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Craig Baldwin - Appropriating, Scratching and Decoding
San Francisco, April 2007 
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Craig Baldwin is an appropriationist filmmaker and operator of 'The Other Cinema' in San Francisco's Mission district. His film Sonic Outlaws was the first feature documentary that directly addressed the emerging conflict over copyright in the early 1990s. Here he introduces the logic behind his appropriationist approach, aesthetic, economic and semiotic. His approach challenges proprietary views of cultural objects and he considers the risks in his practice.

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00:00:00 Interview with Craig Baldwin, filmmaker.
00:00:05 So whether or not you know about art povera
00:00:07 my idea of cinema povera
00:00:09 that is to say, impoverished cinema
00:00:12 made out of our situation, which is marginalized
00:00:15 Rather than apply for the grants or get studio funding,
00:00:18 just work form where we are, poor people,
00:00:21 but taking advantage of the fat of the land, so to speak,
00:00:24 taking advantage of the resources that we already have,
00:00:28 in other words... .... trash,
00:00:31 a culture of instant obsolescence,
00:00:34 I call it "surfing the wave of obsolescence".
00:00:37 All these films here, that you may or may not see,
00:00:40 are all being thrown away
00:00:42 just because of a format change, same thing happened
00:00:46 same thing happened to vinyl
00:00:50 to magnetic tape,
00:00:52 and magnetic tape to CDs
00:00:55 and it'll go on and on, it'll be totally digital next year
00:00:59 and we have of course the scratch DJ
00:01:04 Hip-Hop, as an art form,
00:01:06 because of the availability of vinyl.
00:01:09 poor people again, in New York
00:01:14 Harlem, or whatever,
00:01:16 would be able to go and find these old albums
00:01:19 which had no value at all
00:01:21 because they had been made obsolete
00:01:24 by the next generation,
00:01:27 the next media platform,
00:01:30 so they could get two copies of it
00:01:32 So this is just one anecdote that illustrates my point
00:01:36 a mediocre record perhaps
00:01:38 but something that has some hooks that they can recognise
00:01:42 and there would be a lot of them because
00:01:44 they're thrown out en masse
00:01:47 and they'd be able to get two copies of the same record
00:01:51 and they could basically scratch between them
00:01:53 and produce kind of a scratch music.
00:01:56 What I'm trying to do is a scratch film, which is the same thing,
00:01:59 the film is old, it's available,
00:02:02 it deserves to be redeemed
00:02:04 as I say, if that's not too idealistic,
00:02:07 Certainly I'm not opposed to shooting my own stuff
00:02:10 most of the stuff you see that's shot new now,
00:02:14 it's not attractive to me, maybe that's my problem,
00:02:18 because I'm sure it has redeeming qualities
00:02:22 but generally it looks too...
00:02:24 well you know, well I'm just not interested in the look.
00:02:26 Personally I like something that speaks of the history
00:02:30 of our experience, not only of our media history,
00:02:33 which is folded into it, but also...
00:02:36 there's something a little bit necrophiliac about it,
00:02:38 there's something about loss.
00:02:41 So I like the older look
00:02:45 and I had access to it, I could make the film
00:02:48 without studio or foundation backing,
00:02:53 and it allowed me
00:02:55 the pleasure of... some kind of perverse revenge
00:03:01 on these old films, see,
00:03:03 so for all those reasons
00:03:07 towards what I call collage, or collage-essay, filmmaking.
00:03:16 I know that there's gatekeepers out there
00:03:18 at every level.
00:03:20 certainly in production, funding, exhibition
00:03:24 but don't you see, my whole model was always outside of all that
00:03:28 in fact my whole project is called "The Other Cinema".
00:03:30 I don't live in their world
00:03:33 so they can get fucked as far as I'm concerned.
00:03:35 So I just do what I can in my own way
00:03:38 and I can't get brought down
00:03:41 by all the other power relations
00:03:46 because it would just weigh too heavily on me.
00:03:51 So this may come up later in the discussion,
00:03:53 but as far as the intellectual property laws, I know a little bit about them,
00:03:57 but my whole point has always been about transgression
00:04:00 I made a film called Sonic Outlaws.
00:04:04 So I'm on the side of
00:04:08 the moving outside of the norm.
00:04:13 You know I was talking about appropriation
00:04:16 in Sonic Outlaws, and culture jamming
00:04:20 So in a way it was a report, don't you see, on the material
00:04:27 and as it turns out I do advocate it by the way,
00:04:29 But certainly I, as a journalist, a documentarian,
00:04:33 as you are,
00:04:34 that would be my product, my artistic license, to talk about that
00:04:41 There's five different ways around it
00:04:44 One is just remaining outside,
00:04:47 terminally outside,
00:04:49 and beneath the radar - that's one strategy.
00:04:52 that's not going to work for people who are running for president
00:04:56 but again that's not my goal.
00:04:59 There is a huge margin, by the way, a huge peripherary
00:05:01 it's not to be discounted
00:05:04 remain beneath the radar and distribute material through
00:05:11 what I call electronic folk culture
00:05:13 it'll get out there, it always does,
00:05:15 especially now with the new media, which may be coming up here...
00:05:20 Also the idea of...
00:05:24 I had no money! This is a legal issue -
00:05:27 why sue me?
00:05:30 I didn't represent a competitor
00:05:33 a lot of that stuff is at the end
00:05:36 Twentieth Century Fox versus Warner Brothers
00:05:39 and that wasn't the case
00:05:42 the playing field wasn't level.
00:05:44 They would have nothing to get from me,
00:05:46 why honour me with the distinction of being sued?
00:05:49 That's what happened in Negativeland and U2 by the way,
00:05:52 everyone knows Negativeland now
00:05:54 even though there just a goofy little band,
00:05:57 but because they squared off with U2
00:06:01 they're the good guy.
00:06:05 Yeah, you just win by having the courage of your conviction
00:06:10 And then again if you take a stance like that, an ethical stance,
00:06:13 it may be that you're not sued,
00:06:16 because it'll just make the larger corporation look bad.
00:06:19 I'm at, I guess you could say, the extreme edge
00:06:23 of the media democracy and media literacy movement,
00:06:26 which does not tell people didactically
00:06:29 what's wrong with that commercial, or that advertisement,
00:06:32 or that press conference,
00:06:35 but really through the language of cinema itself
00:06:41 through the rhetoric and the image,
00:06:43 creates a dysfunctional kind of grammar
00:06:49 that allows people to have the insight and to see the lie
00:06:52 In my movie Sonic outlaws, Negativeland, one member says
00:06:59 "Intentions are exposed"
00:07:02 and that's really what I'm trying to do
00:07:04 in other words, push the contradictions within any advertisement
00:07:09 so you can see almost the people who are writing the script
00:07:15 and kinda see
00:07:20 how they intended to manipulate people
00:07:24 Rather than me explain it to them
00:07:26 if it can be from within the piece itself, see
00:07:30 so you know, the secret of the decoding is kind of within the message itself.