Remembering Bruce Baillie

On April 10, the world lost Bruce Baillie (b. 1931), widely hailed as a master of 16mm personal filmmaking, whose works epitomize the “lyrical” mode of filmmaking strongly identified with ‘60s era northern California counterculture.

As exemplified in such films as Valentin de Las Sierras (1968), Baillie’s Bolex—almost always hand-held—functioned as a graceful extension of his body and eye, giving breath to the living world through impressionistic imagery and subtle, caressing motion. His editorial hand wove his striking imagery into lyrical flows of cascading visual poetry (see, for example Mass for the Dakota Sioux, 1964). Castro Street (1966)—a landscape study of a Richmond CA trainyard—is a 10-minute tour-de-force on 16mm superimposition achieved both “in-camera” and through laboratory printing. To this day, the single-shot All My Life (also 1966)—a three-minute depiction of a northern California landscape; fence, flowers and sky—remains deeply inspiring in its profound simplicity. Quick Billy (1970), an epic visual travelogue and serial western(!), with its romantic interiority and expression of ever-questing spirituality stands one the most powerful expressions of visual philosophy in the history of the medium.

In 1961—in an innocent act of inspiration quite typical of the man—Baillie staged what would now be called a “microcinema” screening in his mother’s front yard in the rural community of Canyon CA which he called (what else?) Canyon Cinema. Under this name, and with friends (and with the era’s utopian spirit as its sole organizing principle), this serendipitous screening grew immediately into a peripatetic film series which has lasted for 59 years and running (and is now known as San Francisco Cinematheque) as well as the well-known independent film distributor and archive—Canyon Cinema—which bears its name.

Ever Westward, Eternal Rider…


—Steve Polta. April 30, 2020


Bruce Bailie, "All My Life"Bruce Bailie, "Castro Street" Bruce Bailie, "Valentin de los Sierras"
Bruce Bailie, "Tung"
Top to bottom: “All My Life” (1966); “Castro Street” (1966); “Valentin de las Sierras” (1971); “Tung” (1966)