Culture Shocks: Craig Baldwin’s Magnetic Assemblages


Sonic Outlaws/Spectres of the Spectrum

Other Cinema/Facets

Subterranean poet of paranoia, bricolage wizard Craig Baldwin makes movies that are half radical firestorm and half psychotic poppycock, and the mixture is virtually self-defining: cheap cultural flotsam recycled into more of the same, but emerging from the surgery with an insurrectionary temper. Each individual redefinition of the lost-and-found footage Baldwin uses contains a book’s worth of political commentary, but he’s less pedantic than he is pulp-satiric, and the movies are endlessly unpackable. His two latest are out on disc: With 1995’s Sonic Outlaws, Baldwin actually bothers to make a more-or-less orthodox documentary about piracy media, consumerist rebellion, and the Negativland-U2 scandal amid a Gatling gun montage of cannibalistic scrap-film signifiers. It may be Baldwin’s most asymptomatic film, but it’s a rousing and hilarious document of anti-corporate anger and action. Spectres of the Spectrum (1999), on the other hand, is more classically, hermetically Baldwin, whipping original footage of ranting-revolutionaries-of-the-future in with a mountain of advertising films, government reels, cheapjack features, and forgotten TV shows to rewrite 20th-century history as a struggle for control over electromagnetic media, from radio to the Internet. The gracious supps include docs, Baldwin’s commentary, shorts by fellow troublemakers like Phil Patiris and Eric Salter, and old footage sources left intact.

Electra Glide in Blue


A forgotten gout amid the spume of the American new wave, James William Guercio’s 1973 Midwestern policier is a grim, ambivalent rejoinder to the generational agitprop of Easy Rider. Almost 40, Robert Blake is a reasonable, earnest, and vertically challenged ‘Nam vet turned Arizona highway motorcycle cop who’s determined to escape “the elephant under my ass” and make detective, but who also can’t bring himself to take bribes, frame hippies, and bust heads. The human landscape around him is all rats and pack dogs, and the highways are so long they beg for unwitnessable mayhem. This is Guercio’s only film (he was the manager of Chicago, members of which make cameos in the movie), and it’s a living flashback, all desert dust, arty compositions, working-class despair, and a potent sense of outlaw critical mass. The ending, echoing and overshadowing Rider‘s, is a masterfully appalling moment in an era chockablock with convulsions. The DVD has Guercio audio-commenting along with his film, a minor dinosaur glancing back at his Jurassic youth. M.A.


Koch Lorber

Far loopier than the smash hit Downfall, Alexander Sokurov’s portrait of Hitler is lurid without being commercial. Evoking the German romantic landscape he synthesized for Mother and Son, Russia’s most dour and least compromising visionary filmmaker places his characteristic understatement at the service of borderline kitsch. Moloch opens in Hitler’s spectacular mountain retreat with führer frau Eva Braun frisking naked (or rather, in a body stocking) on the clammy battlements. Eva inhabits the castle alone until the arrival of the official party: Hitler, scrawny Dr. Goebbels, his zaftig Mrs., and stolid deputy Martin Bormann. The private Adi, as Eva calls him, initially alternates between cranky baby and kindly old ditherer. Both are convincing modes; as Eva tells him, he needs an audience to live. At mealtime, Hitler delights in grossing out his courtiers with disgusting vegetarian rants and apocalyptic visions of climactic change. (Once their führer retires, his minions seize the opportunity to break out the booze.) If these Nazis are triumphant buffoons, Sokurov is less concerned with showing the banality of evil than the vacuity of absolute power. Boredom alternates with irreality: Moloch is the master-race weekend that might have been imagined by Jerry Seinfeld, the Soup Nazi played by Hitler himself. J. HOBERMAN



The most distinctive movie sensibility to emerge from Poland in a quarter-century, Jan Jakub Kolski is a mysterious, instinctive artisan, and his adaptation of Witold Gombrowicz’s philosophical-modernist novel is something to puzzle over: In 1943, two Warsaw intellectuals wait out the war on a remote farm, where an embroilment in Home Army war making is commingled with perverse ideas about the necessary damnation of youthful innocence. Like its characters, the movie attempts to live moment to moment in self-indulgent suspension, before the war’s scorched earth—past and present—insists on being felt. Still, Kolski applies little narrative pressure: It’s a languid, nostalgic daydream full of Rousseauian poeticisms and only suggestions of the calamity to come, a strategy that echoes Gombrowicz’s ardor for anti-rational “incompleteness.” As with Kolski’s other films, natural light is perfectly captured, and the film acquires a rueful grieving. The extras from this Polish-only company are limited to a making-of doc without subtitles. M.A.


Morrissey: Who Put the ‘M’ in Manchester?


You might never see—and enjoy watching—more middle-aged men rush a stage in paroxysms of ecstatic glee than do here, at Moz’s triumphant 2004 Manc homecoming show, on his 45th birthday, no less. His long set list is sprinkled with a few rarely performed Smiths gems to nurse your jonesing.

The Radley Metzger Collection: Volume Two

(First Run)

The prince of pulp erotica returns in this three-disc set (featuring Score, The Dirty Girls, and Little Mother), the second in a collection that showcases—besides Metzger’s singular brand of sophisticated seduction—the sumptuous cinematography of Hans Jura, best exemplified in Little Mother (1973), a pre-Evita fictional biopic with the wickedly superior alt-title Blood Queen.

A Certain Kind of Death


Directed by Blue Hadaegh and Grover Babcock, this purposefully morbid doc follows L.A. coroners in an attempt to find out what happens to those who die with no next of kin, with chillingly detailed results.



Shot on digital video—giving it a satisfying, eerily pallid atmospheric glow—Inner Senses director Lo Chi Leung’s organ theft thriller saddles gorgeous Angelica Lee with renal failure, and the labyrinthine twists spiral from there. PETER L’OFFICIAL

This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on March 22, 2005

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