Craig Baldwin’s clever-to-a-fault retro farrago Mock Up on Mu is ostensibly in the service of a bonkers fable of the militarization of space in 2019, imagining the late Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard (apparently as immortal as he claimed to be) as the “commodore” of his own moon (called Mu) colony. Powered with nuclear waste shipped from Earth (“the Mu poo pile”), Hubbard’s base is the site of a planned lunar theme park and his lab for manipulating brain proteins that create everyday delusions or “sticky figments.” Hubbard’s comically convoluted plot to secure a Las Vegas-to-Mu shuttle for his resort and draw recruits to his settlement employs other real-life 20th-century occultists such as New Age proselytizer Marjorie Cameron, here a Mata Hari dispatched to Vegas on a secret mission to seduce arms profiteer Lockheed Martin, and Jack Parsons, a 1940s jet-propulsion pioneer who now lives in a “sun dome” as he tries to perfect the transmission of solar power via moon-based mirrors—a lifetime after being a disciple, with Hubbard, of black-magic guru Aleister Crowley, who’s discovered by Cameron to be living in caverns beneath old A-bomb testing grounds in the Mojave. Clear?
Denser and just as nutty as any of Oliver Stone’s more accessible counter-myths, Mock Up‘s gamesmanship in repositioning these figures and events of Cold War America goes down easy for a while as Baldwin playfully limits the footage with his cast (dubbed and deliberately mis-synched for extra alienation effects) to about a quarter of the film, completing the characters’ action and hypotheses with clips of not just B-movie sci-fi, noirs, and educational films but everything from Star Trek to Kenneth Anger and North by Northwest. The dialogue and narration is busily zany: Walking the Vegas Strip, Cameron laments, “When a Muan sees a social accident like this, she just has to take action.” But the archival grab bag eventually hits the diminishing-returns point, drowning out the political themes (e.g., Cameron’s excoriation of the modern “sick culture of extraction”) and competing with the daunting laundry list of Hubbard’s connections to the C.I.A., Disney, Werner von Braun, and sex-magick rituals in Pasadena.
Baldwin took a similarly fanciful history-mining approach for his 1992 featurette Tribulation 99, which used subterranean aliens as a metaphor for Washington’s decades-long interventionism toward Latin America, but Mock Up is more than twice as long and determinedly more obscure. Hubbard and Crowley obsessives, or those who find the rapid-fire plundering of the now-familiar Eisenhower-era visual universe exhilarating rather than exhausting, may be delighted. The rest of us can retreat to the less dizzying comforts of our sticky figments.