Bruce Baillie Characteristics




Bruce Baillie, co-founder of Canyon Cinema began making films in the early sixties. One of his first, Mr. Hayashi (1961), a type of "cinematic haiku ", is a three minute black and white film in which the main character, a Japanese gardener, tends to his garden. This film was made as a newsreel advertisement to be shown in the early days of Baillie's film society.

Baillie's body of work, which is comprised primarily of films in the lyrical form , also includes two structural films. All My Life (1966) and its complement , Still Life (1966).

Baillie's lyrical films, Castro Street (1966), and Tung (1966), are renowned for their beauty and visual richness. His work is often characterized by superimposing a mixture of negative and positive black and white images, with color.

"In his earliest films, Baillie explored ways of visualizing his own mental states and of capturing something of the lovely simplicity of the people around him he saw as most deeply spiritual. Increasingly, his films became characterized by a tendency to layer or combine multiple images and by an unusual sensitivity to texture, color, and light. Each of these tendencies can be understood as an emblem of a particular understanding Baillie had developed" (MacDonald, Scott - A Critical Cinema 2).

--Donna Albano, 2001


Bruce Baillie has been characterized as an avant-garde film maker who was strongly influenced by Stan Brakhage's works. He has been consistent in creating art in a lyrical form. "In his major lyrical films he extended his natural talent for sound fusion to a textured visual surface which uses superimposition and often mixtures of negative and positive black-and-white with color, and a rhetoric of slow transformations" (Sitney, 2002).

Baillie's first work Mr. Hayashi, shot in black and white, depicts a Japanese man working in a garden. The footage is brief, occasional, and minor focusing on the daily tasks of a gardener. Mr. Hayashi is reflective of Brakhage's work Maya Deren in the sense that it creates a "cinematic haiku" (Sitney, 2002). Several of Baillie's works propose heroic elements; Mr. Hayashi being the first of these films with "the Asian "saint" in a fusion of Zen, Tao, and Confucian traditions." Heroic elements are also evident in Mass for the Dakota Sioux and Quixote. (Sitney, 2002)

Mr. Hayashi led the way with heroic elements. Mass for the Dakota Sioux followed the same idea, but with a more religious aspect. Quixote was the last of the western-hero style works. It completes the ideal of the American as the conquering man.

Most of Baillie's works were created in the 1960's. Earlier works were documentary-like, but by the end of the decade the works transformed into poetic film with "a balance of image, color, superimposition, and sound in the construction of his expression" (Cosmic Baseball Association, 2000). His works are considered "as American as apple pie [but] while many Americans know apple pie, the films of Baillie are somewhat less well known."

Baillie's films are independent of the Hollywood film industry's empty ideas. His films are very personal, not in the sense that they are self-indulgent, but rather that they are "beautiful and meaningful in a number of different contexts and on a number of different levels" (Cosmic Baseball Association, 2000).

"The exploration in what Sitney calls the "heroic" in Baillie's films has its locus in the condition of the "outsider," one incapable of sustaining meaningful contact with either the victims of a culture he condemns or with his nostalgic intimation of a pastoral existence. This is one of the supreme tensions underlying all of Baillie's work . . ." (Arthur)

--Kristen Maurer, 2006.

Bruce Baillie