Bruce Baillie: The Innovative Filmmaker


Although Bruce Baillie's films are as American as "apple pie," they are less well known than the ubiquitous dessert. He is well known among avant-garde filmmakers for his poetic and lyrical style integrating scintillating visuals with color and texture. His films contain two strong characteristics: (1) poetic lyrical style and (2) social awareness that removes the viewer from mainstream America.

His films contain such beauty with vibrant colors and textures. Images are in focus with crisp clarity and detail, then transitions into another image. Baillie is known for creating innovative textures by taking shots rewinding the film then repeating that over several times to create a multiple image. Another technique is applying Vaseline to the clear filter to act as a diffuser. In an interview with Scott MacDonald, Baillie said that being a filmmaker is not like being a pianist. Pianists practice the piano to perfect their art whereas filmmakers make films, "therefore a lot of films are practice." (McDonald, 1989) Each new film is a learning process; learning what the film needs, what the viewer needs.

Nature, spirituality or the heroic, and beauty are predominant contributors in Baillie's work. P. Adams Sitney discusses the spiritual/heroic aspect of "the Asian "saint" in a fusion of Zen, Tao, and Confucian traditions" which is seen in Mr. Hayashi (1961). Beauty in his works is not considered "eye-candy," but rather an interpretation of how Baillie sees it. He once compared his wife's village in the Philippines to American film art. He related the American avant-garde film art to the village in the sense that people in society need each other to survive. Everything was shared, sharing ensures that everyone survives.

One of Baillie's earliest films was Mr. Hayashi. In this short semi narrative, the gardener, Mr. Hayashi, is trying to find work that will pay enough to sustain him. It has two sequences in the 00:02:33 film: in the first 45 seconds Mr. Hayashi is seen through the branches of a tree tilling the earth, but never revealing his face. In this sequence it is more of an absolute depiction of what is required of the gardener to survive. In the next frame he is tending to the garden with a shovel and pulling weeds from the earth. These two shots of him reflect the hard work that needs to be done to earn money. In the second sequence, the mood changes from economic discourse to serenity. Mr. Hayashi is walking through a pasture in the dense fog. It is so beautiful how he is capture in this part, just him and nature. With a long shot of Mr. Hayashi walking in the fog laden pasture, nature engulfs him. There is a bigger picture than economic stability. The serenity of the scene takes the viewers' attention away from the economic difficulties he is facing and makes them seemingly irrelevant in the vast beauty of nature.

One of Baillie's strongest lyrical works is Castro Street (1966). Castro Street is the reason why I chose to research Baillie. The imagery in this film is incomparable to other works. There is an amazing use of color and texture implemented to draw the viewers' attention to various images in the film. The use of soft color and high contrast black and white color are separated by the railroad tracks, on either side of the tracks. He created mattes resulting in "the reversal [of] color so that two layers would not be superimposed but combined." (Baillie, 1989) Also pertaining to imagery, Castro Street has masculine and feminine characterized shots. The shorter shots of the railroad are masculine; "the longer, more continuous, simpler, steady color" were the feminine shots. (Baillie, 1989)

Mac Donald discussed the opposites in Castro Street. The industrial landscape is combined in a poetic harmonic manner. It is amazing how black and white and color are infused with positive and negative superimposition. The color really stood out to emphasize the silo against the black and white. What was most impressive is the film's constant state of motion which worked as a transition from one object to another. There would be a close up shot containing intense detail, texture, and color of a particular object. I was constantly analyzing the images trying to figure out what they were, until the camera zoomed out to reveal the true image. The imagery and shot made this film intellectually stimulating. (MacDonald, 1989) (Camper, 2006)

Baillie's works have always been highly regarded because of his creative approach to the film making process. His art reflects the way he views the world, simple and beautiful.

--Kristen Maurer, 2006.

Bruce Baillie