Craig Baldwin

Craig’s List

I grew up on movies that invented time. These hand-made time machines typically reached into our ordinary minutes and added supersized helpings. A three-minute movie could last an entire afternoon. We looked at faces that never ended. Not every avant gardism wore its clock the same way of course, but these unceasing conscriptions created a helpful forcefield of insiderdom, a countercultural affront to utility. Or that was the clubhouse motto. But then Craig’s bombshells began to make the rounds, and his movies were always running out of time. These were not memorial projects or meditation avatars, instead, one picture raced across the screen only to be replaced by another in a dizzying heap. He would find an idea and throw it away, and it felt like there was so much pleasure in the throwing away that guilt and shame and joy poured into me all at once. Here at last was someone I’d been waiting for all along, even though it was like being stuck inside the body of a hyperactive four year old in a sugar factory. The joys of discovery seemed evenly matched by the delirium of destruction.

When I met him he looked just like his movies, and I was reminded again of the way that the best artists always managed to find a way to smuggle themselves into their pigment, their clay, their videotape… whatever the medium was. Like his flicks, he always said three things at the same time. He was always reading tomorrow’s newspaper while chatting up the waiter while weighing in on the importance of theft and making to-do lists in languages he didn’t speak yet. He would leave these lists behind so that others could find their way. I was one of them, I’m not ashamed to admit. Though it was hard to make out his handwriting, it was bent under the strain of what we didn’t call multi-tasking then — I don’t think it’s a word you generally apply to an octopus or to a fringe movie artist/programmer from San Francisco — but beneath the haze of scratches and folds, I could make out a number of simple phrases that I called Craig’s list. The last entry read: make a film. Or maybe it was: fake a film.

So I did. It wasn’t the one he wanted, in fact, when we met again, too briefly and for the last time as it turned out, he threw up on me and my co-conspirator, but not before assuring us that our small hope would never manage. It was as thin as our content, which was a bunch of aimless TV spectacle dolled up in fringe clothing. We had added nothing, he assured us, poking his fingers into someone else’s chest for emphasis. We lacked perspective, a viewpoint, a critical edge. I realized too late that we had made a bad copy of what he had already left behind, and it must have been painful for him. He was always a reluctant father.

We didn’t know then that you can’t steal a thief. We longed to be as shallow as our pictures, while Craig was rooted in local refusenik liberationist politics. Of course, this showed up in his movies, where the war machine is never far. He would do battle with the imperium with an army of pictures, remolded in his TV channel switching brain. Who else would admit to “try and go in as many directions as possible” and imagine this a virtue? It was lethal in the hands of his imitators, the supercut queens and fanboy cut ups, but Craig found his way in the double down, never mind the pseudo documentary, he was determined to create the pseudo pseudo documentary. I still have no idea what that means, but after Tribulation 99: Alien Anomalies Under America I knew I’d seen one. I wanted to thank him by making something just like it, but I should have said the words instead, or kept silent, which was the deepest and oldest lesson of the fringe. Though I had only begun to understand how many problems had been hidden in that silence, and wanted to break the seal the only way I knew how: by living someone else’s life. I kept his list with me for many years, slowly making my way through the passwords and entry codes, but at last it was time to let go of that too. Who would I be now, on the other side of Tribulation, where “there’s just as much room to roam in imaginative terms with a political content.” Perhaps it was time to plan my own robberies.