Specters of the Spectrum (1 of 3 Part Installment)

  • Craig Baldwin
  • 2001

It is the year 2007, and the Earth is a spasmodic, blighted dilapidation, seared under crevices torn into irradiated remains of the atmosphere. Fauna and flora have been exploited to almost extinction, while the surviving human-zombies meander “through the electronic miasma, their memories obliterated.” From the pirate radio station TV Tesla sequestered deep within the Nevada desert, sitting on what is now the Pacific coastline after the melting of the polar icecaps, a former intelligence operative named Yogi transmits to the world information on how things got this way. The monopolization of the emerging industries of electric power, radio, television, and the Internet, as repositories of “the whole contents of the media culture’s memory,” have been reduced to a privatized arena for buying and selling – a narcotizing network of “shopping malls and theme parks” – conjoined to form an oppressive “New Electromagnetic Order.” With the systematically assimilating machine having only a single territory left on its agenda, the mind itself, it will soon initiate its plan to incinerate the sky with particle beams, annihilating the planet as a result. Yogi’s daughter BooBoo, a savant telepath capable of deciphering the intricacies of the cosmic sequence, discovers a way to save the world from its abhorrent fate in a codified message left by her recently-deceased grandmother, who had worked, years ago, as an assistant on a live TV program, Science in Action. By way of her wildly advanced mental and intellectual capability, her task is to discover a way to travel back in time and decipher her grandmother’s message in order to triumph over the tyrannies manifested by corporately adulterated technologies.

Baldwin has agglomerated footage from a vast and formidable array of sources: kinescopes, corporate films, educational films, preview-trailers, clips from TV programs, aged science-fiction films, and an astonishing manifold of found clips, to create an spectral, hallucinatory “media-archaeology” document; a sci-fi time-travel tale of electromagnetic mysticism and futuristic war-machines. Through the increasingly abstract montage of live-action, archival film, broadcast video, and machinated interviews, the fantasy narrative warps into disjointed audio-visual bites, suggesting the breakdown of subjective psyche-memory, historical representation, and space-time itself. This science-fiction allegory about ‘electromagnetic autonomy’ in opposition to the hegemony of the culture-management industry – tracing the genealogy of media technology both verbally and physically – cleverly insists that the figures in authority would create advanced technology only to turn it against their own people, simultaneously subverting the concept of science as something to be used for the betterment of mankind and the utopian aggrandizement of the cinematic form.

The Situationist International made an axiom of the appropriative method, developing an entire theory of media critique – called ‘detournement,’ “based in the recontextualization of existing words, sounds or images in ways that radically alter the intended meanings.” Appropriating fragments lifted from action pictures, art films, advertisements, popular and educational movies, war footage, newsreels, and film classics, the Situationists made dense montages, often difficult to watch and always revolutionary both in their aesthetics and their political convictions. Specters of the Spectrum is Craig Baldwin’s embodiment and documentation of these techniques of montage and appropriation, as well as what is known as “‘culture jamming’: the detournement of bits and pieces of sound and image seized from the corporate mass media and redeployed for subversive purposes,” directed by Baldwin against an ever more intrusive, instrumental technoculture whose operant mode is the manufacture of consent through the manipulation of symbols.

The ingeniously collaged archival footage gives Specters of the Spectrum the integrity and capricious allurement of an obsessively crafted homemade contraption with an other-worldly aura. It is a hypnotizing snapshot of the age, of that microscopically detailed macrocosmic context enamored by conspiracy theorists, blurring genres and defying traditional categorization. The film entwines an extravagant narrative of father-daughter telepaths and space-time travel into a highly involved essayistic conceit: a quite convincing argument that the electromagnetic field constitutes as much of the environment as the air we breathe and that, in our electronic age, this precious resource is being recklessly exploited and polluted, as much by audacious covert experiments as by corporate media garbage in general. The meaning of the film has to do with the slippage between fact and fiction, as a parallax view upon a speculative history of the future, perversely justified by use of the throwaway detritus of postindustrial excess. This “neotribal” kind of scavenging through the crumbs of culture to skillfully construct an aesthetically and conceptually phantasmagoric product, a beautiful patchwork made up with incredible diversity, variety, and changes of texture, provides an authentically uncontrived artistic perspective of the contemporary environment and the media utilized by the margin in its representation.

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