In Steve Erickson's novel Zeroville, a "cineautistic" editor discovers that there's a secret ur-movie, its frames dispersed throughout every movie ever made, and sets out to reassemble assemble the myth from its multitude of imperfections. So, too, Craig Baldwin, the San Francisco agit-collage filmmaker, who pieces together found footage — from Flash Gordon serials, educational films, newsreels, Hitchcock, Bond, tawdry Euro-coproduction crime stories, Red Scare noir, and lots of scale-model sci-fi monsters — to reveal secret "not untrue" histories of military-industrial conspiracy and Hollywood's occult undertow.
Baldwin's best known for the ingenious, millennial Tribulation 99, which, in 50 minutes (and 99 chapters) of drive-in movie detritus and cracked voice-over, rewrites the history of America's Cold War involvement in South America as a secret war waged by the C.I.A. and the United Fruit Company against underground mutant aliens from the lost planet Quetzalcoatl. (Truly, this movie is the most.) More recently, Spectres of the Spectrum presented another YouTubular conspiracy rant — about fair use and corporate control of media technology and copyright law, also dealt with in his early internet-age Ecstasy of Influence-predicting docu-essay Sonic Outlaws — within the framework of a far-out D.I.Y. sci-fi movie. His new Mock Up On Mu, which plays for a week at Anthology beginning today, is a more concerted narrative — stock footage and voiceover is used less and less for TV doc-style associative collage, more and more for narrative patchwork around a small cast shot filmed in small or secluded locations, for a sort of impressionistic continuity — retaining Baldwin's fixations with conspiracies of power and corporate misuse of natural and man-made resources.
Here, the plot, as related in fast-and-furious exposition with at least a seed of truth, has something to do with L. Ron Hubbard's pre-Scientology double-cross of a Los Angeles sect of Aleister Crowley acolytes, also featuring husband-and-wife Jack Parsons — a rocket scientist later killed in an explosion — and Marjorie Cameron, "mother of the New Age movement" and muse to Kenneth Anger and others. In Mock Up On Mu, Hubbard and shady Vegas kingpin and defense titan Lockheed Martin plan team up to "weaponize space," for Martin's new laser weapons system and Hubbard's cash-cow moon base. I think. In any case, Hubbard sends his brainwashed drone, Cameron, down to earth, mostly for the sake of plot convenience (Cameron's been implanted with false memories — a synecdoche for both Hubbard's sci-fi novel-as-creation myth and, perhaps, cinema's malleability and pull on the subconscious). There, after getting Lockheed Martin to try on her bra, she's reunited with Parsons — who, having faked his own death to return as 50s B-movie star Richard Carlson, now lives in a deserted atomic test site turned utopian solar farm — and they, remembering each other at last, fight the power, through dark sex magick.
I've thus far avoided using adjectives like "gonzo" and "nutsoid" and "freakazoid" because I feel like it's implied, what with L. Ron Hubbard's betrayal of Aleister Crowley being the backstory, fer chrissakes. But behind the concertedly cheesey double entendres and movie titles as dialogue, the wingnuttery of Mock Up On Mu compels, like all Baldwin's batshit oeuvre, as an agit-parallel universe hidden in plain sight.
(I should also mention that, concurrent to Mock Up On Mu, Anthology is also featuring, this weekend, films featuring Marjorie Cameron and used in the film — during flashbacks to Cameron's early career; they're the only recycled films that Baldwin identifies — including a program of shorts by Anger and Wallace Berman, and Curtis Harrington's great atmospheric supernatural mermaid romance Night Tide, starring a very young Dennis Hopper.)