Bruce Baillie | Castro Street
Classic Film and Television Home Page
Bruce Baillie is an American who has made many avant-garde films.
Bruce Baillie's film Castro Street (1966) is a 10 minute
poetic documentary about an industrial area in a California city,
its trains and gas plants. (It has no connection at all with the
gay district in San Francisco today.)
Lateral Camera Movement
One of Baillie's simplest films is All My Life (1967).
This shows one single tracking shot. It moves laterally along
a fence, slowly moving along a line of roses on the fence. The
red roses and the blue sky were bright and beautiful.
Castro Street uses shots of the same structure as All
My Life, turning them into building blocks for a complex montage-superimposition
sequence. So both films employ the same formal principles. Castro Street
is full of lateral tracks, that follow a bright line
across the screen, usually from left to right. A shot like this
near the beginning follows a set of industrial pipes, that run
through the air from tower to tower of an industrial complex.
The pipes form a whitish line. The camera starts at the left of
the pipes, and tracks laterally to the right, allowing us to see
the complex line pattern the pipe makes as we move to the right.
Eventually Baillie runs out of pipe, and the shot ends.
Baillie follows many such lines in his shots. One follows a line
of horizontal smoke, as it emerges from a smoke stack and blows
to the right. Others follow train tracks. Or train cars themselves,
and their grooved horizontal lines on their sides. (Fritz Lang
loved such trains covered with parallel lines in Human Desire.)
These shots are often superimposed on each other. We will be half
way through one track shot; all of a sudden, a second will superimpose,
and now we are following both at once, as the camera moves ever
to the right in both shots. Baillie creates a relentless but gentle
movement from left to right throughout the whole picture, through
such superimposed shots. The whole thing is accompanied by the
noises of a train starting up and moving off down a track, highly
appropriate as a unifying sound for a series of shots that when
combined together, do have the steady effect of a train in motion.
Castro Street is full of the bright, often primary colors
that filled All My Life. These include reds, blues and
occasional yellows, often the color of industrial equipment -
they tend to have a little brown mixed in, giving the colors an
industrial edge. There are usually only one or two bright colors
on the screen at once, usually linked to a particular object or
region. The colors have plenty of punch, without ever being TOO
forceful. The same spirit is true of everything in the film.
Traditions: Dziga Vertov and Brakhage
Like many of Stan Brakhage's early films, this is a poetic documentary
in the Dziga Vertov tradition:
Vertov and other Soviet montage also inspired Slavko Vorkapich's
Hollywood film montage sequences. And Baillie's film also has
a bit of an effect of such a montage sequence in a 1935 MGM movie.
Something about the way he paces the images, has one succeed another
clearly - we always know what we are seeing, he never goes delirious -
does indeed evoke the approach of Hollywood montage.
Albeit to greater length and splendor.
- As in Vertov's Man With a Movie
Camera, we see urban areas, often with two or more images
superimposed on screen - and often linked to camera movement.
- Complex mirroring effects occur - in Vertov these were shop windows,
in Brakhage's Wonder Ring these were elevated train windows, here
in Baillie machinery is filmed as it reflects and distorts in
sort of complex chrome covered industrial object. Baillie tracks
along over the surface, causing the reflection to slowly ripple
and bulge in different curved regions of his chrome mirror.
- Towards the end, Baillie includes text from signs, etc., also like Vertov.
The industrial area also recalls the many finales of film noir
which are shot in industrial districts - remember Follow Me
Quietly (Richard Fleischer, 1949).
Baillie somehow (to me at least) seems to be building on what
American audiences knew in 1966, in terms of montage, superimposition
and industrial region subject matter. He is trying to take audiences
by the hand, and gently lead them in to a film which is simply
more elaborate and more richly detailed than things they have