Diving into Dumpsters to retrieve discarded footage is another day at the office for experimental filmmaker Craig Baldwin, who makes what he refers to as "collage essays." Known among the arthouse crowd for his films Tribulation 99: Alien Anomalies Under America (1992), a satiric take on xenophobia and CIA covert operations, and Sonic Outlaws(1995), a documentary that explored the legal entanglements of audio-collage groups such as Negativland and the Emergency Broadcast Network, the media archaeologist recently melded his "love-hate relationship with pop culture" and scads of found footage to create Spectres of the Spectrum, a compelling patchwork of words, images, and music commenting on the history of the media and its control of technology and of us. A screening of Spectres celebrates the eighth anniversary of the Cinema Vortex series. The breathless Baldwin spoke to New Times from his San Francisco home.
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When did you discover collage, and what about it intrigued you?
Collage is not something that just comes from art school. It's something I appreciate as a solution and as a response to the environment we live in, where there's scraps of media literally getting in our way as we walk down the street.... I call my own work maximalism. I think it's a direct response to the information overload.
Where do you find material?
Of the films in my personal collection, which numbers maybe 2000, I have not even been through ten percent, even though I try to watch movies every night. And the movies just keep coming in through the door every day -- Dumpsters, garage sales, flea markets, gutters. As an artist I try to express myself with the materials at hand. I don't have the budget to go to the Library of Congress or various archives to get a license for some kind of archival piece of film. My approach is much more subcultural.
What do you make of people supposedly having shorter attention spans these days?
My films have gotten longer and longer. What I try to do is take the ideas of the short form but actually develop ideas in depth, which constitutes a kind of feature filmmaking. That's what makes my films a little difficult, because they tax the viewer. It's really like punk rock. If you don't like it, just leave. It's supposed to be hardcore and strong and intense.
What's next for you?
An erotic thriller based on the life of a contemporary cult leader.