Required Viewing for Troubled Times
Craig Baldwin's Blows Against the Empire
San Francisco-based professional agitpropster-
cum-video agent provocateur Craig Baldwin is no stranger to the bizarre. His films Spectres of the Spectrum and Tribulation 99: Alien Anomalies Under America, as well as the Negativland documentary Sonic Outlaws, have enshrined him as one of the pillars of American cinematic subterfuge. His sublime, often outrageous use of found footage and old newsreels, combined with a delightfully skewed artistic world-view, make him, well, a really odd fellow.
He's also no stranger to Austin, having swung through town multiple times during the past decade to present not only his own films but those of other cutting-edge video rapscallions. And now he's returning yet again, with a collection of short films and videos by other artists aligned under the banner Blows Against the Empire, a two-part, two-hour psychomedia experience that at the very least will have the audience if all goes according to plan pleasantly seething with barely containable disgust at the dire societal straits we currently find ourselves in. And, Baldwin assures us, it's funny, too. (So leave the garrotes at home, people.)
"This is much more of a media activist kind of thing," says Baldwin by phone from Cali. "It's not really so much agitprop, so to speak; it's really more of a documentation of performance-arty kind of pranks. I've been to Austin before, of course, presenting these culture jams in association with Cinematexas and Parallax View, but this is a little different. There's anti-globalism and anti-Bush demonstrations going on all over the world these days and so on, and there's a prevailing malaise throughout the land including in Austin, I'm sure and the films that we'll be screening are somewhat of a reaction to that."
Part one of Baldwin's compilation/presentation is titled "No Logo" and features short works from the likes of Bill Daniel ("Texas Gas-Powered Leaf Blower Hockey"), the Rev. Billy Talen ("Church of Stop Shopping"), and Yes Men ("Video News Releases"); part two, titled "How to Poke a War Pig," spotlights Bryan Boyce ("State of the Union"), Animal Charm ("The Bush Files"), and Paper Tiger TV ("Hollywood Victory"), along with more than a dozen other explosive outbursts that audiences can safely assume should bring a snarl to the lips of the current curs in office. Fun for the whole family, just as long as your family surname isn't Ashcroft.
"There's a different scale, a different register of protest emerging out there," notes Baldwin, adding that "it's much more engaged and sort of theatrical. I call it guerrilla theatre, and so that's a lot of what you're going to see."
Call it what you will, Craig. We'll call it required viewing for troubled times.