#441) Castro Street (1966)

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#441) Castro Street (1966)

OR “I Left My Heart in…Richmond?”

Directed by Bruce Baillie

Class of 1992

The Plot: By the early ‘60s, San Francisco’s Castro Street was becoming a safe haven for hundreds of closeted homosexuals trying to live a life free of persecution. In Bruce Baillie’s film “Castro Street”, the Castro district…hold on I’m being handed something. Let me just read this…what? This movie is about the Castro Street in Richmond? Isn’t that where the oil refineries are? So, it’s not 10 minutes of cable cars and the Missouri Mule? It’s 10 minutes of oil pipes and the Southern Pacific being shot at abstract angles with a lot of visual experimentation? I see…

Why It Matters: The NFR singles out filmmaker Bruce Baillie with a New York Times blurb stating that Baillie “makes avant-garde films with the gifts of a painter”. There’s also an in-depth essay by independent film expert Scott MacDonald.

But Does It Really?: I do very little research before watching these movies, and I picked “Castro Street” assuming I would see some rare footage of the San Francisco street in the days just before the gay rights movement. It took me longer than I care to admit to figure out that this film took place somewhere else. As a result, it was hard for me to get into this movie. That being said, Bruce Baillie is a legend among the avant-garde filmmakers, and his inclusion here is warranted. Am I giving this movie a hard time because of my own false expectations? Yes. Am I still giving it a pass for the NFR? Of course.

Everybody Gets One: Bruce Baillie is the founder of Canyon Cinema, one of the first theater outlets specifically for independent films. Baillie, along with fellow NFR filmmaker Chick Strand, is also a co-founder of film society San Francisco Cinematheque (his short answer for founding these: “Somebody had to do it”). Inspiration for “Castro Street” came when Baillie was working in the oil fields of PG&E in Richmond. One day the light from the rain made the pipes “stand out with a certain magnificence.” Baillie grabbed glasses and other image distorting objects from his mother’s kitchen, and utilized them for the film’s in-camera effects.

Seriously, Oscars?: Like many an avant-garde legend, there’s no Oscar love for Bruce Baillie or any of his films. For the record, 1966’s Live-Action Short winner was the British conservationist film “Wild Wings”.

Other notes

  • In an interview, Baillie mentioned he would like to add the following disclaimer to the film: “The filmmaker states that this is all made by hand, no computers, with a few dollars.” It’s always nice to be reminded that some of the most influential movies ever made didn’t have a budget.
  • Once again, I could not get into “Castro Street”, but it’s my own fault for not doing my homework. There’s a lot of wonderful imagery in the film, and the aforementioned MacDonald essay does a great job of dissecting all of it. As for my desire to see old footage of SF’s Castro Street, I guess I can watch “The Times of Harvey Milk” again.
  • And now for some reason, “Good Lovin’” by the Rascals!

Legacy

  • Of course, Bruce Baillie’s main legacy is influential independent film theater Canyon Cinema. Every avant-garde filmmaker on this list owes a debt of gratitude to Baillie and Canyon Cinema.
  • In response to his legacy and NFR inclusion, Baillie stated, “It is not really about any rewards. It’s about the doing, the done, itself.”
  • Castro Street still exists in Richmond, and is still an oil refinery, only now under the name of one of Standard Oil’s successors: Chevron. Castro Street is located just west of Richmond’s Iron Triangle. In other words…NEVER GO TO CASTRO STREET.

UPDATE: Bruce Baillie passed away the day this write-up was posted. He was 88. Thanks again, Mr. Baillie, and safe travels.

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