ICA Film and Cinema Co-ordinator James King introduces Craig Balwin's Mock Up on Mu (2008), the opening film of Oh Liberty!, an ICA Cinematheque season examining notions of freedom at the end of the Western frontier.
I first encountered the work of Craig Baldwin in 2008, whilst working as a curatorial intern at the Pacific Film Archive in Berkeley, California.
Admittedly, I was managing to do a fairly minimal amount of curating whilst spending lengthy periods of time in the institute’s archive, cinema and café, subsisting mainly on filter coffee and Godard screenings. In an attempt to try and get me out of the building, one of the film curators insisted I go to “Craig’s night in the City” – the City being, in this context, San Francisco, a twenty minute train ride from Berkeley.
Something of a local legend amongst the Bay Area experimental filmmaking scene, Craig Baldwin is perhaps best-known in his role as curator of the anarchic Other Cinema, a weekly underground film night at the ATA Gallery, embedded deep within the heart of San Francisco’s Mission District.
As stated on its defiantly lo-fi website, the Other Cinema is a
“long standing bastion of experimental film, video and performance” with its programme consisting mostly of “polymorphous group shows… organized around a common theme.”
The result is underground cinema in its purist form: a weekly cocktail of films from all mediums and contexts, projected on an array of disparate formats, in fluctuating quality, with the artists often in attendance, often disrupting the proceedings, whilst Baldwin comperes all from a vintage megaphone and volunteers circulate plastic cups of wine round the audience.
Mock Up on Mu, Baldwin’s feature-length project, encapsulates the radical spirit of the Other Cinema screenings into a dazzingly collage-narrative of California's post-War subcultures of rocket pioneers, alternative religions and Beat lifestyles. Mixing archive film with original 16mm footage shot by Baldwin himself, the film spins a genre-defying tale that features, amongst others, 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").
Utterly unique in form and execution, tonight’s screening is not to be missed.
Mock Up on Mu, Tuesday 5 November, 6.30pm