SXSW Film Festival: Five in Focus


Spectres of the Spectrum

"My project has to do with media archeology," says Spectres of the Spectrum director Craig Baldwin. "It's about going back and finding the artifacts from early television and capturing that weird sense of time and awkwardness that was present back then." There's more to it than that, though. Spectres is the San Francisco native's fourth feature, following 1991's cult classic Tribulation 99: Alien Anomalies Under America, 1992's O No Coronado, and 1995's Negativland/U2 dustup Sonic Outlaws. Like those films, the only thing Spectres guarantees is that you're in for a mind-expanding whirlwind of a ride.

Baldwin, who uses an almost cut-and-paste style in his work, has raided the cinematic and societal liquor cabinet on this one, weaving a complex tale of a post-apocalyptic informational meltdown that leaves his protagonists -- Sam Kilcoyne's Yogi and his daughter BooBoo (Caroline Koebel) -- to save the world through, among other methods, mental time travel and seething irony. It's a battle against NEO -- the New Electronic Order -- and Baldwin, who appears to have more paranoid ideas than any one person should rationally be allowed, fires all his missiles all the time.

Utilizing bits and pieces from old kinescope television programs such as the peculiarly satisfying boomer kidshow Science in Action as well as chunks of educational Sputnik shorts and pretty much anything else Baldwin can get his hands on, Spectres is truly a work of stunning originality.

Speaking of the retro feel to his film, Baldwin says, "The military-industrial ideology at the time was just so blatant and so absurd, and I was attracted to the material as raw material, just as any collage person would look for something that had kind of a good look to it. Along with this brilliant look that I found came this kind of technophilia which, in turn, I'm criticizing. I call that a parallax: criticizing the present technophilia by looking at the Nineties and the Fifties at the same time. It makes it that much more easy to make fun of this blatant, unconditional embrace of, you know, post-war technology."

Trying to follow Baldwin's train of thought -- both in his film and during a conversation -- requires patience, or, at the very least, an ability to let the guy take the ball and run with it. If you trust him to blow your mind, though, he'll do it in spades: Craig Baldwin is nothing if not intellectually explosive, and it shows in his films. Purists may wonder if Spectres even qualifies as a "real" film -- there's so many different parts and ideas to it, and so much found footage to which, apparently, a story has been later grafted, that it's almost as if the director were working in tandem with William S. Burroughs, downloading the late author's mental free-for-all from the great beyond and cutting and pasting it directly into his weird, wild film. Love it or hate it (you'll love it), there's nothing else that even comes close to Baldwin's warped and manic vision.

Mon, Mar 13, 9:30pm

Spectres of the Spectrum is co-sponsored by the Austin Film Society as part of its "Expanding Cinema" series. Admission is free with a SXSW film pass, or $6 for the general public/$4 for AFS members.

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