Bruce Baillie's innovative films grab the viewer with eloquent and rich imagery as well as a heartfelt humanism and concern for his subjects expressed through a lyrical sensibility.
Educated at the University of Minnesota, the University of California at Berkeley, and the London School of Film Technique, Baillie began making films in 1961 with On Sundays, The Gymnasts, and the three-minute "cinematic haiku" entitled Mr. Hayashi, a black-and-white film of the Japanese gardener at work. This work also functioned as an advertisement for the film society collective Canyon Cinema, of which Baillie was a co-founder. The natural and intimate pictorial handling of Mr. Hayashi is characteristic of all of Baillie's work, especially the deeply moving Mass for the Dakota Sioux (1963-1964) which, even though it employs complex imagery moving on different simultaneous planes and a mysterious soundtrack by avant-gardist Gordon Mumma, still projects an honesty and gripping empathetic sense of the real-life situations of people who live in Baillie's birth state; this sensibility generates a type of natural politics when it rubs an established social order the wrong way.
Richness of imagery also characterizes Baillie's other works of the '60s, such as Quixote (1964-1965, rev. 1967, 45 minutes), Castro Street (1966), and Tung (1966, five minutes), which frequently mix color with positive and negative black-and-white. By way of conceptual contrast, there are the brief structuralist studies All My Life (1966, three minutes) and Still Life (1966, two minutes) which still evince a deep spirituality. There is also a loving kind of humor in many of the films, such as Have You Thought of Talking to the Director and Friend Fleeing (1961).
Works of the 1970s and 1980s include Quick Billy (1967-1970, 60 minutes), Roslyn Romance (Is It Really True?) (1971-1984), and The Cardinal's Visit (1981-1986). Baillie's pieces have been created on video, including The P-38 Pilot (1990) and Commute (1995, 60 minutes).