Castro Street was released in 1966 by Bruce Baillie. The film went public before there was ‘The Castro’ as we now know it in San Francisco. The Castro Street Baillie focused on was in Richmond, CA and ran by the Standard Oil Refinery.
Baillie’s film is dark and psychedelic. It has nothing we’d recognize as a narrative arc, or a plot. It juxtaposes and distorts shots of trains, train stations, pipes, and other technical objects that ultimately create a ten-minute mind trip through an industrial wet dream.
Only once is there a moment void of society. The shot stands alone about halfway through the film, it shows a prairie-like patch of land. The frame lingers for a moment and then pans right to reveal a Southern Pacific crawling across the landscape, destroying the stillness and returning the film to the lumbering world of technology.
The soundtrack of the movie consists mainly of train horns and engines. At various points in the background the audience can hear jarring strings playing, or choppy piano music that sounds like a five-year old pounding the ivories, all of which adds to the general and overwhelming noise of trains. The words that appear are menacing, and since the film has no dialogue, they stand out. The audience sees ‘Loader’, ‘Insulated’ and other technical terms as they patrol across the screen.
At the finish of the film there is a shot of a Castro Street sign, and it makes me wonder: Did the filmmakers mean to say, ‘here, this is the end product of American industry, an average working-class life, a working-class neighborhood, a working-class society?’ Castro Street in Richmond, CA was the same working class neighborhood that existed in Kansas, Iowa, New York, and everywhere else in the country. The director, in my view, is using Castro Street to prove that industry is what powers our country, even in the most active and disconnected of cities. We are bound together by it. It’s the backbone of our country. Where would we be without our machines?
You can view the film in its entirety here.