Who Owns The Airwaves? By Mike White. Said Conrad Cornelius O’Donald O’Dell,My very young friend who is learning to spell:“The A is for Ape...
Said Conrad Cornelius O’Donald O’Dell,
My very young friend who is learning to spell:
“The A is for Ape. And the B is for Bear.
The C is for Camel. The H is for Hare.
The M is for Mouse. And the R is for Rat.
I know all the twenty-six letters like that...
...through to Z is for Zebra. I know them all well.”
Said Conrad Cornelius O’Donald O’Dell.
So now I know everything anyone knows
From beginning to end. From the start to the close.
Because Z is as far as the alphabet goes.
Then he almost fell flat on his face on the floor
When I picked up the chalk and drew one letter more!
A letter he had never dreamed of before!
And I said “You can stop, if you want, with the Z
Because most people stop with the Z
But not me!
In the places I go there are things that I see
That I never could spell if I stopped with the Z.
I’m telling you this ’cause you’re one of my friends
My alphabet starts where your alphabet ends!
Visible light occupies a thin bandwidth of only a few hertz. On either side are worlds of wonderful waves; ultraviolet, infrared, gamma rays, x-rays, radio waves, et al. Likewise, looking back at history, the majority of people look at a sliver of the events that have gone on in the world and accept them without question. Point A leads to point B, which leads to point C.
On occasion, there are people who take furtive glances outside the realm of “accepted fact” and might form a different opinion about the path taken between A and C. Perhaps there are other forces at work. Those who question the validity of the status quo are often labeled as heretics or, if they’re lucky, they might be viewed as innovators. Like Martin Luther questioning the dogma of the Catholic Church or Robert Koch questing for the cholera bacillus, eyes that stray past the mental barriers of conventional wisdom can behold wonders.
Filmmaker Craig Baldwin has been staring into the apparent void for over a decade, following the patterns of light and sound past the visual spectrum until the wavelengths have become mountainous. From his journeys he’s returned with remarkable visions. Fortunately, Baldwin has been able to translate these sights into perspicuous works of celluloid art. Using the images of the past as a foundation, Baldwin pieces together his films with frames from disparate sources. Mexican sci-fi films, Deathrace 2000, Valley of the Giants, and a million other odds and ends lend themselves to the cinema povera of Craig Baldwin.
You’ll be sort of surprised what there is to be found
Once you go beyond Z and start poking around!
So, on beyond Z! It’s high time you were shown
That you really don’t know all there is to be known.
A protégé of filmmaker Bruce Conner (and an apparent study of Czech visionary Dusan Makavejev), Baldwin’s work is a hypnotic experiment in editing rhythm and the recontextualization of film images. Baldwin’s first major work, Tribulation 99: Alien Anomalies Under America is an intense pastiche of found footage. The film is packed so tightly with images that it takes several viewings to begin to appreciate the wonderful use of match form cutting and visual rhymes.
Divided into ninety-nine chapters (reminiscent of Martin Luther’s thesis, or the year of “The End Times”), the narrative is “the ultimate conspiracy film.” The audience is told a clandestine tale by a guileless narrator (Sean Kilooyne) of the gradual, systematic takeover of the world by aliens from Quetzalcoatl, a planet which orbits the sun directly opposite of earth. The aliens live inside of our hollow earth (a theory found within The Big Book of Conspiracies) and have had several dealings with the U.S. government.
Initially appearing to be a farcical conglomeration of nutty conspiracy theories, Tribulation 99 contains more truth than fiction and succeeds in disseminating facts in the guise of the fantastic. “It’s all true, it’s all documented,” Baldwin says about his re-telling of popular history. “Instead of documenting it with a talking head, I document it with an image.”
Encapsulating the dirty deeds of the CIA and the military done at the behest of the Military-Industrial complex, Baldwin primarily documents the political turmoil in Central and South American. Of course, living in our “global village,” the staged coups, training and funding policies of the U.S. government have since found use the world over.
Moving from the U.S. involvement across its southern border in the twentieth century, Baldwin would return to the ideas of “outside forces” asserting their power in these areas in his subsequent film, O No Coronado!an account of the colonization of the Americas by Europe, focusing on Francisco Vasquez de Coronado’s mad quest for the Seven Cities of Gold.
O No Coronado! would find Baldwin shooting original footage to accompany his montage work; employing actors to stand in for major “players” in the colonization and killing of the Americas native population. Baldwin creates a narrative with what’s available stating that his ingenuity is beholden to his budget and the need to implement apparently outrageous images. Items such as an “odd reel”a leftover from a film with no commercial value becomes an inestimable source of inspiration.
While Tribulation 99 and O No Coronado! garnered abundant critical praise, both works remained not only out of the “mainstream” but a good number of cinephiles were unaware of them as well. Personally, I had always taken it for granted that at least Tribulation 99 was a cult favorite. Released in 1991, I suppose that the film might have been lost in the cracks during the awkward transition from cult films shown at art/revival houses to the stocking of cult videos at one’s neighborhood rental shop. While Poor White Trash and She-Devils on Wheels managed to infiltrate even Blockbuster Video, Tribulation 99 wasn’t as widely available. Add to this the film’s “not long enough for a feature and too long to be a short” fifty-minute running time and the demand it places on the viewer to actually pay attention, it’s easy to see where Tribulation 99 didn’t gain the underground popularity of something like The Toxic Avenger.
Baldwin’s popularity would soar, however, with the release of his next feature, Sonic Outlaws (see CdC #5). A boon to the notoriety of the film was its story of the band Negative Land struggling against musical giant U2 and their label, Island Records over the release of an album called U2. Not only was Negative Land sued by Island Records but their own record label, SST, as well. Sonic Outlaws centered on the legalities of copyright, limits of “fair use” and boundaries of the public domain, Baldwin’s use of found footage was a perfect ironic complement to the film’s subject. It’s in Sonic Outlaws that Baldwin pointedly begins to question the legislation of bandwidth. One of the strongest moments in the film comes when a member of Negative Land gives a demonstration of the ease to tune in on a cellular phone conversation. “We broke the law right now at this very instant, didn’t we?” he says with a shy smile as the audience is made privy to what could be considered a private conversation.
So you see!
There’s no end
To the things you might know,
Depending how far beyond Zebra you go!
“Nothing in this film is science fiction,” is the tagline of Baldwin’s latest work, Spectres of the Spectrum. Continuing to explore the ownership of the airwaves, Baldwin considers Spectres to be a quasi-sequel to Tribulation 99 with updates to the same themes of the earlier film starring the same actor, Sean Kilooyne.
Winner of the Way Cool Feature award at MicroCineFest 99, Spectres stars Kilooyne as Yogi, a holdout from the age before the New Electromagnetic Order (NEO)a vertically integrated company that sounds eerily familiar in the wake of the AOL/Time Warner merger. Yogi is one of the few free thinkers left and, holed up in his radioactive wasteland, he broadcasts his views and news to other members of “TV Tesla.” With Yogi is his mutant daughter, Boo Boo (Caroline Koebel as voiced by Beth Lisick), an obstreperous telepath with little love of the world that NEO’s helped to create.
“All my films are about history, autonomy, assimilation and these David and Goliath kind of power abuse things.” In Spectres the audience witnesses an escalated battle of “the little guy versus the corporation” that was explored in Sonic Outlaws. Dealing this time with the topic of the transference of energy, most notably through broadcasting, Baldwin demonstrates that there have been countless fringe dwellers that history has cast aside or relegated to footnotes.
Nikola Tesla, Philo T. Farnsworth, and Edwin Armstrong are a handful of inventors who have been forgotten or overshadowed by fabricated tales of greatness about innovators such as Thomas Edison, David Sarnoff or Alexander Graham Bell. In essence, Spectres of the Spectrum can be viewed as a much-needed documentary about broadcast history. As Baldwin sees it, his film is a “pre-history of telepathy.” In time, he speculates that there won’t be a need for rudimentary forms of communication such as the telephone or television but, instead, there might be direct point-to-point communication via brainwaves.
Along with presenting an alternate history about the pioneers of spectral exploration, Baldwin’s work serves as a critique of the history of military experiments in the Van Allen Belts, tracing it through the control of electronic manufacturing, telecommunication networks and, finally, programming. “It’s understanding the Earth as a magnet and it’s a critique of military-industrial incursion into the electronic sphere.”
As these ideas intertwine, Baldwin’s inspiration for Spectres came from a desire to denounce the High-Frequency Active Auroral Research Program (HAARP), an aspect of the “Star Wars” project operating under the guise of an energy transference process. Feeling that this would be too topical and leave the film feeling dated in a few years, Baldwin was also inspired by the “dead tech” of kinescopes. These devices were once commonly used to transfer television signals to film that gives the image an odd, out of phase look. Objects on screen are surrounded by haloes of brightness. “They give everything a weird sense of time,” says Baldwin, who admits he gets a giddy sense attained through the primordial days of live performance television.
Baldwin describes the intersection of these ideas with a “cosmic metaphor” wherein “you have dust and gas and then at a certain point you get a planet if you’ve got enough gravity.” The center of gravity for Baldwin was the television series “Science in Action.” He wrote the story out of the kinescope footage (which one can see a glimpse of in Tribulation 99). He created a family for a seemingly innocuous member of the “Science in Action” staff, Amy Hacker (whose real name was shortened from Hackert courtesy of clever sound editing).
The narrative of Boo Boo travelling back in time at speeds faster than light in order to view her grandmother’s appearance on “Science in Action” is often detrimental to the pacing and enjoyment of the film. Boo Boo’s voice-over is often grating but it’s not enough to detract from the overall strength and importance of the film, which is solidly based in alternative history.
The places I took him!
I tried hard to tell
Young Conrad Cornelius O’Donald O’Dell
A few brand-new wonderful words he might spell.
I led him around and I tried hard to show
There are things beyond Z that most people don’t know.
I took him past Zebra. As far as I could.
And I think, perhaps, maybe I did him some good...
Because, finally, he said:
“This is really great stuff!
And I guess the old alphabet
NOW the letters he uses are something to see!
Most people still stop at the Z...
But not HE!
For more information or to order the films of Craig Baldwin, visit www.othercinema.com. On Beyond Zebra arrogated from Dr. Seuss.
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