2014 April

Farewell Good Brothers

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In the early 90s, before the days when reality TV “documentaries” took over, I was an avid watcher of the Discovery Channel.  One day, I saw a promo for this film:

At the time, I was somewhat obsessed with stories of alien abduction tales as told by Whitley Strieber, Betty and Barney Hill, and Budd Hopkins.  Which is to say, stories in which people were taken out of their cars or their homes late at night in the middle of nowhere and subjected to inhumane experiments by ugly, bug-eyed aliens.  Then I saw this movie, which told the tales of the Contactees, who turned the notion of “aliens” into “space brothers.”  Beautiful, angelic humans here to save us from our own excesses.  Here is the description of the film, from the production company’s website:

Farewell Good Brothers is an off-beat, irreverent and often hilarious portrait of a few people who, back in the 1950′s, claimed to have been contacted friendly visitors from the planet Venus. Theirs is a world of mysterious government conspiracies, strange religious rites and unbelievable close encounters; a world inhabited by an assortment of charlatans, true believers, Christian fundamentalists, and messianic cults. Through contemporary interviews and a wide assortment of unusual archival imagery, the film examines the role of these so-called ‘Contactees’ in pioneering much of contemporary Flying Saucer mythology. With it’s emphasis on the political and religious motivations of these people and it’s visual depiction of their beliefs, FAREWELL, GOOD BROTHERS is unique in both style and content.

I missed the movie on Discovery, but tracked down a VHS copy (Ah, VHS, remember those days?) and wore it out watching it over and over.

Farewell, Good Brothers is definitely “off-beat”, as it says. The interviews are golden, and well worth a watch.  Howard Menger’s story, specifically, is what drew me into this subject.  In his interviews, he comes off as a cantankerous, rebellious old man who spouts his message of peace and love in the same tone he’d tell them kids to get off his yard.  If you read his book, From Outer Space to You, you’ll see the young version of that same disconnect: a humble and meek narrator that nevertheless manages to brag about his war heroism and inventiveness.

Peace and love in action.

Also worth watching are Dan Fry almost literally telling the director to get off his lawn and leave him alone.

For all its merit, this film never quite satisfied me.  The tone of the film is lightly comedic, which is perfect for what it is–an introduction to a subject most people these days have never heard of.  It never quite mocks the Contactees, but it never quite takes them seriously, either.  It’s sort of a “submitted for your approval” with a cocked eyebrow.  While I appreciate that tone, the content of the film made me want to know more.

And so down the rabbit hole I went.  And while down there, I discovered some further things about FGB that make it incomplete.  Robert Stone, the director, focused on living Contactees (Robert Short, Daniel Fry, George King, Howard Menger, and a few others) and their stories.  And these stories are fascinating and wonderful.  But in doing so, he missed out on George Van Tassel and George Adamski, two of the biggest names in Contacteedom.

To me, that is like making a movie about the history of rock and roll and not mentioning Elvis or the Beatles.  Sure, you can still get a sense of the subject, but the picture is incomplete.  Mr. Stone had an advantage on me in the form of a 23 year head start; of the original Contactees he interviewed, only Robert Short is still with us.  (I also was able to interview Mr. Short, and it was an amazing experience, to say the least).  Howard Menger died only weeks before I embarked on this project.

So in making this film, I decided to turn what could easily be a weakness–the lack of first-hand interviews–into a strength.  Because I’m not relying solely on those interviews, I am free to examine the accounts of Adamski and Van Tassel, among others.  In using original audio from these people, as well as animation and visual effects, I can tell their stories to fill in the blanks left by Farewell, Good Brothers.

If you get a chance, see this film. (And mine, too, when it gets finished).  There is an updated version available, with new music and remastered in HD.  For your consideration, however, here is the original version as presented on Youtube.

 

 

Regarding Contactee Locations

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Those who are only casually familiar with Contactee lore could be forgiven for thinking that these stories always take place in some remote area, such as the middle of the Mojave Desert, or on the tops of mountains.  But that is not always the case.  Take the example of Orfeo Angelucci.

Orfeo worked in Burbank, California at the Lockheed plant, where fellow Contactee George Van Tassel also worked for a time.   Orfeo was a sickly fellow, and left work feeling ill one night, only to have a surreal encounter on Forest Lawn Drive in Burbank  in which he viewed holographic images of extraterrestrials, who materialized a goblet of liquid and instructed him to drink.  He did, and immediately felt better.

Months later, while driving home from work again, he approached the Hyperion Avenue Bridge late at night.  At the time, it was just empty lots, and very spooky.  Here, he describes his encounter:

Between me and the bridge I noticed a misty obstruction. I couldn’t make out what it was.  It looked like an Eskimo igloo–or the phantom of an igloo.  It seemed like a luminous shadow without substance. I stared hard at the object. It was absolutely incredible–like a huge, misty soap bubble squatting on the ground emitting a fuzzy, pale glow.

                                                     – Orfeo Angelucci, The Secret of the Saucers

 I went looking for this location, and judging from how he describes it in his books, this is where it took place:
Hyperion Avenue Bridge from Riverside Drive

While it may have been remote (“spooky”, in Orfeo’s words) for a major city like Los Angeles, it was still in the middle of civilization, and not in the middle of joshua trees and boulders.

As near as I can tell, the empty lot where the “misty soap bubble” appeared is now an immense apartment complex.  Interstate 5 buzzes to the immediate left of the above picture, another element that was not there at the time.

This picture, from 1937, probably bears more resemblance to how it appeared in 1952:

Surprisingly, it’s largely unchanged, save for a significantly greater number of power lines and bigger trees.  And graffiti. Always graffiti.What is interesting to me about these Contactee locations of significance are their utter unremarkability.  This bridge, while an interesting and attractive one, is nearly buried in graffiti, power lines, and pigeon filth.  No evidence of the alleged incidents remains.The same is true of the area near Desert Center where Adamski claimed he first met Orthon, the man from Venus:

There are no circular scorch marks or plaques or markers or fenced off areas indicating a place of high significance.  This is just a mountain in the middle of nowhere, along a desolate highway.

Giant Rock, home to George Van Tassel, as well as the site of his alleged contacts and the annual spacecraft convention, was perhaps one of the more dramatic locations of Contactee lore, as one has to actually see the rock to fully understand how massive it is.  The first time I visited it, I parked and walked toward it, and after a couple minutes of walking, realized that I didn’t appear to be much closer to it.  It was so big, I thought I had parked near, but because of the lack of visual cues and the overwhelming size of the Rock, I was actually a good quarter of a mile away.

But there are some dramatic changes apparent in this location:

Giant Rock circa 1968

 

Giant Rock 2011

Like Hyperion Avenue bridge, the Rock is now covered with graffiti, as well as char marks from campfires.  The living quarters are now filled in with cement, and a huge chunk of the rock has split off, marring its  majesty even further.  Gone is the windsock and Come On Inn, though the airstrip Van Tassel built is still visible in the distance.

It’s a reminder that history moves on, and this generation of Contactees are mostly just a memory now, just one more reason to preserve this story.

The Bridge

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George Van Tassel

If Adamski was the pioneer, George Van Tassel was the bridge of the Contactee movement.  And that’s appropriate, considering his background as an engineer.  Though he came into the public eye after George Adamski, he exerted even more influence on the movement as a whole.  While Adamski set the template and remained a venerated godfather for the Contactees, it was Van Tassel who gave the Space Brothers a structure and platform from which to be heard.

Prior to becoming known as a Contactee, he was an aeronautical engineer at Lockheed in Burbank, California, coincidentally (or perhaps not so coincidentally) the same plant where another prominent Contactee named Orfeo Angelucci worked.  But frustrated with the rat race, he moved out to the desert, near Landers, California, where he lived under a rock.  Specifically, this one:

Note the entrance to the rock near the rear of the truck.

The cleverly named Giant Rock is the world’s largest freestanding boulder, and was originally converted into living quarters by a German immigrant prospector named Frank Critzer, who blasted out a small cave beneath the rock.  Van Tassel came to know Critzer, and when the latter met his unfortunate demise at the hands of suspicious sheriffs (Germans were not popular at the start of World War II), he leased the land from the Bureau of Land Management and moved in under the rock.  A windsock and airstrip later, and Giant Rock Airport was born.

This site is something of a Mecca to the Contactee movement, because it was here that Van Tassel encountered the Space Brother named Solgonda, here that he began his channeling sessions, and here that he hosted the Interplanetary Spacecraft Convention for over twenty years until his death in 1978.

But back to bridging: Van Tassel was about as “nuts-and-bolts” as they came, yet most of his contacts were channeled; that is to say, the ETs spoke through his vocal chords, in a manner similar to what spiritualists have been doing for centuries.  But his channeling wasn’t psychic; rather, it was via a nuts-and-bolts method of a machine called the Adaphon, which connected the ETs and Van Tassel like a psychic telepresence device.  In this manner, Van Tassel was in between the two predominant genres of Contactee, those who met physical beings, such as George Adamski, and those who had primarily psychic contact, such as George King.  (There were a lot of Georges in this movement…we haven’t even mentioned George Hunt Williamson yet).

He also bridged the distant past to the Atomic Age with his reinterpretation of biblical scriptures.  The story of Adam and Eve became the story of ETs of the Adamic race comingling with native earthling hominids collectively known as Eve, thereby creating modern humanity.  Moses hearing a voice from the burning bush was just an ancient omnibeam incident.

But his most important bridging effort was undoubtedly the convention, because it was here that the Contactees got to know one another, share their stories, sell their wares, and meet with the general public who sought to know more about the flying saucer issue.  It was here that the movement really picked up speed as awareness spread like wildfire, with up to 10,000 people attending annually.

Without Van Tassel, the Contactee movement would likely have been a flash in the pan.

 

I Want My…I Want My…I Want My Contacteeeeees

By | Animation, Filmmaking | 2 Comments

When I first embarked on this project, I had more than one person raise an eyebrow at it.  A close friend of mine asked, in a very concerned tone, if he needed to “call the tinfoil hat brigade.”  This kind of prejudice, that discussing flying saucers is on par with discussing unicorns,  is a prejudice I’ve seen time and again.  It’s an awkward thing to deal with.

First, let’s get something straight, for those of you who think this is all woo-woo crazy stuff:  My making this film does not equal my wholehearted endorsement of the subject matter.  Someone who makes a film about World War II isn’t necessarily making a call to war, they are simply recording a historical event.  And that is what I am doing. Having said that, endorsing this subject is, in my opinion, not sufficient cause to commit someone to the loony bin pile of public opinion.

I have no intention or interest of proving or disproving the claims of the Contactees.  It is a futile endeavor, as I am fantastically unqualified to even attempt something so bold, and no one’s mind would be changed in the end anyway.

I came to this project a few years ago after a decades-long fascination with the subject.  I was frustrated that I had never seen a satisfying look at the Contactees who were, whether you believed their stories or not, amazingly interesting people.  It is every bit as valid a historical movement in world history as hippies, civil rights, or anti-Vietnam protests.  I’m not equating these or in any way implying that Contacteeism was as important as civil rights or Vietnam, I’m just saying it is part of the greater cloth of mid-century history, and therefore worth examining.

But it usually gets cast to the floor, stomped on, spat upon, or otherwise reviled because it mentions flying saucers and men from Mars.  But that’s exactly WHY it’s interesting!

If you look at the concerns of the Contactees—fear of nuclear annihilation, fear of losing our morality in an increasingly hectic world, hope for future generations—they are everyone’s concerns.  They are universal, and only the medium of the message is different.  While some people march in front of the Washington Monument waving anti-war signs, the Contactees chose a different tactic.  And though I say “they chose”, many of them people would say it chose them.

So I set out to make the movie that I wanted to see, and I’m having a blast doing it.

Thus far, I have deliberately chosen to avoid crowd funding for the simple reason that this is a labor of love; I’m doing this mostly on my own, and I still have a day job that takes most of my time.  Crowd funding would constrict  my time with all the mailings and prizes and whatnot, time that would be better spent actually working on the film.  Plus there is the added pressure that as time drags on, those who contributed might get a little antsy about where their product is.  I just didn’t want the pressure.

As such, I chose to do this self-funded, on my own schedule, at my own pace, and it is a very slow pace.  Only now, after years of research and the occasional interview, am I finally getting on the road toward completion, where I can actually see the shape that it will eventually take.  It is possible that I will need to do crowd funding in the future for finishing this film, but at that point, it’s a different ball game; if I need funds, it’s to hire other people to do the things that I cannot.  And then I am not subject to my own limitations of working around my schedule.

I have put a lot of miles on my car, interviewing people, going to locations, gathering footage and data, researching the subject, reading countless books written by Contactees and analysts of Contactees, talking to people I never thought I’d meet, going to UFO conventions and finding the True Believers and the skeptics, poring through hundreds of hours of archival audio and video, and finally, editing and developing the visual style of this film.

As an animator by profession, it is my intention to make this film look good.  That is secondary to a good solid film, of course, but I am working hard to find ways to integrate the visual aspects of visual and substantive aspects so that they support one another in a cohesive way.

Many of the jobs I’ve had with insane production schedules have been the ideal training ground for this film: on those productions, I had to work quickly and efficiently in order to meet airing schedules.  Now I have the luxury of my own schedule, but for my own sanity, I want to get this out the door.  Thanks to those earlier experiences, I have a unique set of skills that will allow me to accomplish this (To paraphrase Liam Neeson.)

In future updates, I will post some of my visual development of this film.  I hope that is when you will understand how it is not just another documentary, but something different.

The Pioneer

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As far as Contactees go, George Adamski was the pioneer.  It was his story of a meeting with a Venusian in the Mojave that got the movement off the ground.  He was not the first Contactee, but he was the first to find footing in popular culture.  For whatever reason, his brand worked.  Hundreds of Contactees followed in his footsteps, and even today, his message still finds new adherents.

George using the telescope with which he took many of his famous photos.

As far as Contactees go, George Adamski was the pioneer.  It was his story of a meeting with a Venusian in the Mojave that got the movement off the ground.  He was not the first Contactee, but he was the first to find footing in popular culture.  For whatever reason, his brand worked.  Hundreds of Contactees followed in his footsteps, and even today, his message still finds new adherents.

But he was no friend of religion.  A man of profound thought and philosophy, he despised the idea of a religious authority telling you what to do.  This might sound surprising, considering he made his name on the idea of enlightened beings from other planets coming down and telling us what to do.  Beyond that, for many years, he led a philosophical group of sorts known as the Royal Order of Tibet.  It was during his time as the head of this organization that his students dubbed him “Professor” Adamski.

Let us, as a progressive people, join hands with science and turn our minds once led by superstition and mythical after-death beliefs to the logical theory of inter-planetary education and evolvement. This earth has taught and will teach us many things but there are billions of other grades in this great school of the universe and our eternal life demands eternal newness and eternal progress.   – George Adamski, “The Possibility of Life on Other Planets”, 1946.

As that quote shows, his real mission was to let ideas loose in the world and come from a place of science, not superstition.  He did nothing to enforce the rules of life he espoused; he did not create a ten commandments for his belief system.  He did not organize a religion, though he did found the George Adamski Foundation International, with the hopes of spreading the word of the Space Brothers far and wide.  But he explicitly rejected the concept of treating Contacteeism in a religious manner.  Despite this, people feared him as a possible cult leader.

People accused him of all kinds of things, most of which ignored the nuance of the situation.  With regards to the aforementioned “Professor” nickname, it was just that: a nickname (albeit a misleading one, to be sure).  It was used affectionately by his friends and students who saw him as a man of great intellect and understanding.  Whether you agree with that is irrelevant; he did not self-apply or promote this nickname himself, at least not so far as I have uncovered in my research.  But critics have often said that he misrepresented himself as a man of learning, duping many a newspaper reporter into calling him Professor Adamski and making him seem more authoritative than he was.

While it is true that news reports do refer to him as professor, I would argue that this is a mistake on the part of the reportage. Adamski’s crime, if you will, was perhaps to not correct these reports.  And Adamski himself would be the first to tell you that he was not formally educated by an accredited institution, and he often bemoaned society’s tendency to dismiss those who are self-taught or wise beyond their means as having nothing to offer.  He argued that many of our greatest thinkers thought themselves into a place in the history books.

George lived on the slopes of Mt. Palomar and sometimes helped out in a café owned by his friend, Alice Wells.  Scientists from the observatory atop the mountain would often come down to the café for a bite to eat, and it was there that George would mingle with the scientists and share his own ideas of life in outer space.  This has been distorted to suggest that Adamski claimed he worked for Palomar Observatory.  He did not.  This has also been used to suggest he did nothing more than flip burgers for a living.  Again, false.  But both arguments have been used to disparage him, though it seems a low blow to accuse a short-order cook of having nothing to offer, even if that claim were true.

I don’t want to sound like an Adamski apologist; certainly, he had an inner scoundrel that emerged from time to time.  He was not a perfect man.  But his role as the pioneer of the Contactee movement has earned him the ire of many a skeptic through the years.  They’ve called him a communist and a cult leader, a hoaxer, a fraud.  He denied being a communist, but he did live communally.  He did organize a group of like-minded individuals in a philosophical organization, but he did not require anything of them as a cult leader would.  Whether he was a hoaxer or a fraud is unknown and unknowable for certain.  Some might say that his claims are clearly false; others might say they are obviously true; still others might say there is a germ of truth hidden behind embellishment.

Whatever the truth is, Adamski was and remains a polarizing figure.  And that is what makes him so darned interesting.

 

Project Bluebook and the Contactees

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The Contactees of the 1950s and 1960s (which is considered to be the classic Contactee era) said that they had met beings from other planets that came to Earth in flying saucers.  These planets could be within our own solar system, such as Venus or Mars, or they might be from other systems altogether.  In some cases, new planets were added to our solar system as a host planet for these extraterrestrials.

Some of the Contactees, such as George Adamski, came to dislike the term “flying saucer” because it was considered a mocking and perjorative term that spoke as much about the observer as it did about the phenomenon.  He, knowing that they were in fact craft from other planets, preferred the term “spaceships”.

But to mainstream society, the identity of these objects was harder to define.  They couldn’t be considered spaceships if we didn’t know for certain that they were a) from space, and b) shipped things or beings from point A to point B.  So the term UFO was created, an acronym for “Unidentified Flying Object.”

Today, we often forget that the term UFO does not actually indicate an alien spacecraft.  Pop culture has become so saturated with them that if we see a flying saucer in movies, TV, or even on a T-shirt, we say “It’s a UFO”, but in point of fact, it’s anything but that.  In the context of pop culture, we’re generally certain that it is in fact identified as an alien spacecraft, often with malicious intent.

To officials investigating these sightings, however, the term means just what it says: Unidentified.  That thing in the skycould conceivably be a craft from Alpha Centauri B.  Or it could be an unusual cloud formation, ball lightning, top secret test aircraft, earthquake lights, sundog, Venus, or even the much-maligned swamp gas.

Which brings us to the next point: there was, in the 1950s and 60s, an official effort made by the US military to investigate UFOs.  This was known as Project Bluebook.

Project Bluebook was born out of an ever-increasing number of sightings and two earlier half-hearted attempts at investigation, Projects Sign and Grudge.  This time around, however, thousands of reports were researched with the aid of J. Allen Hynek, a highly respected astronomer.

This video, from 1966, features the director of Project Bluebook at the time , Major Hector Quintanilla, describing the project and its function.

Leading UFO researchers of the day dismissed the Project as, at best, a public relations exercise, and at worst, an active debunking campaign by the USAF.  Consultant J. Allen Hynek even admitted in later years that he was directed by his superiors to find explanations for cases that sprang from natural sources or misidentifications.  He is responsible for the famous “swamp gas” statement that even to this day is considered one of the most absurd explanations for a UFO sighting.  You can read more about Hynek and that particular incident here.

Interestingly enough, however, there are some crossovers between the Contactees and Bluebook.  For example, take this entry from November 20, 1952.

Salton Sea, California

The pilot of a B-50 aircraft reported observing a light that changed color from white to red to green. The B-50 was flying at an altitude of 16,000′ on a heading of 275. The time was 2005 MST. The light was observed at 11 o’clock from the aircraft. At first it appeared to be stationary then moved to the NW, disappearing as if it had been turned off.

The Salton Sea is an area very near to Desert Center, California, which is where George Adamski claims to have made his first contact with Orthon on November 20, 1952, the same day as the above incident occurred.  He had described in his sighting report that an Air Force airplane had “chased” off the mothership. While this is not proof of anything, it does lend support to at least a portion of Mr. Adamski’s claims.

An Introduction to the Contactees

By | Contactees, Filmmaking | 5 Comments

Welcome to the production blog of They Rode the Flying Saucers.  I’d like to take this chance to explain to you what this film is, what it’s about, and why and how I’m making it.

There was a sharp division between Pre- and Post-World War II American society.  Finally freed from Depression and War, America was suddenly the dominant superpower on Earth.  While other countries were rebuilding their destroyed cities, America was expanding infrastructure and the American Dream to the growing middle class.  Things were looking up.

Despite this, an undercurrent of anxiety existed, betraying uneasiness with the growing pressure to conform, consume, and drift away from a spiritual connection to those around us.  And all the time, hovering over our heads like the Sword of Damocles, was The Bomb.

War no longer meant trenches and gunfire.  It now meant every man, woman and child on earth could be exterminated in a flash without warning.  Without any involvement in war, the entire population of the planet could suffer the consequences.

Being resilient, Americans adjusted.  Conformity and patriotic zealotry concealed the barely contained terror lurking in everyone’s hearts.  But some people chose another path.

Enter the Contactees.

In 1952, amidst the UFO flap going on at the time, a Polish immigrant named George Adamski claimed to have met a man from Venus in the Mojave Desert of California.  This Venusian, named Orthon, was here to help mankind through this rough patch, past our warlike ways, and into a spiritually and scientifically advanced future.  After Adamski, literally hundreds of other people claimed similar encounters.

 

 GeorgeAdamski_001
George Adamski, the pioneer of Contactees

Were beautiful blonde people from Venus and Mars and Jupiter and beyond really coming down to Earth to help us, or was something else going on?  And where did these otherworldly people go?  After all, there are still nukes and wars, and alien life is still off the table as far as the mainstream is concerned.

This film, They Rode the Flying Saucers, explores the Contactees and their visitors, what was going on in America in the 1950s and 1960s that could be behind the phenomenon, and what it means for us today.

It’s an oft-overlooked facet of American history that deserves serious study beyond the mocking attentions of mainstream media.  And it has relevance to us today; we also live in a sharply divided Pre-/Post- world, and in the midst of dramatic social change.  What the Contactees said, their message beyond spaceships and extraterrestrials, offers something valuable to us even today.

And so, using original audio from the Contactees, interviews with contemporary historians and researchers, as well as animation and visual effects, I am telling this story as best I’m able.  I hope that you will be able to enjoy it too.

Thank you.

Patrick Connelly, director/producer, They Rode the Flying Saucers