Latest unclassifiable, near-indescribable effort by San Francisco-based “culture jammer” Craig Baldwin, “Mock Up on Mu” is a typically dense yet delightful combination of found and new footage in the service of a fanciful semi-fact-based narrative. At nearly two hours’ runtime, this playful yet pointed construct might strike most auds as information (even entertainment) overload. But those loyal to pop-culture-savvy experimentalism should find the gambit has considerable rewards. As with Baldwin’s pioneering pastiche “Tribulation 99” and more conventional anarchist-media docu “Sonic Outlaws,” pre-DVD exposure will flow toward fest, cinematheque, rep house, gallery and club exhibition.
“Mu” mixes more of the same ingeniously assembled found material repped in “99,” particularly the campy focus on classic genre features alongside news, educational and industrial excerpts, with staged sequences that whimsically thrust real-life figures into a futuristic storyline.
It’s the year 2019 on the Empire of Mu — aka the moon — where L. Ron Hubbard (Damon Packard) is building theme parks, selling crater-naming rights and beaming corporate logos back to “that prison planet called Earth.” Having been banished from the home planet, he dispatches “Agent C,” aka Marjorie Cameron (Michelle Silva, but voiced by Jeri Lynn Cohen — deliberately out of synch, like every such dual voicing here), back to the blue ball to seduce rocket scientist Jack Parsons (Kal Spelletich) and sleazy defense contractor “Lockheed Martin” (Stoney Burke).
Realizing Hubbard’s purposes may be more nefarious than professed, “C” finds the truth is out there … way out there.
There’s method behind Baldwin’s madness. Parsons was indeed founder of the Jet Propulsion Lab and an avid occultist. He started a private boat-dealing company with Scientology founder Hubbard, who allegedly absconded with money — and Parson’s girlfriend.
Incessant name-dropping of vintage A-to-Z-grade genre movie titles by tattooed heroine “C” feels labored. More effective are interwoven clips encompassing Melies’ silent “Trip to the Moon” to 1936 H.G. Welles-based Brit spectacular “Things to Come” to 1963 trash classic “The Brain That Wouldn’t Die” as well as cleverly spliced footage from forgotten, noncommercial, public-domain reels.
Pic draws connections between the post-WWII California aerospace biz, mystic-erotic paganism and avant-garde art (participants including Kenneth Anger, John Carradine and gay rights pioneer Harry Hay). Within a fanciful collage-narrative, truth is nearly impossible to separate from science fiction for those who aren’t conspiracy theorists.
Visually, sonically and subtextually dense, “Mock Up” at first appears too much of a good-but-weird thing. But assimilating its internal logic actually makes repeat viewings more enjoyable.