Bruce Baillie - Director

Nationality: American. Born: Aberdeen, South Dakota, 24 September 1931. Education: University of Minnesota, B.A., 1955; attended University of California at Berkeley, 1956–58; attended London School of Film Technique, 1959. Military Service: Served in the U.S. Navy during Korean War, 1951–53. Career: Worked under Will Hindle for "PM West," CBS, and for Marvin Becker Films, San Francisco, and began first film, On Sundays , 1960; founded Canyon Cinema Film Cooperative, San Francisco, 1960; taught film at Rice University, Houston, 1969–70, Bard College, New York, 1974–77, and Evergreen State College, Olympia, Washington, 1981–82; founder, with Bonnie Jones, Olympia Zen-Kai, 1982; touring lecturer, 1963—. Awards: Rockefeller Foundation fellowship, 1966; Creative Arts Award for Filmmaking, Brandeis University, 1971; honorary M.F.A., San Francisco Art Institute, 1971; National Endowment for the Arts fellowship, 1971, 1981; CAPS, NY, 1981; Maya Deren Award, Vermont Institute, 1981, American Film Institute, 1991; San Francisco International Film Festival Golden Gate Award; Ann Arbor Grand Prize; Moholy Nagy Award; Guggenheim fellowship; American Film Institute fellowship. Address: 669 W. Kodiak Ave., Camano Island, WA 98292, U.S.A.

Films as Director:


On Sundays


David Lynn's Sculpture (unfinished); Mr Hayashi ; The Gymnasts


Friend Fleeing (unfinished); Everyman ; News No. 3 ; Have You Thought of Talking to the Director? ; Here I Am


A Hurrah for Soldiers


To Parsifal


Mass for the Dakota Sioux ; The Brookfield Recreation Center


Quixote (revised 1967)


Yellow Horse


Tung ; Castro Street ; All My Life ; Still Life ; Termination ; Port Chicago Vigil ; Show Leader


Valentin de las Sierras


Quick Billy


Roslyn Romance (multi-part film)


Roslyn Romance (Is It Really True?): Intro. I and II


The Cardinal's Visit (final section of Roslyn Romance )


Dr. Bish Remedies II


The P-38 Pilot ; The Bus Driver's Tale ; Dr. Bish Remedies I


Commute ; Kindergarten


By BAILLIE: articles—

Frequent poems and letters, in Canyon Cinema News (San Francisco)

"Letters: San Francisco Film Scene," in Film Culture (New York), Summer 1963.

Interview with Richard Whitehall, in Film Culture (New York), Summer 1969.

Interview in Film Culture (New York), Spring 1971.

"Bruce Baillie," in Film Comment (New York), Spring 1971.

"Dr. Bish," in Downtown Review , Fall/Winter 1979/80, Spring 1980, Fall 1980.

Interview with Scott MacDonald, in Wide Angle (Baltimore), July-October 1992.

On BAILLIE: books—

Hanhardt, John, and others, A History of the American Avant-Garde Cinema , New York, 1976.

Callenbach, Ernest, Bruce Baillie , St. Paul, Minnesota, 1979.

MacDonald, Scott, A Critical Cinema , Vol. 2, Berkeley, California, 1992.

On BAILLIE: articles—

Callenbach, Ernest, "Bruce Baillie," in Film Quarterly (Berkeley), Fall 1964.

Polt, Harriet, "The Films of Bruce Baillie," in Film Comment (New York), Fall 1964.

Kent, Thomas, "San Francisco's Hipster Cinema," in Film Culture (New York), Spring 1967.

"Baillie Issue" of Harbinger (Houston), July 1967.

"Baillie Section" of Film Culture (New York), no. 67–69, 1979.

Nygren, Scott, " Quick Billy " (Ph.D. thesis) (Buffalo, New York), 1982.

Connor, Kathleen, "Brigid Rose and Dr. Bish: A Celtic Journey" (M.F.A. thesis) (British Columbia), 1988.

Cinematograph (San Francisco), vol. 5, 1993.

Connor, Kathleen, " Quick Billy and W.B. Yeats' The Wanderings of Oisin " (Ph.D. thesis) (Athens, Ohio), 1994.

* * *

The career of Bruce Baillie has two central aspects, which are also features of the whole American avant-garde film movement. First, his films are generally intensely poetic, lyrical evocations of persons and places in which the subject matter is transformed by the subjective methods used to photograph it. Second, many of his films display a strong social awareness, describing attitudes critical towards, and alienated from, mainstream American society. In many cases, Baillie fuses these concerns within single films.

Stylistically, Baillie's films are characterized by images of haunting, evanescent beauty. An object will appear with spectacular clarity, only to dissolve away an instant later. Light itself often becomes a subject, shining across the frame or reflected from objects, suggesting a level of poetry in the subject matter that lies beyond easy interpretation. Baillie combines images with other images, and images with sound, in dense, collage-like structures. Thus, many of his films cut frequently between scenes, or superimpose objects on each other. One is constantly aware of a restlessness, an instability, which seems to result from his images' appearance and flow. It is significant, too, that many of Baillie's films contain, or are structured as, journeys.

The effect of Baillie's films is to make the viewer feel that any moment of the viewing, any single image he is looking at is a mere illusion that will soon vanish. The sensuousness of the light and colors only heighten one's awareness of their unreality. It is as if there is a void, a nothingness, that lies behind all things. It is not irrelevant in this regard that Baillie has evidenced strong interest, over the years, in Eastern religious thought.

Some degree of social comment is present in most of Baillie's films, but in widely varying degrees. Mr. Hayashi places the poetic and the social in a very precise balance. The imagery consists of evocative, sun-drenched images forming a short, haiku-like portrait of a man. On the soundtrack, we hear the man speak of his life, and his difficulty in finding work. Mass and Quixote indict American society as overly aggressive, toward its citizens, toward Native Americans, and toward nature; as impersonal and dehumanizing; as lacking physical or moral roots. For Quixote , Baillie uses an extremely dense, collage-like form, in which images and fragments of images are intercut with and superimposed on others, with a similarly complex soundtrack. At times, the film's multiple themes seem to blur into each other, as if the filmmaker is acknowledging that he is as "lost" as the society he is depicting.

Castro Street, Tung , and Valentin de las Sierras are, by contrast, apparently simpler portraits of people and places. By keeping his camera very close to things, Baillie renders their details ever more stunning, while his collage editing and soundtrack again create an instability leading to "nothingness." Castro Street , which depicts an industrialized area, is extraordinary for its combination of diverse photographic representations—black and white, color, positive and negative—in editing and superimposition. Quick Billy contains thematic and stylistic elements of most of Baillie's previous films; its motifs include autobiography, "portrait"-like representation of people and events, and an underlying theme, made explicit in the film's final section, of Western man's aggressiveness toward his surroundings.

—Fred Camper

User Contributions:

Great films, I love them. He did a really great work!

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