My friend got up and left about 15 minutes into Craig Baldwin's Mock Up on Mu at Northwest Film Forum last Friday. "I have to go," she whispered. "I can't do it." I can't really blame her. It was a weird day—slow, aimless, upward of 90 degrees—our brains were sleepy from beer and poached from sunshine. And maaaybe sticky, puffy, and befuddled isn't the best mindset in which to enter a crazy-ass sci-fi narrative collage about postwar conspiracy theories, the occult, and L. Ron Hubbard. Maybe. Just a hunch I have.
Baldwin is clearly a mad genius—Eraserhead hair bouncing as he head-bobbled through a brief introduction ("If you guys can weather 110 minutes of this...")—and Mock Up on Mu is an astoundingly precise and manic achievement. A pioneer of collage filmmaking and anti-copyright-law activist, San Francisco−based Baldwin uses found footage to create elaborate documentary mosaics—reappropriating and impaling mass media on its own shiny sword.
Funny, smart, bonkers, and at least half an hour too long, Mock Up on Mu is completely exhausting. Baldwin overlays his own original scenes (shot with true B-movie hammery) with an epileptic stream of Hollywood movies, educational science videos, stuff blowing up, crazy people yelling, deserts, mutants, and old-timey rocket ships put-put-putting through space. The overstimulation is worth it.
Baldwin's story—which is oddly cohesive, given his composition style—is, broadly, "a take on [California's] major industries: the military, entertainment, and religion." Specifically, it's a kind-of-true exploration of the relationships between L. Ron Hubbard (annoying sci-fi author turned cult maestro), Jack Parsons (founder of Pasadena's Jet Propulsion Lab, Aleister Crowley devotee, and "the devilishly handsome magus of an occult-sex magical sect"), Lockheed Martin (not actually a person), and Marjorie Cameron (would-be Whore of "Babalon," Kenneth Anger orbiter, and sassy redhead). There is so much going on at every second, in every corner of the screen, that I almost completely forget what happens. Plans are hatched and foiled, space is colonized ("It's your old bosom buddy L. Ron Hubbard calling from the moon!"), Hubbard bloviates, Cameron seduces, Parson fakes his own death and is reincarnated as a B-movie star, Crowley lurks below the earth's surface. The great and sinister Xenu, "sticky figments," Scientological "clear"-ness, and all that fascinating nonsense makes its requisite appearance—for all you Scientology obsessives out there (myself included).
After the movie, exhausted and addled, I discovered this text message from my erstwhile pal: "Oh man, stumbled home, not sure if light was all weird or it was just me, had to lie in the dark for some time. Speaks to power of the movie. Felt like I was at Ikea times a zillion." And that was after just 15 minutes. I'm still recovering.