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Other Cinema presents
Spectres of the Spectrum (1999)

"Fellow Earthlings, there is a spectre haunting the planet..."
- opening narration

Review By: Rich Rosell   
Published: March 31, 2005

Stars: Sean Kilcoyne, Beth Lisick, Caroline Koebel, Erik Davis, Jessie Drew, Phil Patiris
Director: Craig Baldwin

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (nothing objectionable)
Run Time: 01h:31m:08s
Release Date: March 29, 2005
UPC: 185713000018
Genre: cult

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer

DVD Review

Writer/director/artist Craig Baldwin refers to himself as a "media archeologist", and if you happened to see his 1991 film Tribulation 99: Alien Anomalies Under America you would understand what that means. He built (as opposed to "directed") that experimental film using what is commonly known as "found material", aka cobbled together bits of leftover, unused film clips collected from just about anywhere, turning it into a loosely cohesive but complex dissection of how Earth has been infested with aliens for a very long time. The ambitious element of Tribulation 99 was only eclipsed by its overall weirdness. Aliens are cool, but what about the perils of electromagnetic technology, you may ask?

Released by Other Cinema, Baldwin's Spectres of the Spectrum (1999) finds him once again returning to the realm of "found material", only this time he has augmented his story with bits of newly constructed footage, though it is often difficult to tell where the old stuff ends and the new stuff begins. The plot itself is difficult to quantify, though in simplest terms it is a futuristic tale (set in a post-apocalypse 2007) and concerns a young psychic name Boo Boo (Caroline Koebel) and her father Yogi (Sean Kilcoyne), both of whom face off against the evil New Electromagnetic Order.

Any deep meanings beyond that are possibly open for interpretation, at least until you listen to Baldwin's accompanying commentary. But where's the fun in that?

In between his "new" footage, which serves a bridge of sorts, Baldwin uses bits and pieces from kinescopes, educational films, cartoons, B-movies, and commercials, weaving the basics of a broadly inventive and challenging sci-fi tale drawing on the history of electromagnetism, X-rays and other fragments of technology. The blending of these disparate images is at times dizzying, and when combined with the science-tinged narration there is almost a sense of too much going on at once to absorb properly. If ever there was a film that demanded multiple viewings, this would most certainly be it.

Visually, this is like a hammer to the head for just over 90 minutes, an initially disjointed project that—if given time for Baldwin's highly unconventional approach to eventually sink in—soon becomes an adventurous kinetic dose of discordant but ultimately intertwined images. You might even have to go back and start it from the beginning once Baldwin's artistic ebb and flow becomes apparent; I'm not necessarily saying the narrative makes complete sense (on the first go round, at least), but as arty science-geek eye candy it is the kind of daring filmmaking that demands complete and utter immersion.

Rating for Style: A+
Rating for Substance: B


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: It's hard to effectively judge the image transfer on this 1.33:1 full-frame presentation, because the varied source material is purposely dark, damaged and often horribly grained. The look of Baldwin's film is as much a part of the experience as is the narrative, and with that in mind, it would seem the transfer holds its end up; Other Cinema has issued a disc devoid of any outside compression problems that would further aggravate an otherwise already challenging visual film.

Image Transfer Grade: B


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access

Audio Transfer Review: Audio is presented, appropriately enough, in 2.0 mono, and it is an intentionally harsh and sometimes scratchy mix that is meant to apparently compliment the strange array of flickering images. There is a long-lost kinescope effect to the audio quality, though all of the dialogue and narration is clear and discernible.

Audio Transfer Grade: B


Disc Extras

Static menu with music
Scene Access with 16 cues and remote access
2 Other Trailer(s) featuring Experiments In Terror, The Subject Is Sex
2 Featurette(s)
1 Feature/Episode commentary by Craig Baldwin
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extras Review: There are a lot of director commentary tracks that are simply pointless ramblings, but Craig Baldwin's interview/commentary—if nothing else—helps to blow away some of the arthouse smoke and clarify this highly unusual project a bit. Once you get past the wacky admonition that it was recorded in a lead-lined bunker in Yucca Flats, the track actually does what few commentaries do, which is apply tangible meanings to what we've seen onscreen. The meanings and explanations are good, and in a weird way it makes Spectres of the Spectrum deserving of another spin to see if I can pick and digest what I missed the first time.

Behind The Spectrum (08m:09s) purports to be a "rare peek behind the scenes" from art director Matt Day, but it is essentially something of an extension of the film, offering more strange and arty narration free footage. Science In Action (02m:25s) is a quick clip from a 1957 show that supposedly inspired Baldwin to create Spectres of the Spectrum, and the description that it is "transcendentally banal" might give you a hint to its standalone merits.

Cast/crew bios and a fold-out insert conclude the disc, which is cut into 16 chapters.

Extras Grade: B


Final Comments

If you feel particularly experimental, strap on your arthouse glasses before you jump into this one, because this is so far left of the linear mainstream it is almost off the grid entirely. The nonstop flood of ancient media images is just relentless, the plot questionable at best, making this almost more of an art exhibit than a proper film.

An easy recommendation for those with a hearty appetite for the unusual.

Hypnotically weird.


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