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BRUCE BAILLIES films stand outside of any perceptible trend in the avant-garde. While most artists are engaged in some species of radicalism. formal or political, Baillie's vision harkens back to an earlier time and a less painful consciousness-the beat sensibility of Ginsberg and Snyder. Struggle somehow seemed simpler then: perhaps the enemies all came in capital letters. It was Technology against poetry back in the fifties Machines against men, Moloch bludgeoning Blake.
While not romantic in any articulated sense. Baillic's films are imbued with a strong strain of self-conscious rural nostalgia, a feeling for the past that is at once sentimental and dismembered. His films document man assuming the central persona of conquistador in his environmental relationships. The natural is defined as the pastoral, fragmented by the threatening angles of girders and consumed by the relentless forward movement of concrete progress. More explicitly, the natural world for Baillie is a world in which light plays freely; in man's world light is confined refracted, or invented (for instance, the use of lighted store interiors as a metaphor for death in Mass for the Sioux Dead ). Baillie's most frequent subject is the interaction between a poetic Nature and an ugly modernity, producing a restriction on the play of light.
Baillie's earlier films give a strong sense of internal progress, of work done, despite their non-dramatic form. Pieces like On Sundays, The Gymnasts, and Have You Ever Thought of Talking to the Director ? are unified by the experiences of a central character, whom Baillie uses to explore oppressive physical realities. His basic themes reach their fullest elaboration in his epic films To Parsifal and Mass, and each succeeding work derives its direction and energy from these two productions. In Quixote. the last of his epics, a barbaric technology proves too overpowering, and the sheer visual weight of double and triple superimpositions overwhelms even the filmmaker.
The works that follow it, less ambitious in scope, are more successful. Probably the best of these later films is Valentin de las Sierras, made in Mexico. Rather than unify the film through a central protagonist's experience, Baillie portrays the world as a child sees it, conveying a clear sense of wonder through close-ups and impressionistic hand-held camera work. Shots with specific meanings reoccur in a variety of contexts, and characteristic Baillie imagery-a dark horse, an unlit entryway-rearranges itself according to a child-like vision.
Like the beats, Baillie has a distrust of formalized structures, his movies growing gradually from images shot and edited in spurts, "discovering the film as it takes shape." Above all he is concerned with the apotheosis of the moment, the texture and line of things seen and felt, and the result is a body of work that is palpably bright.
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