The ultimate conspiracy movie, a mind-roasting collage of found
footage documenting CIA intervention in South America during the 1980s,
presented as a nutty account of an alien invasion. The result is an
unforgettable mix of fact and fiction that succeeds in imparting both a
thought-provoking look at media representation and a profoundly
kinetic piece of entertainment.
The Other Films DVD release of TRIBULATION 99: ALIEN
ANOMALIES UNDER AMERICA (1990) helpfully includes two previous films by
its creator Craig Baldwin, WILD GUNMAN (1978) and ROCKETKITKONGOKIT
(1986). While neither is up to the standards of TRIBULATION 99, both
showcase Baldwin’s gift for taking stock footage and using it in service
of politically-minded ends.
Baldwin is a lifelong collector of found footage, from
industrial and educational shorts to vintage commercials and discarded
movie outtakes. His films, which include O NO CORONADO! (1992), SONIC
OUTLAWS (1995) and SPECTRES OF THE SPECTRUM (1999), all make excellent
use of Baldwin’s archive, and all come highly recommended. But his
masterpiece in my view remains TRIBULATION 99, surely one of the
foremost underground films of the nineties, and a fascinating
companion-piece to another conspiracy-minded early-nineties release:
Oliver Stone’s JFK, which has much in common with TRIBULATION 99.
In 1000 AD the distant planet Quetzalcoatl explodes.
Several of its inhabitants manage to escape in a flying saucer and take
refuge in the Earth under South America. But after ten centuries the
“Q’s” are agitated by underground nuclear tests carried out by the
United States, and the pissed-off aliens vow to destroy the U.S.!
President Truman creates the CIA in an effort to
intercept Q signals. This leads to all manner of mayhem, including
numerous flying saucer sightings, bloody human sacrifices and the
abduction of President Eisenhower. The madness extends to the 1961 Bay
of Pigs fiasco and 1963 execution of President Kennedy, carried out by
Lee Harvey Oswald--who’s apparently an android. Other such automatons
include Fidel Castro (the “Unkillable Beast”) and Howard Hughes, who in
the late sixties became involved in the CIA’s anti-Castro crusade.
The Q conspiracy continues into the seventies, with E.
Howard Hunt investigating an alien pipeline in the Democratic National
Headquarters, only to be stymied by the “trivial technicalities of a
local burglary law.” The Q’s use the resulting strife as a smokescreen,
allowing them to punch a hole in the ozone layer over the South Pole,
spew poisonous gasses into the atmosphere and momentarily stop the
This causes the CIA to redouble its efforts. Various
supernatural forces materialize to oppose them, including psychic
vampires, Satanists and voodoo sects who resurrect the corpse of Jim
Jones. Nicaragua is rocked by an electro-gravitational pulse sent by the
Q’s, destabilizing the region and inspiring President Reagan to supply
Nicaraguan freedom fighters with “humanitarian weapons.”
As the nineties commence the insanity escalates:
zombies invade Panama, the U.S. owned Panama Canal falls into enemy
hands, and, in 1999, the build-up of plutonium by-products causes mass
flooding. Not to worry, though, because the “Chosen Ones” simply leave
the planet and head for Mars--“the rest be damned!”
To fully catalogue the sheer multitude of images Craig
Baldwin packs into this 48-minute montage would take a summation longer
than the film itself. The proceedings are dense to a near-psychotic
degree, imparting a ceaseless barrage of information spiced with
onscreen intertitles that appear at a rate of about one every ten
seconds, and breathless narration that sounds (as a previous reviewer
has pointed out) like Martin Sheen on helium.
Among the documentary snippets are clips from the
Zapruder film of the JFK assassination, American TV news pieces and
various government propaganda films from the 1950s and 60s. But what
really stands out is the B-movie footage from GODZILLA, THE HIDEOUS SUN
INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS, THE BEAST FROM 20,000
FATHOMS, etc. Such images are used to illustrate this collage, often
standing in for actual historical figures (the Wolf Man for Noriega,
James Bond for Barry Goldwater, etc).
That, however, is just one way Baldwin ingeniously
recontextualizes his footage. The images are also made to seem ironic,
satirical, or at times simply illustrative of what’s being imparted by
the narration. That narration mixes fact and fiction in crazy-quilt
fashion, imparting real facts about the CIA’s involvement in South
American politics alongside insanely far-fetched conspiracy theories,
all of it presented in the same confident, know-it-all tone.
It’s left to us to make our own way through this
minefield of fact and fiction, just as we do with most mainstream
“news.” Baldwin’s foremost point appears to be that in any media
presentation truth is always suspect. But TRIBULATION 99
ultimately works simply because it’s such an entertaining ride, one
that’s guaranteed to leave you enlightened and exhilarated in a manner
no mainstream movie could possibly achieve.
TRIBULATION 99: ALIEN ANOMALIES UNDER AMERICA
Director/Producer/Screenwriter/Editor: Craig Baldwin
Cinematography: Bill Daniel
Cast: Godzilla, The Hideous Sun Demon, The Wolf Man, Ronald Reagan,
Maurice Bishop, John F. Kennedy, Fidel Castro, Richard Nixon, Vincent
Price, Howard Hughes, George Bush Sr., Sean Connery, Jimmy Carter,
Oliver North, et al