contract, then I had to write the script. And at that point my material would come out of this larger reservoir of images, and it would take on a certain kind of form. In this case it was organized like a model kit: RocketKitKongoKit. Like the instructions of how to build a model, you glue pieces together exactly like a film. I was self conscious about movie making, like rocket building, or, for that matter, building a nation. All those ideas were there, the film tried to find a happy unity there with the content, at that point, when I did the research and I knew this certain story had to be told, we had a little bit about the history of the Congo, about Mobutu and the CIA, a little bit on the German rocket, the post-nazi careers of rocket makers. A little bit about the contemporary situation in Africa, the militarisation - as I see it - of the developing world.


CB: Right. All the people wringing their hands "why are they so many wars in this part of the world? Where are all the guns coming from?" They were a byproduct of the geo-political strategising of the United States and the Soviet Union that they would pour so many arms down on people when that was the last thing they needed. Obviously get ploughshares, good computers, whatever, but that's [weapons] the last thing a developing nation needs. Once they get into the hands of these fourteen year old kids, who've never been to school, and who can't farm on their father's land anymore because there is no roads to bring their crops to the city, and all these reasons we all know about, they end up in militias. And you've got blood baths and civil wars. That was the content. The point is I wanted to make those arguments, and I won't claim I have some poetic sense, it was more in the terms of agit-prop, it was trying to raise people's consciousness, but not through the Chomsky academic, or even strident left, but to talk to the sub-culture about issues of neo-colonialism or imperialism, so I was intent on this yippie ideal, not necessarily sterilizing the debate, but keeping it in a comic book [form], within the subculture, images that were not intimidating and only for the experts... That's the point where stuff would separate off into a separate piece. Even though I was always part of that - there was a constant artesian well of material bubbling forward, at certain points, there was a certain issue I would have to confront, they were generally political issues and so then I'd write the script, get the narrators in, then wrap my imagery on top. So that really was the dividing line, at which I'd siphon off material and call it a project that had a beginning, middle and end. Those issues are constantly reflected through all of this stuff, you know, little Xeroxes, collages I would make, whatever, cable television shows, radio shows...

I want to discuss the political aspects of your work, which resonate in a particular way via the mobilization of a variety of techniques.

CB: I was always very political, I felt that documentaries were great, but there was a little bit guilt ridden, puritanical.

It's also very bourgeois, the idea [from political documentaries] of raising somebody's consciousness, as if the filmmaker's ideas were somehow higher, or more noble. But what I saw in Tribulation 99 was that you weren't raising people's consciousness, you were making this funny movie, but underneath that there was a really serious point about colonialism and the relationship between Cuba, America, and Latin America.

CB: Right. It was a trade off, I wanted to be on the margins, the subculture, but you don't want to be trading on the most overexposed ideas of UFOs, or whatever, so what I try to do is take those ideas and customize then and tweak them, so they would accommodate the political argument. I could turn them inside out, so these urban myths would be vehicles to make points about whatever. So that was the strategy, not just going in with a straight political history of Guatemala, which would be too academic, and would turn people in the subculture off, so the idea was to go beneath that and take the low road, and tell stupid stories, paranoid conspiratorial kind of things, but actually, it wasn't a pseudo-documentary, it was what I call a pseudo-pseudo-documentary just pretending to be a pseudo-documentary. Fake right: go left, by looking like you are taking people towards the gutter, but then actually, it's redeemed and the beauty of it is that you get a large audience, who enjoy the montage, the cartoon, the sound and the fury, but then it also carries this other kind of meaning which doesn't wear itself on its sleeve, like I am the morally pure political.... which I am, again I didn't have to appeal to this idea of moral superiority.

When did you start making Sonic Outlaws?
CB: 1993-94. They were busted in 1991. The abuse of power was always off-shore [in the previous films] and it occurred to me that there was this kind of liberal-tourism in going and finding these parts of the world in which there were outrageous abuses of power and then pointing my finger at it. But it is true that I felt guilty of this exoticism, voyeurism, of finding problems in other places in the world, so I brought it back home, to colonialism at home.
Without the ethnocentric conceits.
CB: So I said, well this abuse certainly goes off in the United States, and there is a colonialism - certainly in the rock and roll business - so I realized after more acquainted with the Negativland story that these guys were in a lot of ways in the same situation I was in.
I was drawn to their case. But I saw it as a good movie, the form and content. And I could tell that story better than any other documentarians, who would just go ahead with the straight media style interviews, I could actually demonstrate this whole idea of what they were doing.

Exactly, in the film you are taking images, and manipulating sources, and via film using the same aesthetic and political statements as they are. And you are committing exactly the same crime that they are talking about, and accused of.
CB: It's not described. It's not represented. It's actually presented. It's embodied. 
"I am putting my signature to this crime, and this case".
CB: Yeah. That was the idea. And there is still not enough collage in that by the way, for my liking. It did well because it got into festivals and distribution because it was a documentary about this band. That was never really my intention. The language took over. From a filmmakers point of view there is a struggle between the story, the script, the language part, and the visual part. The language part: such and such happened, this person was involved, there is this narrative kind of demand. ( I mean there is more than just narrative and visual there is sound and whatever). So, in the course of making the movie, that is part of the job, as a filmmaker you have to resolve those tension between these two major , one is the narrative, the other is the visual play. So, in Tribulation for example, where the visual really held its own, as opposed to most documentaries. But in Sonic Outlaws, the interview, the testimony, superseded the visual montage. Because the story is so strong and it is more of a journalistic piece.
You were closer to it too, Negativland and the other people involved in the film are your contemporaries, whereas people in Latin America in the sixties and seventies are not.
CB: Yeah. Good. I had access to it. You could always make visual montage after visual montage, there is a lot of material out there, but I had the interviews, and the interview had more value, I could see I had gone and set this stuff up. It's a big deal, you have this personal testimony, so I had to prioritize. So, it made a space for itself in the film, and the montage fell back to the wayside. But, you see, I hate watching documentary, even though I am a documentary filmmaker, I am addicted to the form, but I hate watching talking heads, so any chance I got to replace talking head shots with collateral material would snap in. Illustrate is the word, but say something slightly off, so it wouldn't be a direct line, but more metaphoric, this relationship where the people would have... there wouldn't be a linear line but a spiral, the image sort of looked like what they were talking about but was inappropriate somehow. You know what I mean. That Surrealist kind of thing, that humourous, playful kind of thing, that would carve out a slightly bigger path than the original script would call for. Decking out this received collective unconscious about these images so they would proliferate meanings, it wouldn't be whittling down, narrowing down on one point, but rather centrifical idea, a wider and wider source of material that I'm into. So for me, that's the liberating imagination, part of the human consciousness. The personal part of the thing. It wasn't just a documentary / a reportage / just the facts, but really giving free play and free reign not only to my own imagination, and my own fetish for playing with found footage, but also to the audience's imagination, they can follow the argument, but they can also indulge in this horizontal / parallel activity.

Missions Impossible
Made for the coffee budget of behemoths like Mission to Mars or The Ninth Gate, Craig Baldwin's conspiratorial harangue Spectres of the Spectrum turns their showbiz concepts upside down: Baldwin's alien world is really earth; his black magic is what we call science.
This guerrilla media-assault on the so-called national entertainment state opens Friday for a limited run at Cinema Village. (Having already played the New York Film Festival and the New York Underground Film Festival as well as being chosen for the forthcoming Whitney Biennial, it's something of a mutant blockbuster.) Baldwin, a San Francisco-based provocateur who's made some of the funniest, most political found-footage collage films of the past decade, believes that sensory overload can only be fought by more of the same. Spectres of the Spectrum is a rapid-fire montage with a constant barrage of information. The movie takes no prisoners and it hits the ground ranting: "Fellow earthlings, there is a spectre haunting the planet."
An appropriately crude transmission announces the paranoid scenario. By 2007, all media have come under the corporate control of the New Electromagnetic Order—a mysterious entity that plans to bulk-erase the brains of all sentient beings. "This is a real story although some of it hasn't happened yet," Baldwin's protagonist, Boo Boo, declares. The narrative, such as it is, consists of crosscutting between the desert-dwelling Boo Boo and her father, Yogi, hunkered down in his bunker. These two rebellious telepaths are not only named for TV cartoon characters but exist as symbolic constructs. Yogi was born the day Sputnik was launched (and Wilhelm Reich died), Boo Boo in 1984, during the Super Bowl that introduced the Macintosh computer.
After two uneven features, the historical comedy O No Coronado! and the documentary Sonic Outlaws, Baldwin has returned to the mode he invented with his 1991 masterpiece, Tribulations 99. Spectres's narrative is less important than its bargain-basement blitz of TV kinescopes, old classroom films, and ancient Hollywood biopics. Reveling in tacky models and primitive diagrams, Baldwin transforms everything into sub-Ed Wood schlock sci-fi even while concocting an outrageously complicated backstory connecting everyone from Benjamin Franklin to Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard.
Satirizing the didactic TV of Baldwin's childhood, Spectres of the Spectrum is something of an educational movie itself—an eccentric history of modern media. "The telegraph annihilates the social imaginary," an anonymous narrator declares, crediting Samuel Morse's invention with inspiring an upsurge of both utopian fantasizing and spiritualist table-rapping. Repeatedly, Baldwin links new communication technology to occult concerns while grouping their inventors with contemporary "geek hackers." A grand war pits the forces of electromagnetic control against those of electromagnetic liberation. Baldwin champions eccentric individualists Nikola Tesla and Philo T. Farnsworth over corporate moguls Thomas Edison and David Sarnoff. In one of his more provocative asides, he describes Bill Gates as Sarnoff's second coming, a businessman who transformed the Internet into a marketing tool as Sarnoff did with broadcasting.
I suspect Baldwin views himself as battling Gates for control of the image archive. In any case, Boo Boo is compelled to travel back to 1957 to retrieve a secret message her grandmother encoded in a telecast of Science in Action. Time is reversible mainly through the miracle of found footage. Although she blasts her trailer back 50 years, the trip is mediated by television. Her return triggers the solar power surge that is, in some respects, a metaphor for Baldwin's movie. "It has never been my intention to kiss the ass of the audience," he told Release Print, setting himself in opposition "to the commercial technique, where you test-market a film and conform [it] to the expectations of the audience. It seems backward to me."
Well before it ends, Spectres of the Spectrum has overloaded its own circuits. But this ultimately numbing demonstration of information psychosis is humanized by the filmmaker's own obsessions. (To name one, he keeps bringing on Korla Pandit—the turbaned master of the Hammond organ, at once sinister hypnotist and benign spirit of the cathode-ray tube.) Caveat emptor: Spectres of the Spectrum is a crank call that borders on genius.

Among its many interesting factoids, Spectres of the Spectrum reveals that Nikola Tesla believed he was receiving signals from Mars. Too bad he didn't transmit them to Brian De Palma.
Mission to Mars is a movie to warm John McCain's heart—a rescue saga full of a touchy-feely esprit that's predicated on equal parts Buck Rogers bravado and backyard barbecue, the whole burnt burger drenched in Ennio Morricone's elegiac western-style score. Despite one unmistakable De Palma gag—a visual joke evoking the Challenger explosion—the project is scarcely more personal than Mission: Impossible. Who would have imagined the director would show so little interest in the Tinkertoy surveillance tractors used to explore the Martian terrain? Nor does he have much fun with sociological extrapolation. To judge from the fashions, music, and slang, the year 2020 is in the grip of a powerful '90s revival.
Suavely shot by De Palma's frequent collaborator Stephen H. Burum, Mission to Mars has its sensuous aspect. The weightless camera moves under, over, sideways, down. Everything is aestheticized. (Even the—here extremely—red planet might be the site of Constantin Brancusi's greatest project.) De Palma almost never cuts when he can use a slow dolly to close-up. The performances are less limber. Don Cheadle, Tim Robbins, and, most anxiously, Gary Sinise rush around pretending to be soldiers—although no one is as awful as Armin Mueller-Stahl as their blustering CO.
Despite an ending that out-Spielbergs the master, Mission to Mars mainly coarsens 2001 in its mix of cosmic consciousness and "naturalistic" product placement (Dr. Pepper bloblets and multicolored M&M's floating around the cockpit). As in the Kubrick trip, the middle voyage is best. Halfway through, De Palma literally explodes his narrative to orchestrate a superb deep-space float-opera replete with runaway modules, high-tech lassos, dramatic self-sacrifice, and, in the most surprising maneuver, a montage-driven modicum of actual suspense.
Barely releasable hokum, stuffed with cheesy blah-blah, Roman Polanski's tongue-in-cheek occult thriller The Ninth Gate stars a solemn and dapper Johnny Depp as a rare-book hustler hired to track down a 17th-century satanic tome for billionaire collector Frank Langella.
Depp's leisurely quest leads through a posh, stodgy landscape of libraries, lecture halls, and back-alley biblio troves atingle with hissed warnings: "Some books are dangerous!" The path is strewn with red herrings and dead bodies; eventually, Depp realizes that he's picked up witchy Emmanuelle Seigner as his guardian angel. Uninspired yet incongruously jaunty, The Ninth Gate never quite becomes unwatchable. Indeed, one could take perverse pleasure in a contemporary exercise in supernaturalism whose most impressive special effect is the satanic tattoo on Lena Olin's backside.
If Mission to Mars manages an astonishing 30 minutes, The Ninth Gate barely provides 30 seconds. For confessional pathos, it's a toss-up between the scene in which an elderly French baroness in a motorized wheelchair brandishes her stump and tells Depp that her "orgy days are over" and the desultory black mass (seemingly in Swedish) that Langella disrupts with heartfelt cries of "mumbo-jumbo."
Rear Window redux: It's come to my attention that, in writing on Rear Window and its career as a cinema-studies text (January 25, 2000), I failed to cite Robert Stam and Roberta Pearson's 1982 essay "Rear Window: Reflexivity and the Critique of Voyeurism." Regrettable in itself, the omission is additionally embarrassing in that I inadvertently paraphrased several insights originating in that influential analysis. 
American Apocalypse: Craig Baldwin's Spectres of the Spectrum
"An infinite number of possible worlds... and this is the worst one."
By Gary Morris

In a disposable culture like ours, it's ironic, also rather pleasing, that some of what's disposed of gets resurrected in the service of a cultural critique. Such is the case with the work of the found footage artists, those filmmakers who mine the pop culture past for snippets from B-movies, commercials, old kinescopes and TV shows, 16mm filler material, laboratory reject footage, and god knows what else.
San Franciscan Craig Baldwin is one of the most successful of this group, working with found footage for more than a decade (at least since 1992's Tribulation 99: Alien Anomalies Under America). Unlike mainstream agitprop auteurs whose labored work must be endured as part of the ritual of leftist credibility, Baldwin's film's are dizzyingly ambitious collages that both attack and engage. His 2003 feature Spectres of the Spectrum is typical in its complex skewering of the American mindset that cloaks its invisible wars, clandestine nuclear programs, and other nefarious activities behind the bland reassurances of postwar pop culture – most especially 1950s educational TV shows like Science in Action and kitschy biopics of science-heroes like Ben Franklin, Marconi, Edison, Roentgen, Samuel Morse, and others.

Running 98 minutes (an almost unheard-of length for this kind of thing), Spectres is a nonstop barrage of visual quotes from the above mentioned sources, along with other detritus of popular culture, from cheesy movie monsters to The Jetsons to stilted re-creations of the lives of science heroes like Tesla and Marconi to primitive animated art depicting phenomena like the Big Bang beloved by 1950s science teachers.
Baldwin deftly juggles a series of stories — time-travel sci-fi story with echoes of ‘50s B-movies; conspiracy theory narrative; a sort of "child's history" of science — that together comprise a scathing attack on America's postwar bomb culture that remains very much in force today, perhaps even more apocalyptically than in the 1950s.
The year is 2007, the "Eve of the Solar Eclipse, Las Vegas, Nevada" according to an informative title. BooBoo, an "epileptic telepath," is the granddaughter of scientist Amy Hacker, who died with a secret on her lips that BobBoo must uncover if she's to save the planet. She's part of a small group of revolutionaries fighting "electromagnetic control" by a shadowy entity called the "New Electromagnetic Order" (NEO) that, after decimating the earth, plans to erase the memories of every living creature on it. Abetting her is her father Yogi, an ex-intelligence guy who transmits anti-NEO propaganda from his bunker/Airstream trailer. BooBoo is immune to the devastation that's been wrought; the mind-control efforts of the NEO have no effect on her. Her plan is to travel back in time to retrieve her grandmother's secret and rescue the world from "the electronic miasma" that's annihilating it. This process allows her — and viewers — to survey America's apocalyptic past and the "heroes and martyrs" of "electromagnetic history" in the 19th and 20th centuries.

This thumbnail sketch gives the bare bones of the story but doesn't capture the dynamism on screen. The story of BooBoo, Yogi, and Amy Hacker is secondary to the dazzling parade of images and motifs. The narrative (much of it delivered in voiceover, and visualized on amusingly cheap Ed Wood-type sets) is relentlessly paired with imagery that expands on or ridicules what is being verbalized. When BooBoo says, "The zombies are at it again!" — in this futureworld, people have become marauding undead — Baldwin shows a forlorn monster hand from some unknown ‘50s B-movie. When the narrator pompouslky describes the theory of "transverse wave technology," Baldwin shows the dime-store heartbeat monitor from The Bride of Frankenstein.
Much of the film is in fact taken up with science, real and bogus, progressive and fascist. Interspersed throughout are brief sketches of the lives and works of pioneers like Marconi, Edison, Ben Franklin, and Nicolai Tesla. But rather than rendering coherent thumbnails of their lives and achievements, Baldwin adds footage to question and undermine these innovators. The Tesla sequence includes overacted scenes from a 1980 Yugoslavian biopic of the man who invented alternating current, but also a snippet from a silent movie that shows a tacky fake lightning bolt zipping out of a mysterious machine to burn a man's ass. The fascist impulses of the scientific community are also savaged in some of the scenes from Science in Action, e.g., a casually gruesome sequence in which the dorky teacher-host tortures a live manta ray with an electric wand. Throughout there's a sense of true heroes like Tesla, or Wilhem Reich, as visionaries for the common good being overwhelmed by much more craven mentalities like Edison, Edward Teller, and the military-industrial complex — and subsequently, a bittersweet feeling of utopias lost.
Counterpointing the film's grim "real" science is the fake science of the NEO, "the neuron wars," "the electromagnetic revolution," "the Monopolar Pulse Project," et al. Baldwin's blending of the real and the fanciful throws the "real" into question in what amounts to a pointed parable about America's lethal faith in science and its use of technology for hegemony and control. Much of the film's power lies in this critique, which is meticulous despite the seemingly amorphous collage technique. Baldwin methodically interlards real incidents and secret government activities throughout, touching on scary, shadowy nuclear programs like "Project Sedan" and "Project Starfish" that are well known to conspiracy buffs.
In the midst of the film's assault on the military-industrial complex, there are hilarious moments. Korla Pandit, the big-eyed, hypnotic TV organist-swami known for his kitsch-camp style, appears throughout on TVs in the background as a sort of trashy spiritual presence. Occasionally he takes center stage, as when BooBoo declares that the "dim, forgetful, weak superstitious creatues" that are human beings can be drowned out by "the contraband Korla Pandit tapes." In a nod to Ed Wood, Baldwin shows a tacky model of the Airstream trailer, Yogi's hideout for broadcasting subversive commentaries, flying into space after a meteorite hits the earth. Another ‘50s touch is a kind of Beat poetry strain in the overdub, particularly in BooBoo's angry, rhythmic attack on the "average human" who "lashes out reactively in gut impulse and greed like a flock of mental cripples flailing against the trailer walls…" Real-life counterculture theorists like Jesse Drew and the brilliant Wired writer Erik Davis appear throughout — as guests on the revolutionaries' "TV Tesla" — to add a further dimension to the film.

As much a product of editing as of directing, Spectres of the Spectrum is one of the most exciting and challenging pieces of pure cinema in the past few years. In an interview with critic Alvin Lu (available through the Other Cinema website), Baldwin says, "I hate to describe myself as a moralist, but there really is this drive behind the film, not only to make something that's beautiful-slash-ugly, but also to raise consciousness. That's my missionary zeal."
The DVD offers an excellent transfer, an enlightening essay by Gregory Avery in the enclosed booklet, brief online sketches of cast and crew, trailers and preview, and a strong commentary by Baldwin and San Francisco critic Patrick Macias (who witnessed the filming) that, without being too double-domed, goes far in elucidating the film's considerable complexities."

"An underground sensation in more ways than one, Craig Baldwin’s rhapsodic 1991 satire Tribulation 99: Alien Anomalies Under America, sets a high bar for today’s agitated postmodern cinematic pronouncement-makers.
To begin with, for so fierce a deconstruction, it is highly constructive. Baldwin, a San Francisco filmmaker who grew up in Sacramento, here synthesizes musty genre schlock, scraps of newsreel or industrial propaganda and who knows what else into a pervy, archly paranoid, brilliantly critical alternate take on postwar American history. His specialty is Reagan-era colonialist aggression. “I tried to do justice to the breadth of the imagination of the CIA,” the director wryly observes in his DVD commentary. “I just had to do the research and stage it through found footage.” So, yes, there’s also that cheeky tone, distinguishing the movie not just from the hordes of humorless, deservedly obscure experimental collage films to which it bears some genetic similarity, but also from the hordes of humorless, deservedly ineffectual liberal harangues that plague the nonfiction moviemaking discourse today.
As elaborated in a gravelly, half-whispered drone by its unseen wackjob narrator (Sean Kilkoyne), Tribulation 99’s storyline is essentially a unified field theory of pre-9/11 American conspiracies. Or at least as unified as can be a single narrative of twitchy cold warriors, wolfen third-world iconoclasts, marauding killer bees and robots, B-movie monsters, and alien refugees from a doomed planet who long ago burrowed into the Earth below Latin America, only to be provoked to war by underground nuclear testing.
Arguably the hawkish, fear-mongering worldview that Baldwin burlesques remains insidiously alive and well; with the apocalypse it foretold more or less underway, Tribulation 99’s relentlessness seems easy to forgive. On the other hand, here is a critique of imperialism wrought from the insatiable appropriation and repurposing of subordinate cultural material. Cult classic, eh? Maybe that’s just what they want us to think. - Jonathan Kiefer

Craig Baldwin 

by Tim Maloney

Craig Baldwin considers his work “underground” rather than “experimental” or “avant-garde”. Whereas the avant-garde is primarily concerned with formal exercise, and “experimental” implies some experiment (i.e. that something new is being tried for the purpose of determining whether of not it can expand the limits of cinematic language), “underground” would encompass not only formal plasticity but a political dimension; that of an oppositional subculture.
As such, Craig Baldwin’s films have formal concerns as well as some kind of political commentary, usually concerning the exploitation of countries and people under imperialism, capitalist or otherwise. Even when he is inventing the oppression (as in the alien presence of Tribulation 99 [1991]) it is either a metaphor for a real-world situation or it is combined with verifiable history. The aliens of Tribulation 99 may come from the destroyed planet Quetzalcoatl, for example, but they are apparently working with Kissinger to subject local populations in Central America. The science fiction and the fact are intertwined.
Baldwin’s work is most easily characterised by his use of recontextualised film elements, primarily drawn from his vast library of what Rick Prelinger, his fellow archivist and collector, calls “ephemeral films” – educational and industrial films chiefly made in the period between 1945 and 1975. These, along with a healthy dose of science fiction and period dramas, make the pool from which Baldwin draws. As libraries and schools began to renovate their A/V departments in the 1980s and 1990s, an avalanche of outdated materials became available, and the creative possibilities seemed obvious to the young director.
Craig Baldwin was born in Oakland, California, in 1952. He began making Super-8 movies when he was a teenager – the kind of skit-oriented parody films involving friends and neighbours. He was drawn into the practice of collage rather naively; he was interested in cheap and readily available Super-8 dubs of Hollywood B-movies that were for sale in the ’60s and ’70s. From these he would assemble compilations, mixing and matching scenes from various productions to create new stories. He made them for his own enjoyment, but it became the basis for his process in subsequent years.
Later, Baldwin attended several universities, dabbling in various disciplines (notably theatre), but always somehow gravitating towards film. These schools included U.C. Davis, U.C. Santa Barbara, and finally San Francisco State. At SFSU Baldwin was fortunate enough to take studio classes with film collage master Bruce Conner, who was teaching there at the time.
The following are Baldwin’s released film works, in chronological order.
Stolen Movie (1976)
To make this film, the 24 year-old Baldwin would run into movie theatres with his super-8 camera and shoot what he could off the screen, pre-dating the current practice of bootlegging feature films with camcorders. This was as much performance art/action as it was any kind of film document, and the piece, though perhaps extant, isn’t in circulation like the rest of Baldwin’s work. The director himself describes it as a kind of prank (1) – interesting for the implications and the direction of his development more so than as a film in and of itself.
The academic, political underpinnings of his later work are mostly absent here, possibly because his political consciousness was still developing, but his physical process – recombining already finished films, relying on material readily available either at a low cost or for free – is evident.
This film is an early exercise, and its inclusion here is in the interests of establishing the director’s development.
Wild Gunman (1978)
Wild Gunman
This film is a meditation on the Marlboro Man, a compilation of images and associations designed to deconstruct this image of masculinity and consumer addiction. Not only the Man himself, but the entire myth of the cowboy and the West are its targets.
The film veers from heavily-manipulated optical printer work to straight advertising footage from commercials and B-movies. Though there is no “history” (which is the basis for his subsequent films) the style that characterises all his work is firmly in place. The combination of social satire/deconstruction and recovered film images is used as a detournement – a Situationist attack against the oppression of corporate advertising.
Wild Gunman is available as a film print from Canyon Cinema, (2) where it is a popular rental. It may be possible to find it on VHS. (3)
RocketKitKongoKit (1986) (4)
This is the first of Baldwin’s imagined histories, or, as he puts it, “prank documentaries.” On the surface RocketKitKongoKit is the true story of a German rocket firm leasing land in the Congo (then called “Saire” under Mobutu’s reign), for testing rockets. The larger implications, that of Europe’s colonial attitude towards Africa in the 1960s and the exploitation of its people for a program the Europeans didn’t want in their own backyard, is not an entirely inaccurate one. History is, of course, highly malleable, and interpretations of any event can continue for decades – especially with relatively recent and well-documented events. The direct links between the ESA’s rocket program and deteriorating conditions in Africa are made more forcefully than would a more conservative historian, and the information is presented with the authority and integrity the documentary form affords.
Of course the film is also quite funny, pairing up news items from the 1960s with schlock science fiction rocket ships blasting to Mars. The result is a kind of pseudo-documentary, in which all of the re-enactments are unconnected to the material presented.
Baldwin is reminded of the spurious documentaries he saw in general cinema release when he was younger. Harald Reini’s 1970 film Chariots of the Gods? was one such work, in which the lines between the historical artifacts – undeniably extant and available for study – and the fanciful interpretation – enforced by questionable “experts” and wild half-baked theories that connect vague notions – create what appears to be a cogent and irrefutable hypothesis. Reini’s and Baldwin’s film are each about how human beings process information and the authority of presentations.
Once again, from the director: “…my project is to liquidate distinctions between official and unofficial history.” (5) This includes folk history, perceived history, personal history and the extrapolated history of cinema objects retrieved from the archive. The goal is not an authoritative verisimilitude, but rather multiple points of view.
One is reminded of the Museum of Jurassic Technology, David Wilson’s Los Angeles-based museum about museums, the exhibits of which constantly call into question the authority of museum exhibits. (6) Though Baldwin discovered Wilson’s work fairly recently, they share the fascination with the presentation of history or “truth”. Curiously, the authority of Baldwin’s history of the Congo is somehow strengthened by the presentation – even though that presentation includes spacemen conquering galaxies.
Tribulation 99 (1991)
The film’s full title, Tribulation 99: Alien Anomalies Under America – the Shocking Truth About the Coming Apocalypse, pretty much tells it all. Whereas the situation in the Congo appealed to Baldwin politically and socially, the events in Tribulation are manufactured almost entirely from the source material.
In fact, the filmmaker likens the process of creating a film like Tribulation to an excavation. It is the retrieval of film-objects from the archives he maintains that lead to the film’s creation, not any script-writing or brainstorming process. It can take years to sort out the footage until a Tribulation seems to form itself out of the connections. (7)
Baldwin’s archive is not extensive. He claims it has only about 2500 film units. This may seem like quite a few, but compared to the stock footage company run by his friend Rick Prelinger, (8) Baldwin’s collection seems small.
Naturally, the development of a film like Tribulation starts with Baldwin’s taste in film, which leans towards B-movies, science fiction and ethnographic films. But the associative connections he draws in the trance-like state of poring through old footage is what gives Tribulation its form as well as its highly allegorical content. Every cut in a Craig Baldwin film is based on some kind of association or metaphor, and it is only when dozens, maybe hundreds of these metaphors come together that the shape of the film becomes apparent.
Consider the following frames, and how they work together:
Tribulation 99 Tribulation 99
This cut is merely associative, that of a star in one instance and another star in the following shot. The inverted nature of the first star is innocuous, but the Satanic implication of the second is clear. Because the film is constantly attempting to link geopolitical events to some kind of mystic, biblical or evil force, these constant associations engage a slow paranoia that creeps throughout the film. Though shots are often organised according to these simple associations, the chaining of dozens of little metaphors and associations, especially at Baldwin’s breakneck speed of editing, begins to take on a manic energy of its own.
Baldwin is thoroughly versed in the work of the Soviet Montage filmmakers from the 1920s, as one would suspect, and his editing style is largely based on the kinds of effects two juxtaposed shots will create. In the sorting process Baldwin develops strategies as well as connections between images.
Tribulation 99 Tribulation 99 Tribulation 99
At first glance the above seem to be examples from the trim bin marked “skeletons”. But more than that, Baldwin uses groupings of images that contribute to emotional responses in the viewer. A surplus of skeletons, as well as other threatening or fearful images dominate Tribulation 99. In addition to the occult, biblical, mystical, and pseudoscientific material this film aims to create a permeating haze of paranoia.
More effective is when the images onscreen are not linked to any particular context in the narration. For example:
Tribulation 99
This is how Fidel Castro appears in one scene of the film. An angry bearded man, this is a good enough sign for Castro, and since he is allegedly in league with voodoo priests, his unusual appearance is both amusing and somewhat plausible within the world of the film. In contrast, the images below do not necessarily correspond to any event in the narration:
Tribulation 99 Tribulation 99 Tribulation 99
These serve only to contribute to the creepy atmosphere. It is an emotional response to the image, not necessarily a studied, intellectual one that operates here.
Organised into 99 chapters, each with a terrifying title screaming out in full screen capital letters, (9) the structure of the film invokes both conspiracy theories and biblical texts. And yet a great deal of the narration in Tribulation describes a readily verifiable history of American intervention in Central America from the 1960s through the 1980s. It is mixed in with vampires, voodoo and killer robots, but it is there.
Tribulation 99
This is Baldwin’s first film with his frequent collaborator, Bill Daniel, who is credited with photography. Baldwin himself has claimed Daniel’s role is much more of an equal, as he is often involved in the editing stages of a project as well.
¡O No Coronado! (1992)
In this, another prank documentary, the disastrous conquest of the southwestern United States by the Spanish conquistador Francisco Vasques de Coronado is paired with efforts to dispose of nuclear waste material in the same area. The innovation here is that Baldwin has added his own footage to that which he found in his archive. This involved a brief “guerilla” shoot with a small crew out in the desert – a camera, a van and little more than a general idea what was needed.
Up until Coronado Baldwin was able to find all the ”cinematic gestures” (10) he wanted in found footage. With this project, he realised he was going to have to create some. The plan was rather simple: structuring the film would require certain gestures, and there was no way to determine them before the film was edited. So a variety of gestures would be captured, and they could be used when necessary.
¡O No Coronado! ¡O No Coronado!
1. Coronado unsheathes his sword. 2. Coronado looks off to the left
3. And to the right 4. A monk strikes the ground with his wooden cross (note modern city  in background)
3. And to the right 4. A monk strikes the ground with his wooden cross (note modern city in background)
5. Coronado has a fever dream
5. Coronado has a fever dream
Baldwin seems to have opened his process to creating the gestures he could not find in the found footage. (11) As it turns out, these are the most surreal and striking images in the film. Baldwin’s sources for Coronado include a few stiff costume dramas and several animated maps showing the conquistador’s progress through the southwest. The nuclear waste dumping site footage is similarly dry.
The footage from those few days in the desert has the most emotional weight, as evidenced by these images:
Coronado is about to be hit by cornmeal Coronado fondles a severed hand in his fever dream
Coronado is about to be hit by cornmeal Creepy bruja Coronado fondles a severed hand in his fever dream
Coronado was made to commemorate the 500th anniversary of the Spanish Conquest of the New World, and it is with his usual puckishness that Baldwin has chosen one of the least successful and perhaps most bumbling conquistadors of the period as the subject for his film. His treatment of the subject, in a year when many filmmakers were turning to the subject either reverently (12) or as revisionists (13) is both comic and self-referential. By film’s end, both Coronado and his native guide/friend/standard-bearer are making jokes for the camera, and we can see that the monk has suddenly acquired a video camera and has begun to help out on the shoot.
B-roll courtesy the Church Not too concerned with historical verisimilitude
B-roll courtesy the Church Not too concerned with historical verisimilitude
Sonic Outlaws (1995)
Sonic Outlaws is markedly different in that Baldwin goes from making a prank documentary to making a documentary about pranks. It begins with Negativland, an audio collage collective whose practices (cutting together media from TV, radio, films, records, home tapes, found tapes, and from their own music and voices) mirror his own. Negativland were sued in 1991 by U2 and Island Records for a song-parody collage they had made. It included a sample of the U2 song “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” and outtakes of DJ Casey Kasem (14) swearing and ranting in the studio about U2. (15)
The lawsuit would likely have resulted in triumph for Negativland – several high-profile cases (16) recently had gone as far as the American Supreme Court in defense of the rights of artists concerning “Fair Use”, a clause in the US Copyright Law. (17) Sadly, Negativland had neither the expensive legal advice to determine their rights nor the money to defend themselves in court, and the result was a crippling settlement that nearly destroyed the group.
As Baldwin had found the ire necessary to create anti-corporate agit-prop in RocketKitCongoKit and anti-government nuclear warnings in Coronado, he found another cause in Negativland’s plight. Sonic Outlaws contains more than just Negativland – several other groups on the forefront of copyright reform and anti-corporate reuse of culture are included, from the Barbie Liberation Organisation (an art-terrorist cell that switched the voiceboxes in talking Barbies and talking G.I. Joe dolls, then re-inserted them onto store shelves) to Alan Korn, a lawyer working for copyright reform within the system.
Members of Negativland Alan Korn and the filmmaker
Members of Negativland Alan Korn and the filmmaker
Throughout the course of Sonic Outlaws a variety of creative strategies are displayed, all of which constitute a kind of resistance movement in which artists attempt to turn the one-way authoritative communication of corporate culture into some kind of dialogue. Most of the Outlaws are involved in practices by which they receive the corporate signal (sampling, recording), manipulate it by some Dada or Situationist strategy (the detournement again) and then put it back out in the public domain for consumption (either by live show or through CDs, downloads, etc.).
Though the best known of Baldwin’s films, Sonic Outlaws is perhaps the film that least resembles his oeuvre. The amount of archival footage is at a minimum, and real people take centre stage. There are enough real stories here, and enough real monsters acting against the development of art and culture in the US that the science fiction monster-metaphors make a smaller showing.
In fact, the documentary realism inherent in the piece threatens to overshadow the formal aspects at play. Baldwin uses a variety of image-making tools – 16mm film, Super-8, tube video, Pixelvision, (18) optical printing, and others – but the results are not nearly as startling as the participants’ behaviour. In particular, consider the billboard defacements, or the sequence in which David “the Weatherman” Wills “illegally” listens in on a gay lovers’ cellphone quarrel with his radio scanner – these are far more engaging than the manner in which the events are presented.
Baldwin has been known to deface billboards himself. This could be his work. The Weatherman is breaking the law right now!
Baldwin has been known to deface billboards himself. This could be his work. The Weatherman is breaking the law right now!
Spectres of the Spectrum (1999)
For his last completed work (19) Baldwin returned to the world of the prank documentary, but this time it is combined with strong narrative elements. Spectres resembles Coronado much more than Sonic Outlaws in part because Baldwin brings back the manic fusion of alternative history and paranoid imagery; what he calls “the funkiness and honesty of the materials.” (20)
Spectres is not only a history of broadcasting and the use of the electromagnetic spectrum, but an alternate history of the twentieth century. This includes the development of modern weaponry as well as an inclusion of the fringe elements: Jack Parsons, Aleister Crowley, L. Ron Hubbard, the U2 incident, UFOs, Mind Control, Weather Control, Wilhelm Reich, Korla Pandit, and Baldwin’s many other obsessions. (21)
This pastiche of history and imagery is driven by the story of “Yogi” and his daughter “Boo Boo”, who live in the year 2007 when all media and broadcasting are controlled by one corporation. In the process of trying to discover what secret message Boo Boo’s grandmother left for her, encoded in the airwaves of Television and Time, Boo Boo reviews the archaeology of media from Samuel Morse’s telegram to the present day.
Gathering the materials for Spectres seems to have been governed by the same processes as for Baldwin’s previous films. The actors are staged in situations that provide the appropriate “gestures” and in many cases asked to improvise their own lines. (22) Sets were constructed literally from detritus. The art directors carted whatever junk and old equipment could be found into abandoned storefronts which served as the sets. Yet for all the freedom that may have governed the principal photography, and this film is unique in Baldwin’s work for having so much principal photography, the final result is a tightly scripted tour-de-force featuring rapid-fire information streaming from several channels. As in Tribulation, Baldwin uses text on screen and voiceover simultaneously, to present three streams of information (picture, sound, text) at once, increasing the level of stimulation to the point of overload.
Cockpit made of found objects The Spectrum in question Korla Pandit
Cockpit made of found objects The Spectrum in question Korla Pandit
All this was cut on film rewinds with splicing tape – there were no computers used to create the visuals, no non-linear editing systems employed. Though Baldwin sometimes uses a few optical printer tricks (rephotographing in negative, colour timing, increasing grain, etc.) most processes are very simple, and have a handmade feel to them.
He uses a rear screen process, for example, in the scenes of Yogi ranting from his pirate TV bunker.
Spectres of the Spectrum
Shots of the airstream trailer hurtling through space-time are accomplished by hanging a small model in front of a projection.
Spectres of the Spectrum
And kinescopes of Philo T. Farnsworth (23) are shot with a number of processes and intercut to give the film more texture.
Philo T. Farnsworth on the monitor... …from an old kinescope… …and photographed from a projection on the wall
Philo T. Farnsworth on the monitor… …from an old kinescope… …and photographed from a projection on the wall
All of this is aimed at what Baldwin calls “opening a space”. The filmmaker wishes his work to create conditions for the audience that are conducive to thought, consideration, discussion, philosophical debate and even the generation of new ideas, rather than just dictating information. Active participation in the film is his goal, not the passive transference of data or story characteristic of most film experiences. His films are designed to call fact and documentary truth into question and to provide an atmosphere of skepticism.
Mock Up on Mu (in Progress)
Baldwin’s current project includes New Age cults, science fiction, and the military-industrial complex. Bill Daniel is, once again, contributing as a cinematographer/editor.
It may seem somewhat perverse to give such a formal and structural analysis of Baldwin’s films given that his work seems so oriented toward his content. Not only does Baldwin make films that have, at their core, a socio-political agenda, but he is very involved with the exhibition of his films, and others that share similar content. Not only does he curate programs regularly at San Francisco’s ATA Gallery, (24) but he has travelled throughout Europe with a show of films and videos, operating as a kind of one-man microcinema. His role as filmmaker is equalled by his role as a presenter of alternative film production distributed outside established systems.
Clearly he has amongst his aims a desire to bring social critique and analysis, through the medium of film, to small audiences with whom he might create a kind of dialogue. It may sound outdated to speak of “consciousness-raising”, but the effect is something similar – presenting questions and complicated situations in the hope that the audience begins thinking about them, and carries that awareness into their everyday lives. (25)
These aspects of Baldwin’s work can be attributed, in some ways, to his locale. Though the American underground has its roots in New York City, (26) San Francisco has hosted a thriving oppositional film culture for over 40 years. Amongst the ATA Gallery, the Pacific Film Archive, and now the San Francisco Cinémathèque (which boasts Rick Prelinger on its board of directors), the environment is a good one for Baldwin’s films and his presentation.
It is, however, the aim of this piece to establish the aesthetic value of Baldwin’s work, above and beyond the socio-political material he employs. Baldwin’s critique of power and its abuses is certainly a remarkable aspect of his films. Yet equally remarkable is the fact that he chooses to present those ideas through the textures of film. He could write essays (27) or run for public office if he were purely motivated by political change. Instead, he chooses film, in all its scratched and dirty glory, and he does so in an age when most of his contemporaries are embracing digital technology. It is not the conservative drive of a purist (28) that draws him to celluloid, but rather a love for the medium that first inspired him, imperfections and all.

Channel Zero: Craig Baldwin (1995)

 San Francisco-based found footage film-maker Craig Baldwin is one of America's most celebrated experimental artists. His work has been selected for major film festivals around the world and exhibited at some of the most prestigious museums and galleries on the planet. In this bleeding-edge edit by Lewis Cohen, Craig explains the reason for his copyright challenging work... and gives a brief history of the culture jam, from Warhol to EBN. 

Pogledajte ovdje

From Junk to Funk to Punk to Link

A survey of the found-footage film in the San Francisco Bay Area
by Craig Baldwin  

This essay, which appears in the new collection Radical Light: Alternative Film & Video in the San Francisco Bay Area, 1945-2000 (University of California Press), is reprinted by kind permission of the author and the publisher.
Among the rich and richly varied filmways of the Bay Area can be found that rather special practice known as the found-footage film. There can be little doubt that this mode of making has enjoyed a particularly prominent place in the local tradition. But why, exactly?
As a found-footage practitioner myself, I would like to float a few possible contributing factors and then sketch out a (necessarily partial) chronology of this curious activity in these here parts.
Even curiouser, how could the overt use of prefabricated industrial images flourish in a regional film culture that so vigorously valorizes "the personal"?


Well, at the risk of oversimplification, I would summon up that sense of artistic identity that Northern California makers might host vis-à-vis the commercial film establishment, especially regarding our competing film center to the south. In fact, those Hollywood studios are a major source of our found footage! Now, a Frisco maker just might see herself as an antagonist to the assembly lines of the Southland and her repurposing of the material as a redemptive gesture of "personal" creative agency. We can at least agree that it is a "contrarian" impulse—the artist and audience know that the footage came with a different intention, and much of the later delight derives from its witty preemption. The result is not your standard compilation doc, in which the archival images are homologues in service to the narration! Au contraire, mon frère!


At base, the materiality of the celluloid itself can be reclaimed as plastic-art material—the laughably ephemeral human forms easily enough canceled with a sufficiently sharp object (best if serrated), or stripped off that photochemical platform in an emulsion-erasing Clorox swipe. Cinéma concrète techniques such as these could be called "structural," sure, though they were in use long before the seventies, when that term came into parlance. And anyway, I'd argue that the Bay Area is not nearly so driven by formal concerns as, say, the Buffalo of Hollis Frampton and Paul Sharits (though we still pour a bit of beer on the ground for them, RIP). Our "soft structuralism" has it both ways: Instead of absolute refusal, or deconstruction to null-point, much of our work might be understood as a playful semiotic engagement with the "original" authors. Marshall McLuhan advanced the model of the "Menippian satire," after Menippus of classical Greek rhetoric (ah, already Frampton comes alive!), which is the mimicking of modes of speech to parody mannered patterns.
The image can be read two ways. We see the initial expression of the producer—as clichéd and ideologically overdetermined as that might be—and at the same time, like Schroedinger's Cat, we read it in its new context—a split or schizophrenic sign. Art historical graphic processes such as the palimpsest (old-school tracing pad) or pentimento (painting over an earlier image in an artwork) come to mind—more mixed metaphors for "reinscription" that certainly anticipate our contemporary obsession with digital "versions."


So against what sort of register might we consider the varieties of the found-footage experience? Well, for this brief argument at least, let's take a page from Saussure; let's consider an array (but not a hierarchy) of "meaning" . . . that semantic denominator that cannot be killed, even at the extreme of Schwitters's most splintered collage. The dadaists tried to grind letter-forms down into pure non-sense, while the Beats (on them, more later) wanted to get past intentionality with their I Ching. But you and I have been through that, and that is not our fate. For this here semiological guerrilla, during wartime (never stops), the crucial work is at the level of the symbolic—exposing intentions, harnessing meanings, and then the redeployment onto the, ahem, metacinematic plane. That is what hopefully elevates our projects beyond Altoids ads, beyond VJ wallpaper, beyond the facile pastiche that's passed off as . . . you know, the p-word . . .


Though of course the "liberated" signifiers can always be absorbed as "figuratively" (as opposed to literally) as desired. At one end of our spectrum, they can be abstracted into the broadest sort of all-purpose gesture, often enacted through extraordinary studio/lab techniques. Perhaps this pole comes closest to painting and printmaking. If maybe a little language is added (or even if it isn't), the spectre of metaphor may be invoked, maybe even the tentative tendrils of allegory.
And/or the found-footage artist can choose to work the more indexical end of the axis, picking up more stitches of the Real and self-consciously threading them through the warp and woof of the new quilt. The shots retain their specificity, be it film historical or sociopolitical. This enterprise I call the "collage-essay." It springs from what Eisenstein named intellectual montage and then extends toward a kind of conceptual art.
To better plot these different uses, and to frame the following folk history, let's first stake out those abiding (sub)cultural conditions that served as ground for the genre's growth.


1.   A general sense of regional humor and heterodox play that could flourish in a more casual West Coast culture, outside of the Atlantic axis of academies and museums.
2.   The legacy of dada and surrealism, kept alive by local art schools, the gallery scene, and practicing visual artists.
3.   The influence of the Beats, with their existential, Zen-tinged appreciation for the "is-ness" of the lived world, for humble objects and "stressed" materials. And their embrace of poverty—coping through ingenuity (and masochism) rather than buying one's way out of problems.
4.   A distinctly San Fran transcendental impulse, certainly related to Buddhism but also to Native American religions, to the Kaballah, and to the New Age "vision quest"—the Jungian journey through psychological symbolism, the pilgrim recomposing herself as she shuffles among the new configurations of meaning. Also, the communitarian, collaborative practices that are woven deep into the social fabric, especially since the hippie era.
5.   A powerful affinity with a pop-art aesthetic, driven not by poverty this time but by California wealth, with its attendant self-consciousness of commercial imagery and movie-cult quotation.
6.   Hell yeah, an aggressive and deeply ingrained punk-rock attitude that has not been quashed even yet, that opposes the precious with a perverse appetite for violent collisions between compositional elements, for shredding the store-bought, and for noise.


Now, most surveys of Bay Area found-footage film would start with Bruce Conner, who had already established himself as a painter and assemblage artist before producing any films. Some familiarity with the 1950s Funk sculpture scene helps to understand how the junk constructions of the Beat years influenced an allied bricolage practice in the cinema.
Eisenhower-era dropouts from around the country had migrated to the City, finding cheap rent in the Fillmore District and in North Beach, where many connected with the California School of Fine Arts (renamed the San Francisco Art Institute in 1961). A sense of community and a regional—and temporal—aesthetic identity developed. The visual collagist Jess (Collins) started the King Ubu Gallery in 1952 with Robert Duncan and Harry Jacobus. A year later, Wally "Funk Daddy" Hedrick initiated the Six Gallery. Then James Newman and Robert Alexander's Dilexi Gallery opened in Alexander's loft above the Jazz Workshop on Broadway. These alternative venues were dedicated to presenting the new breed of interdisciplinary artists, mixing painting, sculpture, music, and spoken word.
After the Los Angeles Police Department closed down his Ferus Gallery group show in 1957, multimedia artist-curator Wallace Berman left, in disgust, for San Francisco (actually Larkspur), joined by the sculptor George Herms. This was the same year that Conner arrived from Colorado on a tip from the poet Michael McClure, a high school and college friend from the University of Nebraska. The new immigrants accelerated this very exciting breakdown of the barriers between the disciplines and, well, between art and life generally. In this freewheeling atmosphere, Conner became affiliated with a group that included McClure, Hedrick, Manuel Neri, and the painters Jay DeFeo and Joan Brown (both to later figure in Conner's movies). The Rat Bastard Protective Association, "the first funky art religion," was the name that Conner coined to self-parody the outsider status of these pessimistic bohemians, scraping by in the crumbling Victorians of the Fillmore. For materials, they scavenged in the dumpsters for discarded architectural "gingerbread" from demolition projects: urban renewal was remaking the neighborhood into the "Western Addition." After dark, they jammed the jazz clubs and late-night cafés for bebop and the spontaneous poetry of Kerouac, Ginsberg, Ferlinghetti, Corso, et al.
Eventually, their scrap-collaged, pigment- and wax-encrusted paintings grew off the walls and into the gallery space, free standing. Conner produced several of these assemblages before hitting on the idea of incorporating a running motion picture projector into the ensemble. In time, this twelve-minute black-and-white film took on a life of its own, crossing into the world of cinema as A Movie (1958).  "I stopped gluing it down," said Conner.
Black-comic, and with a giddily ambiguous embrace of pop-cult imagery, A Movie is a meticulously measured montage of 16mm midcentury newsreel shots. Off-the-shelf prints of news digests were readily available on 100-foot and 400-foot silent (and sound) spools, produced for the amateur market by Castle Films and the like. These screen reports, like the trailers and comedies they often accompanied, had been familiarized through the regime of the neighborhood theater, and the pastime of home projection, before the domestic viewing of 16mm (and later, regular and Super 8mm) was eclipsed by television. As well, many of these documentary and human interest shorts were re-presented on TV in the 1950s as the networks were padding out their sparse programming. Conner has acknowledged his debt to these B shorts, remembering an early stock-footage compilation cut to the "Beetlebaum" song of Spike Jones, who had his own TV show at the time.
The sexual metaphors of A Movie reemerge in Conner's Cosmic Ray (1961), a dazzling succession of superimpositions cut to Ray Charles's "What'd I Say." Conner combined dancing girls with fireworks, Disney animation, Academy leader, and other celluloid detritus in an energized prefiguring of the rock 'n' roll euphoria that would shake the City (and the world) a few years hence. And it was the prototype for the "music video" form that emerged two decades after that.
Between 1963 and 1967 Conner cobbled together Report, using countdown leader, extraneous snippets, and news footage taken of John F. Kennedy in Dallas that was available through mail-order catalogs and local camera stores. Versions of Report were issued in both 16mm and 8mm, the latter for home use. Harking back to his original kinetic sculpture inspiration, Conner occasionally displayed the small-gauge edition as a film-installation—a gun-metal gray Bolex projector focused on the white-painted screen of a period TV set.


Also on the North Beach scene were Robert and Gunvor Nelson. Both joined the faculty at the Art Institute, and both undertook active collaborations with area artists (Steve Reich, R. G. Davis of the Mime Troupe, and William and Dorothy Wiley). Robert's zany film collages (Confessions of a Black Mother Succuba, 1964-65; The Great Blondino, with William T. Wiley, 1967) mix found and live-action footage in neo-dada burlesques. War Is Hell (1968), with stock war-movie shots, was produced for San Francisco's public television station, KQED, in 1968; Bleu Shut (with Wiley, 1970) is (among other things) a hilarious quiz on names for recreational boats, their "found" still photos held for self-consciously extended lengths of time. Gunvor Nelson and Dorothy Wiley's Schmeerguntz (1966) is a mad montage of real-world motherly chores, juxtaposed with the media's idealized depictions of womanhood.
The godmother of the area's experimental film scene and a cofounder of Canyon Cinema, Chick Strand, is another prolific maker who often used found footage. Her second work, Angel Blue Sweet Wings (1966), made after she relocated to Los Angeles, folded preexisting imagery into the montage, as did her 1967 Waterfall. Her 1979 Cartoon le Mousse prompted Gene Youngblood to declare, "If poetry is the art of making evocative connections between dissimilar phenomena, then Chick Strand is a great poet, transcending her material to create a surreal and sublime universe beyond reason." Her found-footage masterwork is Loose Ends (1979), a quirky skein of midcentury miscellany that in fact manages a "compilation narrative."
Among this first wave of cine-collagists could also be included these two special cases: Lawrence Jordan and Jordan Belson. An early member of the Canyon Co-op, Mr. Jordan came to the city from Colorado in 1955, also garnering a position at SFAI. Having apprenticed with Joseph Cornell, arguably the first American found-footage maker (Rose Hobart, 1936), Jordan received from the elder auteur the commission to complete his last six nearly finished found-footage pieces. Though Jordan is generally known as a cutout animation artist, the illustrations in his whimsical works are for the most part archival (e.g., Gustave Doré's engravings). Duo Concertantes (1964) and Our Lady of the Sphere (1969) are among his most memorable.
The work of Jordan Belson, another Bay Area visionary whose filmography begins in the fifties, is also generally classed as animation rather than compilation, but a certain kind of collage it surely is, and stock—though perhaps not "found"—images often figure in his gaseous miasmas. Belson's 1957-'59 Vortex Concerts (with the sound artist Henry Jacobs) in Morrison Planetarium were a crucial watershed. Their radical advances in the projection arts set the stage for the sixties psychedelic light show scene (in which Conner was deeply involved, not coincidentally), an "expanded cinema" form that drew heavily on hypnotic loops and phantasmic, freely circulating clips from the populist surrealism of Max Fleischer, Busby Berkeley, Flash Gordon, and other antecedents.
The expansive displays of Belson, and of Jordan and Jerry Abrams and Anne Severson and many others, reached broader audiences in the seventies with the stabilization of screening series like the Cinematheque, eye music (at 80 Langton), and Karl Cohen's Intersection showcase, as well as the maturation of cinema departments at SFAI, San Francisco State, and the California College of Arts and Crafts and the establishment of Film Arts Foundation (FAF). Scott Bartlett, one of FAF's founding members, is remembered for bridging gaps, both between formats—experimental film and (then emerging) video art—and between private and public imagery (as in Moon 1969, 1969). William Farley, also instrumental in the FAF project, was able to probe profound philosophical issues, paradoxically enough, in a tour-de-force fusion of pop-cult ephemera, Being (1974-'75).


Collage chronicles of the period should also include Doug Wendt (and his appropriately titled Dub Film, 1979), Lyle Pearson (Funk, 1979), and Rock Ross, Michael Rudnik, Ed Jones, and Dean Snider—the latter four closely associated with No Nothing Cinema in San Francisco's South of Market area, signaling a shift of the artistic epicenter out of by-then-tourist-infested North Beach. The heady freedom of the seventies and early eighties produced not only a proliferation of cine-socials like Curt McDowell's weekly salons and No Nothing's BYO-BBQs but also the fuzzy outlines of a Bay Area beachcomber style (No Nothing was "dock o' the bay," just as Berman had been twenty years earlier): hang-loose shorts pieced together with out-of-date raw stock, hand-held/available-light camerawork, and felt-penned found footage, playfully patched and scratched on like mad, then exuberantly unspooled with double-system sound, to the favorite tango tune (or children's song) of the moment. These were among the most joyful, most unselfconscious moments in the Bay Area's found-footage saga, treating original and secondhand shots as equally serviceable surfaces for Exacto knife noodlings, direct animation appliqués, and rhythmic editing patterns.


But in the eighties, alas, everybody got a haircut. The mood changed, studios and labs closed, and of course, SoMa fell to gentrification (the original No Nothing site is now home plate in the SF Giants' ballpark). McDowell died, and Bartlett died, and Snider (somewhat later, in 1994) died. (Another dram to the ground, dear Reader.) What had been a beatnik, then hippie, then punk dismissal of the Academy came back as "appropriation art." The period's gravitas freighted—and did enrich—the assemblage mode with more serious agendas: gender, identity issues, postcolonialism, media theory, psychological dysfunction, et al. Michael Wallin's Decodings (1988) synched up an uncanny skein of pictures to a parallel narration and an elegiac Shostakovich score in a cosmic-goof coup de grâce that went on to the Whitney Biennial. Scott Stark, a long-legged pillar of the area's avant-garde scene, unceasingly released a slew of short formal works (including some on video) that incorporated estate sale and otherwise orphaned imagery, leading all the way up to his latter-day dazzlers Noema (1998), Angel Beach (2001), and Speechless (2009).
To keep this chronology complete, the Author himself is obliged to list his own obsessive-compulsive concoction, RocketKitKongoKit (1986), a postcolonial political consciousness-raiser, as well as a subversive upending of genres, both fiction and documentary, so as to expose their ideological bases. Shortly after, fellow San Francisco State graduate Jay Rosenblatt crafted a careful slo-mo style in support of his depth-psychology excavations (Short of Breath, 1990). Another State alumnus, Greta Snider, also used optical printing (and hand-processing and "photo-gramming" and superimposition and intertitles and subtitles and direct address, and a dozen other methods) in a series of zine-inspired, fearlessly honest personal essays (Futility, 1989; Our Gay Brothers, 1993; Flight, 1997).
During his Cali days, the now NY-based Mark Street developed a distinctive cinéma concrète style that foregrounded the film-as-material. His scratching, tinting, optical printing, and directanimation techniques wrought alchemical miracles from the outré emulsion of educational and porn artifacts (Winter Wheat, 1989; Blue Movie, 1994). Meanwhile, Lynne Sachs was cobbling together her feminist essay, House of Science (1991). And Julie Murray, now also lost (to the Midwest), was developing an assiduous collage practice (in her visual art as well), setting up her own homemade Super 8 optical printer in her (now-razed) Clarion Alley studio, for her fiercely idiosyncratic small-format works (Fuckface, 1986).
If anything, the pace picked up in the nineties, with an increasing emphasis on rephotography and intense emulsion mucking. Alfonso Alvarez (Film For . . . , 1989; Quixote Dreams, 1990-'91) demonstrated a bold graphic style, while Steve Dye's animation sense apprehended the found frame as a fragile miniature (Lun, 1990; Zero, 1996). A trained architect, Thad Povey galvanized the scene with his Tesla-esque wizardry with light, projection apparati, and filmstrip (be it original or found). His mastery over film's material aspects led to surface work akin to the attacks of the abstract expressionists. Carrying on the potlatch generosity of No Nothing from his studio days there, Povey has in fact organized a regular gathering for found-footage "quilting bees," where amateurs (the Scratch Film Junkies) can freely experiment on editing room outs with fingernail polish, acetate inks, and whatnot. Povey's own portfolio is prodigious (A Different Kind of Green, 1989; Thine Inward-Looking Eyes, 1993), and by century's end he had branched out into installations (Wrapped Around the Screw, 2001) and collaborations with musicians in live performance (Nightsoil, 2002, also with Alvarez). And apropos of projector-performance, also noteworthy is Wet Gate—Steve Dye, Peter Conheim, Owen O'Toole (and sometimes Gibbs Chapman, who has made more than a few found-footage films of his own). Surfing the wave of obsolescence, this resourceful "Graflex group" plays industrial film loops arranged like audiovisual songs. The scene is busy indeed in the current millennium. David Sherman (Revolver, 1993; To Re-Edit the World, 2002) took his Tuning the Sleeping Machine (1996) to the Whitney Biennial, while Kerry Laitala's mesmerizing gothic reveries (Hallowed, 2002) brought her back to Black Forest audiences three times on her tours of Europe. And the archivist Rick Prelinger put a thousand plus public domain films online for a new generation of media archaeologists.
Yes, though it isn't the focus of this review, respect is also due to that rank of found-footage makers who work in video. Jeanne C. Finley (often with John Muse) has drawn equally from the archives as from her own doc footage to engender electronic essays that work the space between public and private systems of signification and behavior (So You Want to Be Popular? 1988; Involuntary Conversion, 1991). Phil Patiris (Iraq Campaign, 1991) has distilled a wickedly satirical videography out of the relentless flow of corporate logos, government propaganda, and sci-fi escapism that is broadcast television. Bryan Boyce (America's Biggest Dick, 2005) rocketed up from Chip Lord's tutelage at UC Santa Cruz to an ascendant position in the video-appropriation heavens, sampling smartly from the duplicitous double-talk of the multinational media moguls, to finally bring the wrath of McLuhan's global(ized) village right back to the heart of the beast. Sick media chickens coming home to roost.
This is perhaps the promise of an electronic folk culture that Bay Area found-footage makers hold forth: Concomitant with a cautionary acknowledgment of—and negotiation with—image overload, ours is a refreshing affirmation of relative autonomy, personal ingenuity, and creative agency to discover and share our own uses for things. The radical imagination can still find its way through this bewildering forest of signs. THIS is what is Beat-ific, what is supremely ironic, and what is powerfully redemptive about this activity. Saint Francis returns as Emperor Norton: the holy fool found his captain's hat in a free bin, and now he's calling the shots

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