Craig Baldwin's Mock Up On Mu is the first example I've seen of his brand of Bruce Conner-influenced experimental cut-up narratives. I get the impression this one differs from most in featuring original material amid the found footage: this is only partially successful, and I wonder if it was necessary. The archive film has such iconic quality, culled as it is from Hollywood movies, documentaries, educational films etc., all bringing their payload of memories and associations to the story, so that no newly-shot material can compete. Also, Baldwin, an exponent of "film povera," or "poor cinema," can't afford production values even on a par with the PRC Z-movies he quotes and misquotes. Still, the fact that all the actors in the specially staged scenes are unconvincingly dubbed is a nice touch: it helps make them feel as contrived and out-of-time as the rest of his jumble of footage.
The narrative, divided into thirteen chapters, is a meta-fictional or "not wholly untrue" account of the adventures of a diverse but interlinked group including rocket fuel pioneer Jack Parsons, cult founder L. Ron Hubbard and magician Aleister Crowley. But these potted bios are considerably complicated when we realize that all three men were also novelists, Parsons knew Hubbard via the science fiction author circles of which they were both part (and Hubbard married Parson's ex-wife's sister), and Parsons was a disciple of Crowley who took over the US branch of Crowley's magical order, the Ordo Templi Orientis. It's all highly suggestive even before you start to spin a preposterous pulp fantasy conspiracy theory out of it.
On this basis, Baldwin confabulates a metaphorically true tale comprising fact, conjecture, lies, fantasies, deliberate mistakes and outright insanity. Parsons' real-world death, while designing pyrotechnics for a movie (but what movie? We need to know) is spun into some madness about him faking his death and returning as actor Richard Carlson (in movies long before Parsons' demise).
Put on your 3D glasses now:
In fact the story eventually insists that all its protagonists are still alive: Crowley lives in caverns under Los Angeles with his mutant followers, awaiting their day.
Baldwin's heroine, Marjorie Cameron, was Parson's real-life wife (here she's played by two actresses, one providing the shapely, tattooed body, another the voice), an occultist and actress who appears in Kenneth Anger's Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome (1960s version) and Curtis Harrington's Night Tide (1961). Both movies are quoted, so we can say that she also plays herself.
As if free-falling through film history, the viewer strobes in and out of different film grains, color to b&w, the characters altering their appearance from one line to the next, continuity all nonsense now. It's a delirious joyride, and to look away for an instant is to risk missing some eye-popping sci-fi visual or meaningful quote. The whole thing violates copyright in a million ways, but I do feel some exception to the law is worth making for works which create the wholly new from the almost-wholly-plundered.
Overall, this is a work of some confidence, so that when Baldwin gets caught in an ouright fib, running footage of John Carradine in Voodoo Man (1944) and claiming it's from Edgar Ulmer's The Black Cat, he'd built up enough of my respect for me to be certain this was a deliberate distortion rather than a factual error: I guess The Black Cat (1934), with its imitation Crowley character played by Karloff, was a more useful reference.
Baldwin's crazy quilt of recycled stock comes in especially handy for illustrating L. Ron Hubbard's sci-fi cosmology, revealed only to the innermost adepts of Scientology, and Baldwin's witty rewrite turns it into a mock-bio of Hubbard himself, as his evil demiurge Xenu is described as "not only a malevolent dictator, but a horribly bad writer," firing off "sticky figments" of story which fused with human minds to create recurring tales of fear and guilt.
Why talk about this film in The Forgotten? It's obscure, but it's from 2008, and the fact that not many people know of it is because it was largely unpublicized and unreleased, the pilfered materials its constructed from preventing normal commercial exploitation. But it's made from the stones of many another forgotten edifice: see how many of them you can spot in this post, or make your own story from the images.
The Forgotten is a regular Thursday column by David Cairns, author of Shadowplay.