Bruce Baillie | Castro Street

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Bruce Baillie

Bruce Baillie is an American who has made many avant-garde films.

Castro Street

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.

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 seen before.