Spectres of the Spectrum


Over the weekend, my wife and I sat down to watch Spectres of the Spectrum, the agitprop collage film by Craig Baldwin from 10(?) years ago.

It’s an odd experience, as you would expect. The film is largely made up of old footage from cartoon, educational films, commercials, terrible 50’s science fiction movies, and any number of other obscure sources. Tying it all together is original footage shot on a microbudget and relentless, unending narration.

For what it’s worth, the story revolves around a father and daughter, both telepaths and both part of an underground resistance movement struggling against the electromagnetic control of the New Electromagnetic Order. Together, they mine old media looking for a hidden message left by their mother/grandmother telling them how to thwart NEO’s plan to electromagnetically erase the memory of everyone in the world.

But that’s just a frame to hang a long string of juxtapositions. The two leads, being telepaths, “beam” their thoughts at you directly through narration. And the narration is largely taken up with narration about the history of science and technology, with no distinction made between the legit stuff and pseudo-science.

It is, essentially, a conspiracy theorist’s rant, and it’s backed up with images from Grade Z sci-fi monsters and footage of awkward white men in lab coats or military uniforms that undercuts the sincerity of the narrators. It’s simultaneously a critique of modern society and a lampooning of rabid conspiracy theorists.

Part of the fun is sussing out how closely this world is supposed to resemble our own–the narrators are extraordinarily effective at being unreliable voices. Are they the only people able to resist NEO’s “electronic miasma”? Are they schizophrenics living deep in a made-up world, talking with imaginary co-conspirators (including one guy who lives in an orbiting satellite(!)? Or are they living in a separate but similar world, with nuclear zombies and Airstream trailers equipped for FTL space travel?

Did I mention that it’s funny, too?

I’m glad I watched this with my wife, because there was a point in the middle of the film where the urgent, goofball narration became oppressive. I wanted a break from it, because it was draining me the way an obsessive party guest who bends your ear on his favorite topic for an hour can be draining. But she was interested, so I stuck it out and I’m glad I did. The ending was startling and fun.

Check it out.