Tribulation 99 is the work of underground filmmaker Craig Baldwin, a former student of Bruce Conner’s whose specialty is collage. Artfully stitched together from bits of stock footage, B-movies, the news, educational films, commercials, and other archival material, the 1991 movie purports to explain most of the events of recent history as the surface phenomena of an ancient conspiracy to enslave humanity. In its sprint toward Doomsday, it covers 99 tribulations in 48 minutes, so you’re unlikely to be bored, and the ending is worth sticking around for. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry…
The ingenious plot, narrated in sepulchral tones by Sean Kilkoyne, weaves in just about every strand of 20th century conspiracy lore: ancient aliens, the hollow Earth, mind control, Aztec myth, cattle mutilation, UFOs, the CIA’s adventures in Latin America, the Kennedy assassination, Watergate, Iran-Contra, the Bermuda Triangle, freemasonry, Satanism, and, of course, the Book of Revelation. Summarizing the plot is a fool’s errand, and, were it possible, would ruin the effect of the movie. But you will soon notice that its survey of the postwar period is at pains to justify the most atrocious aspects of U.S. foreign policy at every turnâ€”no mean feat!
I first became aware of Baldwin’s work through Sonic Outlaws, his valuable 1995 documentary about Negativland, John Oswald (Plunderphonics), the Barbie Liberation Organization, and other proponents of “culture jamming.” Freshman year, I sought out a VHS of Tribulation 99 in my college library, which meant watching it with headphones, on a tiny screen, sitting in a dismal room that smelled of plaster and mildew. In those surroundings, it felt a bit like getting the taped briefing at the beginning of a Mission: Impossible episodeâ€”all the more so because it’s full of the kind of history “they don’t teach you in school.”
I haven’t seen Baldwin’s latest feature, Mock up on Mu, but how could a Craig Baldwin movie about the Jack Parsons-Marjorie Cameron-L. Ron Hubbard story fail to entertain?
DVDs of Craig Baldwin’s films, and much else of interest, are available from Other Cinema.