Posted by Pablo Kjolseth on July 19, 2009
When I arrived in San Francisco one of the first things I did was look through all the film programs for the area. There were many great titles to choose from, but the one that caught my eye was only playing for two days at the Red Vic on Haight Street. The program notes promised “a feature-length ‘collage-narrative’ based on (mostly) true stories of California’s post-War sub-cultures of rocket pioneers, alternative religions, and Beat lifestyles. Pulp-serial snippets, industrial-film imagery, and B- (and Z-) fiction clips are intercut with newly shot live-action material, powering a playful, allegorical trajectory through the now-mythic occult matrix of Jack Parsons (Crowleyite founder of the Jet Propulsion Lab), L.Ron Hubbard (sci-fi author turned cult-leader), and Marjorie Cameron (bohemian artist and ‘mother of the New Age movement’). Their intertwined tales spin out into a speculative farce on the militarization of space, and the corporate take-over of spiritual fulfillment and leisure-time.”
Mock Up On Mu was directed by Craig Baldwin; a filmmaker who studied under Bruce Conner and the man behind Other Cinema – both the self-described “long-standing bastion of experimental film, video, and performance in San Francisco’s Mission District” (with special thanks to the A.T.A., aka: Artists Television Access), as well as the dvd label of the same name that distributes all kinds of crazy stuff, be it avant-garde (ie: Experiments in Terror), collected found footage (The Subject is Sex), or just about any other form of offbeat ephemera you can think of (The 70s Dimension).
The Red Vic is a “worker owned and operated movie house” with a casual vibe that is further enhanced by having a bunch of couches in its seating rows and organic snacks at its concession stand. It’s a funky and versatile venue that can handle digital, 16mm, and 35mm projection. Mock Up On Mu was created from 16mm source materials and was projected digitally (I’m guessing on Beta SP, given the slight break at about the hour mark). It clocks in at 110 minutes – and given all the found footage that appears onscreen, I can’t even hazard a guess as to how many films Baldwin sifted through for his finished work. Although the program notes say this is “based on (mostly) true stories,” anyone looking for straightforward cohesive insights are barking up the wrong tree. Those, on the other hand, who are open to an explosion of speculative and playful connections strung together by Baldwin as he engages in his own unique form of collage which adds “my words into the mouths of found footage people – puppets, so to speak” well…., pull up a couch. Here’s the trailer:
L. Ron Hubbard and Scientology are often in the news and there’s no shortage of work relating to both the author and his movement. But Jack Parsons and Marjorie Cameron are equally fascinating and two major reasons for my interest in seeing Baldwin’s work. These two names were first brought to my attention while taking a film class from Stan Brakhage. It’s there that I heard about Parson’s work on solid fuel for rocket propulsion research (which helped usher in the space-race), as well as a devotee of the influential occult leader Aleister Crowley and his connections to the movie industry, and later a death by explosion at his home lab. Before that, Parsons met Marjorie Cameron at his house right after having conducted an occult rite with L. Ron Hubbard and believed her to be the physical manifestation resulting from that fresh bit of magick. Cameron was given roles in films by both Kenneth Anger and Curtis Harrington. Five years ago Kenneth Anger mentioned how the producers of Natural Born Killers were interested in having him do a feature film about Parsons that was to be called Sex and Rockets, but that project seems to be in limbo. Anyway, on and on it goes with endless connections that make you realize that, in Hollywood, there’s no such thing as six degrees of separation (it’s more like three, maybe two), and then along comes Baldwin to add all kinds of new manic and frenetic connections with the help of found footage and; BOOM… Good luck keeping up with it all.
I saw Mock Up On Mu just over a week ago on Thursday night, and this was followed by a weekend attending the Silent Film Festival. Last Tuesday, on my final night in San Francisco, I got a message from Mark Brecke (a renown war photographer and also the director of an acclaimed documentary on Sudan called They Turned Our Desert Into Fire) wondering if we’d still be up for carousing around that evening. The night was loaded with synchronicity because as Mark was telling me about some homeless-thrift-store-Elvis-broken-toy-character who always wore the same leopard print vest while banging nonsensically on a guitar – a colorful character that lived in the area and was infamous for being taken to court by both Yoko Ono and Cher and charges of stalking them – BOOM! There he was on the sidewalk racing past me and jabbing his guitar neck in my ribs. And then…
Mark, who knew we’d seen Mock Up On Mu, had us grab some food and then took us over to the A.T.A. space and knocked loudly on the door while telling us that there was a good chance Baldwin would be there. The buzzer was broken, so Mark kept knocking until Baldwin appeared from the basement and opened the door to let us in. Baldwin’s energy was go-go-go, come in, sit down, check out my work space, check out this cool shit here (popping in tape), here have a beer, oh, check this out too (pops in another tape), and back here is my archive (a cave stacked from floor-to-ceiling with 16mm films), and here’s my office (dvd’s waiting to be shipped out, papers everywhere, chaos incarnate), and this my program, and this is how I schedule stuff (illegible scribbles and scratches), here have some stickers, okay I have to get back to work, (trundles us up the stairs to the front door) and; BOOM… There we are back on the street, trying to keep up with it all.
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