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Tribulation 99 

Wednesday, Nov 29 2006
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If Michael Moore were a schizophrenic, his documentaries would look a lot like Tribulation 99 (1991). Of course, if you focus on the stated subject matter of San Francisco–based filmmaker Craig Baldwin’s “pseudo-pseudo documentary,” it would be reasonable to assume that Baldwin himself were totally mad (the DVD’s liner notes, written by “Jayne Austen,” refer to him as retired Air Force Colonel Craig Baldwin). Taken at face value, Tribulation 99: Alien Anomalies Under America reprocesses decades of audio-visual detritus, siphoned from television newscasts, B movies, educational films, commercials and other documentaries, to “discover” that America’s Reagan-era foreign policy was the climax of an epic, heroic struggle against a vast alien conspiracy from outer space. Killer bees, alien abductions, global warming, the Book of Revelations all collide as Baldwin treats the headlines of the Weekly World News as hard truth and the front page of The New York Times as so much otherworldly mind control. Baldwin mashes fact (the CIA tried to assassinate Castro hundreds of times) into fiction (they never succeeded because Castro is an undead, alien automaton) with hypnotic surety, as the buzzlike whisper of the film’s voice-over narration lulls us ever deeper into the paranoid swirl of its cut-and-paste imagery. That so many of the real players from the Reagan and Bush administrations spied in Tribulation are still slouching through the halls of power makes it seem like frightening prophecy. The right wing, however, is only the most obvious symptom of Baldwin’s real target: the mass media itself, or the voices in our collective heads driving us all slowly crazy. Released by Facets and Other Cinema, the Tribulation 99 disc includes two other Baldwin short films, Rocketkitkongokit (1986) and Wild Gunman (1978)

—Paul Malcolm

Other recommended new releases: Pandora’s Box (DVD); ?Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut (DVD). Also released this week: DVD: Apple Tree of Paradise; Bones: Season One; Cheetah Girls 2; Edi; An Evening With Kevin Smith 2: Evening Harder; Flavor of Love: Unrated: The Complete Second Season; George Reeves Double Feature: Thunder in the Pines & Jungle Goddess; Hammer Film Noir, Vol. 4: Terror Street/Wings of Danger; Hammer Film Noir, Vol. 5: The Glass Tomb/Paid to Kill; Johan van der Keuken, Vol. 1; Night Train; Otomo; Over the Hedge; Pandora’s Box; Presagio; Robin Hood: Most Wanted Edition; Sara; School of Senses; Searching for Bobby D; St. Elsewhere Season One; Striking Range; Supergirl; Superman Serials: The 1948 & 1950 Theatrical Serials Collection; Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut; Superman III: Deluxe Edition; Superman IV: Deluxe Edition; Superman Returns; Things to Come: Special Edition; Thundercats: Season Two, Volume Two; Time to Leave;12:01; Where the Heart Roams.

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