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Craig Baldwin (born 1952) is an American experimental filmmaker. He uses “found” footage from the fringes of popular consciousness as well as images from the mass media to undermine and transform the traditional documentary, infusing it with the energy of high-speed montage and a provocative commentary that targets subjects from intellectual property rights to rampant consumerism.
Life and work
Craig Baldwin was born in Oakland, California and grew up in nearby Sacramento. He attended college at the University of California at Santa Barbara and the University of California at Davis. He later earned an M.A. from San Francisco State University in 1986. It was there, in San Francisco State’s Cinema Department, that he first became interested in collage film during his studies under Bruce Conner, a filmmaker famous for his artwork of scraps, which extend beyond film into traditional collage, sculpture, and photography. He is also a professor at the University of California at Davis.
As Baldwin developed his use of found imagery, he came across the theories of the Situationist International (SI). Baldwin was also exploring art that was occurring outside of the traditional and more socially acceptable forms of high art, such as zines, mail art and altered billboards. Though he finished his first 16mm film, Wild Gunman, in 1978, he had explored his (rather Situationist) desires to eradicate the borderlines between fine and popular art, public and private imagery, the political and the purely aesthetic in several film and photo-essay projects, notably Flick Skin (1977), a Super-8 film that Baldwin made while living in the projectionist booth at a porn theater. Pieced together from the scraps of film that were left lying around the theater, it was with this film that Baldwin began to really develop his style of rebranding images.
Another of his early works, Stolen Movie, could be called performance art or guerilla theater. He stormed into mainstream movie theaters, filmed the images off the screen, and then quickly ran out the back with his loot. Integrating clips from the mainstream media became another one of his techniques to reveal the truth behind the normalized spectacle: he used their own footage to parody the implicit message, unseating the common notions associated with the imagery.
In addition to his clear roots in the SI, Baldwin admittedly owes to the Beat poets as well. He expresses gratitude for the role they played in establishing the youth counterculture of the time as a force situated firmly outside of the mainstream. Acting on what he calls a "cultural response to the middle-class lifestyle", Baldwin spent some time hitchhiking and hopping freight trains.
A large supporter of Baldwin’s work is Film Threat magazine, a publication devoted to independent film which started as a ‘zine in 1984 and continued its life on the internet after it stopped printing in 1997. The common link amongst the Film Threat crowd is that they are mostly working on small projects with minimal budgets and crews and therefore must utilize and adapt whatever happens to be around to accomplish their work. This school, which Baldwin calls "cinema povera" (the cinema of poverty), began with his teacher, Conner, and continues with him and others, including Bill Daniel, Greta Snider, Eric Saks and Lori Surfer.
Aside from his travelling, Baldwin has spent his life in San Francisco and has played an integral role in establishing an independent film scene in the city’s Mission District. He helped establish Other Cinema, a film program series hosted at Artists' Television Access that promotes the work of both emerging and established artists working in the style of cinema povera. Other Cinema Digital was established in 2003 to provide distribution for films by independent, underground and experimental filmmakers. Baldwin has also emerged as somewhat of an activist for the re-evaluation of copyright and intellectual property laws. He said that:
Collage is the contemporary art. It is the most definitive. Yet it runs absolutely against copyright laws. There are certain assumptions about the usage of other people’s material in order to make money from it. Collage artists take a tiny bit of something from your piece and put it together with a lot of other pieces too and make a distinct whole. We’re not trying to steal your audience. The copyright laws need to be updated in order to deal with this art form.
In 1995, Baldwin rushed to support a band named Negativland whose music was a satirical collage of popular tunes. They had gotten into trouble for violating copyright laws when they sampled a U2 song. Baldwin’s 1995 film, Sonic Outlaws, focuses on the controversy surrounding the case. More structured than most of his other films, the documentary is put together from footage of interviews with a wide variety of Baldwin’s fellow media jammers and raises questions about the validity of the current system of controlling “intellectual property.”
Wild Gunman (1978) is an intense montage of cowboy images, pop-cultural scenes and advertising intercut with footage and images of the geopolitical crisis driven by cultural and political imperialism.
He took his commentary and technique a step further in RocketKitKongoKit (1986), a film which traces Zaire’s horrific post-independence history with found footage and a speedy voiceover, incriminating everyone from Mobutu and the CIA to the American popular mainstream and German arms makers, all the while maintaining the grim humor he has become known for.
Tribulation 99: Alien Anomalies Under America (1991), perhaps his most well-known film, is a parody of CIA interventions in developing countries as well as a critique of paranoia and conspiracy theories, presented as a pseudo-documentary that tells the revisionist history of alien intervention in Latin America in 99 brief ramblings.
Baldwin’s last film before Sonic Outlaws was O Coronado! (1992), a retelling of the invasion of the American southwest in the mid-16th century. The film is as much a critique of the contemporary media portrayals of the conquest as it is a commentary on the conquest itself.
Baldwin’s 1999 film, Spectres of the Spectrum, is a science fiction allegory which tells the story of a young woman with telepathic powers, who travels back in time to save the world from an electro-magnetic pulse. The film takes a cautionary stance against the media outlets in charge of creating and perpetuating the popular mainstream, and in doing so, follows the trajectory, through collage, of media from its beginnings to the present.
In 2008, Baldwin began screening his newest film, Mock-Up on Mu, a fictional story based heavily on the real facts of the lives of L. Ron Hubbard, Marjorie Cameron, Aleister Crowley, and Jack Parsons.
- Maloney, Tim (2006). "Craig Baldwin". Senses of Cinema. Retrieved 20 April 2011.
- Bertens, Johannes Willem; Fokkema, Douwe Wessel (1997). International Postmodernism: Theory and Literary Practice. Comparative History of Literature in European Languages 11. John Benjamins Publishing. p. 144. ISBN 9027234450.
- Craig Baldwin at the Internet Movie Database
- Other Cinema
- Profile of Baldwin on Flicker
- Profile of Baldwin at Disinformation
- Profile of Baldwin at Senses of Cinema
- Who Owns the Airwaves?
- Video Interview with Baldwin at Cargo Magazine
- Interview with Craig Baldwin