Take Me To Your Laughter

By | Movies, Ramblings, Reviews, Science Fiction, UFO, Video | No Comments

TV aliens have always been funny, which is not to say the shows were always very good.

We had My Favorite Martian, Mork and Mindy, and the Great Gazoo, and while they were entertaining to some degree, the aliens were little more than wish-fulfillment props that could just as easily have been genies, witches, or superheroes.

But I’m seeing a new trend: humorous aliens who could only be aliens.  No longer props for funny line delivery and wacky fish-out-of-water stories, they are specifically linked to the true-life tales of alien contact.  Take, for example, this short from Chris and Jack:

 

And then there’s People of Earth, an underrated show with a quiet brilliance.  The plot revolves around reporter Ozzie Graham (Wyatt Cenac) as he travels to upstate New York to report on an alien abduction support group called StarCrossed.  At first, he is completely baffled by the stories the group tells him, until he starts to remember his own experiences.  Though not hilarious, the show is consistently charming.  The creators are clearly familiar with what actual Experiencers describe, exploring topics like screen memories, alien implants, multiple alien species, positive vs. negative encounters, and even the fact that “experiencer” is the preferred moniker, as opposed to “abductee.”

As Executive Producer David Jenkins says, it’s the Larry David version of The X-Files.  Here he is discussing his idea behind creating the show:

While The X-Files wasn’t (usually) humorous, it introduced pop culture to the Grays and alien abduction, giving aliens their own distinctive TV mythology.   Some credit is also due to Twin Peaks, with its explorations of Project Blue Book and the idea of screen memories.  The famous line “The owls are not what they seem” echoes stories Experiencers tell of seeing giant owls, deer, or rabbits after abduction encounters.  People of Earth uses a screen memory of a talking deer as a regular motif.

The aliens of PoE are not ethereal or otherworldly, but quite human in their tendencies to be deeply flawed and petty.  Jeff the Gray is all about procedure and getting things done.  Don the Nordic is innocent and loving. Jonathan the reptilian is manipulative and obsessed with his looks.  While these characterizations are funny on their own, they have their roots in typical abduction tales: grays are the worker bees, Nordics (as described my many Contactees) spread new age messages of peace and love, and reptilians are menacing shapeshifters who secretly control the world.

The Experiencers, ironically, are more alien; ostracized from society because of their bizarre beliefs in aliens, they struggle to maintain relationships in a world that doesn’t believe them.  The show portrays them sympathetically and never mocks them or trades compassion for cheap laughs.  PoE is unique in alien television in that it mines the real life stories of alien encounters for its humor, rather than just saying “aliens can do ANYTHING”.

Great show?  No, but eminently watchable.  I’d much rather watch this than a little green be-helmeted Martian granting wishes.  I am sure there are many who would argue that there are better comedies with aliens in them, but I feel this is the first one that stands on its own as an alien comedy.  Let me know if you agree or disagree in the comments.

 

 

Film Status Update

By | Filmmaking, Movies, Production Art, Uncategorized | One Comment

As the audience for the They Rode the Flying Saucers grows on social media, I’m getting asked this question more and more frequently: “when will the movie be available?”  This is a logical question, and it’s one I find myself asking repeatedly.  The answer is a bit more tricky.

The Integratron

I have been in production on this film for close to nine years.  Originally,  I intended it to be a short doc using animation set to archival audio of the Contactees; but then it took on a life of its own.

At the beginning of production, I lived in Los Angeles, and in close proximity to me were a number of the historical Contactee sites: Giant Rock and the Integratron were a two hour drive away in Landers, Desert Center three hours away.  Mt. Palomar, where Adamski lived, was two hours away near Vista, California.  Just down the road from me was the Empire Center mall, which was once the Lockheed factory that employed George Van Tassel and Orfeo Angelucci.  The empty field where Angelucci had one of his contact experiences is now an apartment building where I briefly lived.   The Aetherius Society’s US headquarters were five blocks from my office.  I couldn’t ignore the opportunity, so I started shooting footage of these areas to use in the film, which was the gateway drug to shooting interviews.  And soon I had way too much content for a short documentary.  This was now a feature.

L to R: Myself, Glenn Steckling of the Adamski Foundation, and Alan Tolman, a friend of George Adamski’s, before our interview at the Oak Knoll Campground on Mt. Palomar, formerly Palomar Gardens.

In the intervening years, after I’d gone to conventions, met more people connected to this story and conducted more interviews, the project has bloomed into something that could potentially sustain a limited series.  I have dozens, if not hundreds, of hours of content.  Not all of it is golden, and some of it is quite academic and would only interest the dyed-in-the-wool fans of the subject.  In the last year, I have committed myself to paring this down into a manageable format with all the best stuff.  I have completed a rough cut and am on the way to a finished second cut of the film.  While it is still too long for the average person to sit and watch, it’s getting there.

But there are a number of steps yet to accomplish: animation and graphics, music, sound mix, rights and clearances, acquisition of stock footage, etc.  Without going too much in depth as to how the sausage is made, suffice it to say that my original goal that I established at the beginning of this year of having it completed by November 20 (the 65th anniversary of Adamski’s meeting with Orthon at Desert Center) is looking more and more unlikely.  This is also the reason for the lack of recent updates to this blog: time spent writing blog posts could be spent finishing the film.  For that, I apologize, but hopefully this will explain why.

The good news is, I suspect most of the production will be accomplished by then.  It is just a matter at that point of the various hurdles of securing distribution, fundraising, etc., to get this all finished and off to the races.

Desert Center, a few miles from Adamski’s infamous 1952 meeting with Orthon.

Which is really my way of saying, stay tuned: I’m going to be begging for money at some point, and I’d love for the fans of this blog and the various outlets on social media to be part of this process.  I want this movie to be the best it can be, and it will take a significant investment to finish this film and get it out to you.  But it will happen.  I’ve stuck with this film for the better part of a decade, so don’t worry that it will never see the light of day.  I’ve put too much time and energy into it to do that to you.  Or me.

Contact in the Desert and an Anti-Contact Conspiracy?

By | Contactees, Ramblings, UFO | 5 Comments

One feels that anything can happen in the Mojave Desert, making it the perfect setting for the increasingly popular UFO convention Contact in the Desert.

CITD is nestled between key landmarks in Contactee lore: 13 miles south of Giant Rock and the Integratron (the lands of George Van Tassel), and 70 miles northwest of Desert Center, the site of George Adamski’s famous encounter with the Venusian Orthon in 1952.  It’s also a who’s who of UFOlogy.  This year, I met Giorgio of Ancient Aliens, reconnected with Mike Bara and Kathleen Marden, spoke with Richard Dolan on the subject of Edward Ruppelt vs. the Contactees, and watched a couple of fascinating lectures by the legendary Jacques Vallee.

I’m not saying it’s Giorgio, but it’s Giorgio.

Jacques Vallee

But other than those Vallee lectures, I didn’t attend many of the talks.  I was more interested in meeting and talking with the researchers and with attendees who’ve had experiences.  However, I’ve noticed a pattern over the years that bothers me: Whatever happened to these guys?

George Adamski, George Hunt Williamson, George King, Orfeo Angelucci, Dana Howard

Contact in the Desert is, as the name suggests, a convention about making contact with ET intelligence.  Every year, there are lectures about the Annunaki creating the human race to mine gold; conspiracy theories discussing UFO coverups; the latest evidence of bases on the moon or Mars.  Generally, they’re great lectures, but at no point is there a mention of Adamski, King, or the other mid-century Contactees–save one: George Van Tassel.  His Giant Rock Spacecraft Convention of the 1950s-1970s provided a template for CITD, and his Integratron is a draw for many of the attendees.  But even then, Van Tassel is referred to only in relation to Giant Rock and the Integratron; no recognition is given to the messages he conveyed as a Contactee.

And it doesn’t seem to be an oversight.  I’ve heard several complaints from the representatives of the classic Contactees that they’ve been shut out of CITD: their requests for booths or lectures are rejected.  While it’s possible this is part of a larger trend, CITD is the only convention I’ve heard such complaints about, and perhaps that is because it is the most similar to the old Giant Rock Conventions.  If these allegations are true, one wonders why a contact convention that hearkens back to the original contact convention would shrug off any identification with the very individuals who started the movement.

Rejecting the Contactees is a well-worn tradition in UFOlogy, started by the likes of Edward Ruppelt of Project Bluebook, Donald Keyhoe of NICAP, and Isabel Davis of CSI.  Keyhoe was irritated by the lack of evidence from the Contactees, while Davis flat out accused them of being “mentally imbalanced.”  But many UFOlogists have a different take: Greg Bishop, host of Radio Misterioso and author of a number of books on the broader subject of UFOs and the paranormal, has made the point that the Contactees were an important movement in UFOlogy because they were mavericks who dared to think outside accepted UFOlogical dogma.  Richard Dolan said he was glad I was making this film because it is a subject of historical interest that has been largely ignored.

This year’s convention, as is the case every year, focused primarily on conspiracy theories, modern day contact/abduction encounters, and above all, Ancient Aliens (both the show and the concept).  This year, I got to meet this guy:

That’s Erich von Däniken, the man who created the ancient astronaut theory in 1968 with this book Chariots of the Gods?.  Except…wait a minute…

In the early 50s, George Van Tassel spoke of the “Adamic Race” of ETs who colonized the Earth and created modern humans.  George Hunt Williamson published Other Tongues–Other Flesh, focusing on his discoveries of ancient ET contact in 1957.  George King of the Aetherius Society claimed that our great religious figures, such as Jesus, Buddha, and Krishna were ETs sent to Earth to guide us through our spiritual evolution.  All of this happened years before von Däniken wrote a syllable on the subject of ancient astronauts.  As hundreds of people sat in the amphitheater listening to lectures about astral projection and channeling ETs, I imagine very few were thinking about King encountering the Logos of Mother Earth in his astral form, or his channeling of the Cosmic Master Aetherius.  At workshops on various conspiracy theories like government cover-ups, I imagine very few thought about Van Tassel’s concern that we were being kept in the dark about the impending catastrophic flip of Earth’s magnetic field.  And while the overall message of the conference was largely love one another, I suspect very few attendees were familiar with the principles of Universal Law espoused by George Adamski.  For all the love of the Giorgios, why no love for the Georges?

It certainly doesn’t appear that there is an objection to the original contactees based on content alone.  So what’s going on?  Is it just general ignorance of the subject matter?  How aware are people of the original contacts in the desert by Adamski and Van Tassel?  Contacts that allegedly occurred a short drive from this very conference.

So, I asked a number of attendees if they had heard of the Contactees of the ’50s.  A few people were savvy, but most had only a vague idea of “that guy in the desert”, or “the people who talked about Venus”.  No one had heard of George King, or Hunt Williamson, or Dana Howard, or Orfeo Angelucci, or Dan Fry, or any of the others who laid the groundwork for the very convention they were attending. Whether there is a concerted effort to pretend Adamski et al never happened, I cannot say.  But whatever the cause, it seems to justify one of the key reasons I’m making this film: to fill a gap in the popular awareness of UFO history, and to let people make up their own minds about the subject, instead of brushing the Contactees under the rug the way UFOlogy has been doing for decades.

 

New Poster

By | Filmmaking, Production Art | No Comments

There’s nothing like a deadline to give you a kick in the pants to get things done.  I will be attending this year’s Contact in the Desert in Joshua Tree, California, as I’ve done most years.  It’s a great time, a lot of fun, and gives me a way to meet the people in the UFO “biz” as it were.

This year, since I’m aiming for a release of this film this fall, I wanted to do some promotion, and so I created a new poster for the film.  Here ’tis.

 

Special thanks to Gerard Aartsen for letting me swipe the title of one of his books as the tagline for my film.

I will be handing out postcard versions of this guy at the conference, so if you attend, find me and get one!

Illegal Aliens?

By | Uncategorized | 2 Comments

A few days ago, I posted a link on Facebook to an article about the White House’s new “criminal aliens” hotline.  Though the hotline was intended to be a place to report undocumented immigrants dashing across the border, it has been flooded with calls reporting space aliens.  It is the latest in an increasingly long line of actions aimed at protesting the Trump administration’s draconian policies regarding immigration.

Then, reader Loren (thanks Loren!) directed my attention to these two articles, which go into the legalistic particulars that pertain to the arrival of extraterrestrials on Earth.  I’m no legal expert, so while I find them interesting reading, I can make no claims as to the soundness of their logic.  In the first article, the author explores the three possible types of first contact: Remote (contact via radio telescope, such as was depicted in the movie Contact), Direct (a craft landing at a site that is well-suited for the purpose, such as an Air Force base), or surprise (a ship landing in a park or in the middle of a major city, as in the film The Day the Earth Stood Still.)

There are only vague ideas of jurisdiction in these events, though the author does say that due to the state of emergency declared by Truman in 1950 and also by Nixon in the 70s, the President has broad authority to deal unilaterally in an alien contact scenario.  It is likely that in the last example, a surprise contact, that the being or beings would be detained and whisked away to a safe space in order to protect national security (and, presumably, to extract advantages in technology that could be used over ones enemies).

These legal arguments make certain assumptions; namely that they are “alive, three-dimensional and physically detectable, intelligent and possessing a ‘will to live'”.  Indeed, if Douglas Adams’s Hooloovoo, the “hyperintelligent shade of blue” were to show up, I feel there is little we could do about them.

However, there is precedent for just this sort of occurrence–a surprise contact by a being meeting all the above criteria–in Contactee lore.

In his book Stranger at the Pentagon, Dr. Frank Stranges tells the story of Valiant Thor, commander of the Victor-1, a ship from the planet Venus.  According to the book, Victor-1 landed in the outskirts of Alexandria, Virginia in 1957.  Immediately upon landing, he was detained by police.  (Granted, this was at Thor’s request)

Valiant Thor and friends speaking at Howard Menger’s UFO convention.

According to Stranges, Valiant Thor was then taken into custody at the Pentagon, where he lived for three years.  While this was portrayed in the book as more of an asylum situation as opposed to detention, what was made very clear is that Thor was not detainable.  He remained in a suite in the lower levels of the Pentagon for three years out of the goodness of his heart.  He had arrived on Earth to spread a message of love, to give secrets both scientific and philosophical to the upper echelons of government in order to raise the evolutionary level of the planet.  Specifically, Strange says, he met with President Eisenhower and Vice President Nixon.  They were less than receptive, saying that such secrets would destroy the stability of governments on the planet.

And so, Val just left.

There was nothing to hold him down, nothing we could do.  The only thing compelling Valiant Thor to abide by human laws was his willingness to do so.  Once that willingness no longer served his purpose, he chose to end his incarceration and simply vanished.

This example is a clear demonstration of the distinction between what the Contactees tell us the Space People believe and what our own human tendencies are.  On Earth, when faced with people of a slightly different cultural background or shade of skin, many people call for stronger laws and border walls and deportation squads.  There is fear and a desire to keep full communion with our fellow humans at bay, leading to an ever-expanding cycle of distrust.  The space people, from their “flying saucer’s eye view”, do not see such petty distinctions.  Their philosophy is summed up, ironically, in the words of Richard Nixon, speaking to the astronauts of Apollo 11:

Because of what you have done the heavens have become a part of man’s world, and as you talk to us from the Sea of Tranquility, it inspires us to redouble our efforts to bring peace and tranquility to earth. For one priceless moment in the whole history of man all the people on this earth are truly one—one in their pride in what you have done and one in our prayers that you will return safely to earth.

 

Why I Prefer “Flying Saucers” to “UFOs”

By | Government, Ramblings, UFO | 2 Comments

Words are important.  In 1947, after pilot Kenneth Arnold claimed to have seen several crescent-shaped objects flying like saucers skipping on the surface of a pond, sensationalistic journalists coined the term “flying saucers.” (Notwithstanding the evidence that the term “flying saucers” was in use for years prior to that to describe clay pigeons used in skeet shooting) And a phenomenon was born.  Reports of flying saucers soared, leading up to the 1952 “summer of the saucers”, in which thousands of reports hit the news.

Despite journalists having originated the phrase, most journalists back in the day seemed unable to utter it unironically, and usually added “so called” before it, as in “Mr. Jones saw a so-called flying saucer over his house.”  The phrase rolls so easily off the tongue now, after sixty years of cultural programming, it’s easy to forget that it is actually conjuring an image of dishes soaring through the sky.  That said, it is usually said in reference to 1950s sci fi movies, because it’s not a term that people use much anymore.  It is, really, a silly term.

But the US government was compelled to investigate. Obviously they can’t investigate flying dishes, so they had to look at it from a more distanced and one could say distinguished perspective.  Thus, Edward Ruppelt, director of the USAF’s Project Bluebook, coined the term “UFO”, for Unidentified Flying Object.

Ruppelt sought a new term that could be used to describe objects that were of any shape and size (not just saucer-shaped), as well as to describe objects which were completely mundane but just not readily identifiable. After all, a weather balloon is a UFO if you don’t know what it is.  But if you hear someone use the term “UFO”, you know they are talking about a spacecraft that carries little green men.  It will still be a UFO if it’s on the ground, and it will still be a UFO if it’s ethereal and not a solid object.  Though the term UFO was intended to distance these sightings from the sensationalism and foregone conclusion that they were aliens from space, it now means exactly that.

To address this, the term UAP for Unexplained Aerial Phenomena has come into vogue. Even Hillary Clinton, on the Jimmy Kimmel show, corrected his usage of “UFO” by saying “You know there’s a new name….unexplained aerial phenomenon.”

So “flying saucers” was a joke, and “UFO” became saddled with cultural baggage.  Will “UAP” be any different, or will it too become a perjorative?

“UFO” does not describe the craft the Contactees saw.  UFO is (literally) a military term, a clinical way to describe some unknown other.  In the book pictured above, The Report on Unidentified Flying Objects, Ruppelt begins with a story of an F-86 fighter that opened fire on a UFO because the pilot didn’t know what else to do.  Consider how Ruppelt pronounced “UFO”, as well:  “You Foe.”  It means these things are to be feared, to looked at with suspicion.

In other words, precisely the opposite of the Contactees.  They regarded these craft and the beings within them as objects of wonder, things to be in awe of, things to revere.  They also knew that these things were not “unidentified” at all.  Adamski knew that the scoutship he saw was Venusian.  Menger’s similar, but slightly different scouts were Saturnian.  Aura Rhanes came to earth on a ship from the planet Clarion.

“Flying saucers” evoke a simpler time, and while it isn’t the most precise of descriptions (as it can be attributed to disks, crescents, triangular, or cigar-shaped craft), it doesn’t leave room for mystery.  These are vehicles that bring our alien visitors here.

Some UFOlogists could arguably be called saucerologists, as they’re more interested in proving that these phenomena are alien visitors, rather than coming up with other things they could be.  Stanton Friedman, for example, frequently uses the term “flying saucer”, presumably for similar reasons to mine.  I would argue that Friedman is the spiritual successor to Major Donald Keyhoe, the former head of NICAP, who used the term “saucers.”  Both of these men would be horrified to be lumped in with the Contactees, and that’s not what I’m attempting to do; rather, I’m just saying that, basically, if you know what something is, and you know it’s a spaceship, why would you call it “unidentified”?

I, for one, think it is time we bring this back into the lexicon.  When modern UFOlogists talk about “UFO disclosure”, aren’t they really talking about flying saucer disclosure?  They’re not looking for the government to release the secret files of weather inversions or swamp gas…they want acknowledgement of the existence of alien visitations.  The Secret of the Saucers, as Orfeo Angelucci put it.

How to Hoax a Contact

By | Contactees, Ramblings | 4 Comments

It’s pretty simple.  All you have to do is say that you had a contact experience.

Contact experiences, as scientists and UFOlogists alike will tell you, are problematic because of the lack of evidence behind them.  Though there are some exceptions to this–various people from George Adamski to Howard Menger have offered up photographs and other artifacts–most of this evidence is rejected out of hand, because Contactees are the unwanted stepchildren of UFOlogy.

Adamski offered a number of photographs; in fact, that’s how he became famous, by presenting photos of flying saucers with unprecedented detail and clarity.  Over the years, these photos have been generally dismissed as being the lid of an egg brooder or the top of a Coleman lantern, as a man named Joel Carpenter notes.  But of course, no direct evidence of fabrication or hoaxing was ever found.

The chicken brooder I found on the family farm. I was shocked to see it at first because it did resemble a flying saucer so much.

Howard Menger’s photographs seem almost painterly in comparison.  Which is tricky, considering he was, in fact, a painter by trade.  But again, the only evidence we have of Menger’s hoaxing his evidence is his saying that he did so. (Which he later recanted, saying he was part of a government campaign to test the waters of how the public would handle a UFO Contact).

In both of these cases, these men could have told their tales without changing them at all without providing evidence.  But they chose to back up their claims with photographs and artifacts, which perhaps increased their visibility and gave them more attention, but also made them more controversial figures.  Because it’s one thing to fabricate a story in a public forum, but it’s another thing entirely to fabricate evidence.  Whether Adamski’s claims are true or not, I think his reputation as a polarizing figure is largely derived from this distinction. If a skeptic analyzes the claims of, say, Orfeo Angelucci, they will likely dismiss his stories.  But to dismiss Adamski’s story requires also rejecting the accompanying photographs and the corroborating statements from others.  If that additional evidence is perceived as fake, the effort that went into them becomes somewhat more dastardly, leaving a sort of bad taste in the mouth.

The average modern person definitely finds it difficult to stomach the claims of the Contactees of the 1950s.  Beautiful blond humans from the planet Venus fly in the face of what NASA tells us about the surface of that planet, for example.  So, the tendency is largely toward labeling them as hoaxers or as insane.  And some Contactees, undoubtedly, were mentally unstable or hoaxers, and a few were even convicted of criminal offenses.  But the same could be said for almost any group out there–butterfly collectors, graphologists, census-takers, and IT personnel.  To wipe away entire groups with a simple brush of the hand is, to me, missing the point.

Just looking at the four Georges–Adamksi, Van Tassel, King, and Hunt Williamson–all of these men have been dogged by claims of being con artists, out to make a buck, delusional, and demagogues in training.  Generally speaking, when I’ve met with Contactees and their representatives, I’ve found them to be some of the kindest, most sincere people I’ve ever met, and describing them as outright frauds doesn’t jibe with my experience.  Perhaps I’m naive.  Even if I’ve not always been convinced of the truthfulness of their stories, I have been convinced of their sincerity.  But who really knows?  Without evidence, anything is possible.  It’s also possible that their claims were totally or partially true, a story that started with a germ of fact that became a big fish story.

Regardless, the Contactees are not so easily dismissed.  Strange phenomena seemed to follow Adamski in his wake; people around him saw craft in the sky.  The Integratron, allegedly given as mental blueprints to Van Tassel via mental channeling, is a marvelous building with fascinating construction and peculiar acoustics.  The Aetherius Society, still running, is the spiritual home of many kind and wonderful people.

Some of their stories may have been exaggerated.  Others may have been totally fabricated.  Others may have been legitimate, or perhaps involved interpretation that others would not agree with.  In my experience, too much emphasis is placed on the literal truth or falsehood of these stories.  What is lost is the message and implications behind them, which is a message that can seem quaint, but is becoming ever more relevant; that the world is headed for a major disaster, and it is up to us to do something about it.  The Space Brothers, whether real or imagined, serve as a role model towards which we can strive as a species.  To overcome conflict and the foibles of human evolution; to raise ourselves both spiritually and technologically; to concern ourselves deeply with the welfare of our fellow beings…these are the important things to take away from the Contactees, not whether Adamski’s Venusian scout ship was the top of a Coleman lantern.

It is not the intention of this film to give any solid answers to these questions.  I am not going to comment on whether Adamski or Van Tassel was telling the truth, because I have no way of knowing.  I want merely to present the information in a way that lets people decide for themselves.  Perhaps that’s a cop-out.  But I honestly feel that too often in this world, we’re told what to think and feel, and I don’t want to contribute to that.  So I allow and welcome comments from believers and nonbelievers alike on this blog.

Movie Review: This Island Earth

By | Movies, Ramblings, Reviews, Science Fiction | No Comments

tie_earth

The late Bill Warren (who I interviewed for my film) called This Island Earth “the best and most significant science fiction movie of 1955.”  I will defer to his judgment on that, but I will say that it’s probably the best movie ever to be spoofed by MST3K.  Here, you can see it in all its glory:

But why review this movie?  It’s not a Contactee film at all.

The last time I saw TIE, I took it for what it was probably intended to be: an entertaining sci-fi film capitalizing on the popularity of flying saucers.  Since working on my own film, I’ve noticed a few Contactee-eque elements in TIE that make me suspect the filmmakers had at least a passing familiarity with the stories of Adamski et al.  Or I would think that, were it not for one inconvenient fact: The story predates the Contactees.

Though the movie came out in 1955, well into the Contactee craze, it was based on a novel by Raymond F. Jones that was originally published in serial form in the late 1940s, only a couple years after the modern era of flying saucers began.  There are many differences between the novel and the finished film, so is this an example of life (being the Contactees) imitating art, or were the filmmakers perhaps influenced to adjust things from the source material to make it a little more similar to Contactee tales?

In the film, Dr. Cal Meachum (Rex Reason) is a renowned scientist with a square jaw and clearly overdubbed superhero voice.  He’s also an experienced pilot who casually flies jets like going for a Sunday stroll.  On one of his flights, when his instrumentation goes out, his jet is in the process of crashing, only to be saved by a mysterious green glow which gently sets his plane on the ground.

tie_cal

Dr. Meachum is then given mysterious instructions for creating an “interociter”, which proves to be a fantastically powerful and rather nonspecific machine.  Is it a communications device or weapon or tractor beam or spy machine?  Or all of the above?  With the interociter, he makes contact with Exeter (Jeff Morrow), a friendly-faced and giant-foreheaded fellow who invites him to a scientific retreat called “The Club”.  Once there, Meachum finds himself surrounded by the best and brightest scientists of earth, and grows suspicious of Exeter’s motives.

tie_exeter2

It turns out that — SPOILER — Exeter and his fellows are actually aliens from the planet Metaluna, involved in an interestellar war with the Zahgons.  Their planet is on the brink of destruction, and they need our nuclear technology to save themselves.  Exeter takes Meachum and another scientist named Ruth Adams (Faith Domergue) to Metaluna, where he encounters a Mutant (pronounced “mute ant”), an insect-like being (“larger of course, with a higher degree of intelligence”) that acts as a security guard. Meachum discovers that the Metalunans intend to invade and take over the Earth, and it is only the intercession of Exeter and the timely explosion of the entire planet that stops them.  Meachum and Adams are returned to Earth, and Exeter dies a noble death as his flying saucer runs out of gas, becoming a fireball somewhere over the Pacific.

tie_exeter

While the Metalunans are far from the peace-loving Space Brothers (they do, after all, intend to conquer the Earth), the Space Brother “feeling” is personified in Exeter, who defies orders from his superiors in order to save two human beings.  His actions earlier in the film showed him to be a rather ineffective middle manager, but near the end, he is redeemed when he says “Our universe is vast–full of wonders.  I shall explore, perhaps find another Metaluna, a place inhabited by beings not unlike myself.”

There are a number of further correlations with Contactee lore.  Dr. Meachum wasn’t just some random Joe who got abducted; he was sought out by the aliens and given special access.  “I don’t remember applying for a job,” Meachum says to Exeter.  “You didn’t,” says Exeter, suggesting they’ve been watching him for some time.  “We’d like you to join our…team, you might say, at once.”  Being “chosen” is a core element of Contactee lore; the people chosen by the Space Brothers are chosen because, they’re told, they will be able to carry out a mission effectively.  (One could argue that the Space Brothers really need better sampling practices).

When they come to pick up Dr. Meachum, they do so by sending a self-flying airplane.  He is the only occupant, and it takes him to their secret hideout in the middle of nowhere.  This sequence echoes a scene described by Orfeo Angelucci, in which an egg-shaped craft descended in an empty field and shuttled him up to the mothership in orbit.

Once chosen, the Space Brothers give their contacts a mission; usually this means to spread the word of the Space Brothers, but in some cases, it means to build machines that will change our world.  Much like how the Metalunans gave Dr. Meachum instructions for building the interociter, which would potentially advance human technology immensely.  This is not unlike George Van Tassel constructing the Integratron at the bidding of the Space Brothers, and has the added bonus of having a similarly cool sounding name.

Dr. Meachum was taken aboard the Metalunan craft and given a brief tour, much like in many a Contactee tale.  The detail I found interesting is that Meachum and Adams had to enter “conversion tubes” that adjusted their physiology to withstand the Metalunan atmosphere.  In his book From Outer Space to You, Howard Menger describes an incident in which he was first invited into a flying saucer.  His guide fired a beam at him, which caused him to feel a warm tingling sensation over his entire body.

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When Howard asked what this was for, the man said:

“We projected the beam on you to condition and process your body quickly so you could enter the craft.  What actually happened was that the beam changed your body frequency to equal that of the craft.  Thus you felt entirely comfortable inside the craft and suffered no ill effects.”

Then This Island Earth puts a new twist on the typical Contactee tale:  it is the aliens who need help from the Earth, rather than the other way around.  Their planet is dying, not ours.  They are the ones who need nuclear energy to save their world.  The fact that nuclear energy enters into the equation and it is not something to be feared, but rather a savior technology is unique in many ways.   And how would it be a savior technology?  By creating an impenetrable shield that the cold, calculating Zahgons cannot pierce.  Could Metaluna be a symbolic version of peace-loving America, beset upon by monstrous Soviets, forced to use nuclear energy to save the planet?

Also worth mentioning is the Mutant: a lumbering insect-like being with an exposed cerebrum and giant, staring eyes.  It appears to be a brainless automaton slaved to the will of the humanoid Metalunans.  While its presence in the film is jarring, there is a cultural significance to it.  Most Contactees described only human-looking extraterrestrials; but later Experiencer tales feature alien crews composed of both the human-like and the more “alien” aliens, such as Grays, Reptilians, or Insectoids.  The Mutant is a nice blend of all three: the eyes and roboticism of the Grays, the bulk and power of the Reptilians, and the physical appearance of the Insectoids.

Whether the makers of This Island Earth had any familiarity with Contactee tales is unclear, and certainly the Metalunans are not Space Brothers.  The Contactees told of Space Brothers coming to Earth in friendship and with our best interests at heart.  But in the movies, as Bill Warren says in his book Keep Watching the Skies!:

Benign visitors from space are few in the 1950s; the best we can hope for is indifference (It Came from Outer Space) or well-intentioned but stern policemen (The Day the Earth Stood Still).  The choices we are presented with aren’t between invasion and friendship, but between invasion and exploitation, and invasion and indifference.  The wonders of the universe seem to be for those other than human beings.  This Island Earth reverses the message of the novel, which is that we must be admitted to the congress of the planets, and instead seems to be claiming that we should just be left alone.  Everyone out there is fighting, and too much intelligence isn’t good for you.

 

 

 

 

In Memoriam: Bill Warren

By | Filmmaking, Interviews, Movies, Science Fiction | No Comments

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Early on in the production of They Rode the Flying Saucers, I knew that I wanted to address the idea of science fiction films as it related to popular culture.  I approached legendary film director and 1950s sci fi expert Joe Dante about doing an interview, and he told me that the real expert was a guy named Bill Warren.  So I approached Bill, and he kindly agreed to speak with me.

Joe was right.

Bill literally wrote the book on 1950s science fiction films, pictured here.  Actually, that’s only Volume 1.  Volume 2 is even thicker.  Turns out that Bill Warren was something of science fiction royalty, having apprenticed under the legendary Forrest J Ackerman, the man who created science fiction fandom.  Without Forey, there would be no Trekkies.

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During our interview, I was struck by the sheer depth of Bill’s knowledge.  He told me that when he was a kid, he literally read every sci fi book at the library.  His recall of those books and the movies made from them was tack-sharp.  He organized conventions and festivals, and knew many of the people who’d actually made the movies I wished to discuss in my film, such as The Day the Earth Stood Still.

Bill and his wife Beverly were very kind, and we chatted for quite a while after we turned the cameras off.  I told Bill that I’d had a great time, which I had.  Sometimes, these interviews are things to get through, sometimes you realize that you can’t use most of what the person is saying.  Talking with Bill, however, felt like I was talking to an old friend about our favorite movies.  His enthusiasm was infectious and his insights were impeccable.  We discussed the shift from 1950s sci fi films to modern films, which really boils down to a growing cultural cynicism.  That is changing, he thought, as more and more movies were embracing the honesty of the 1950s.  From the preface to Keep Watching the Skies!:

Alien is similar to a 1950s movie in many ways.  Star Wars reflects certain elements of those films.  Close Encounters of the Third Kind faintly echoes It Came From Outer Space.  Some films have actually been remade, such as Invasion of the Body Snatchers, and remakes of others have been announced.  Maybe the 1950s science fiction movie hadn’t really died; it was just sleeping in the minds of those, like me, who loved them.

I could do a whole film on flying saucer movies of the 1950s, using just that interview.  I’m glad that I get the chance to use portions of it in my film.

Bill passed away after a long illness on October 7.  My condolences go out to Beverly and his family and friends.  I hope that he’s on a flying saucer in the sky somewhere, having drinks with Ray Harryhausen and Forey Ackerman.

 

 

Hanging out at Area 51

By | Filmmaking, Government, UFO | No Comments

A few weeks ago, I finally got around to doing the one thing that all UFO-interested folks must, at some point, do: make the pilgrimage to Area 51.

As this film is about the Contactees, Area 51 doesn’t factor directly into the main storyline, so it has always been a low priority for me.  And, honestly, I’m much less interested in top secret military aircraft than in silver flying discs bearing beautiful Venusians.  That said, this was a surprisingly fun trip.  Since you’re reading this blog, I will assume you already know what Area 51 is, and what it’s all about and won’t bore you with explanation.

Personally, I was excited to see the infamous “Black Mailbox”, despite knowing that it was only the mailbox for a nearby ranch, and was saddened to hear that it had been removed.  But lo and behold, some intrepid someone put up a replacement…this one being actually black. (The removed one was not).  I was somewhat surprised by the sheer amount of detritus left there; some of it was just trash, but most were offerings, turning this into a shrine: pleas for the aliens to abduct them and take them to a better planet, “Jack was here” along with drawings of aliens, pleas for the ETs to give their souls to Jesus, etc.

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I didn’t know what to do next, really.  There’s not exactly a tourist center.  Well, OK, there is, and I went there, but I didn’t ask specific directions, because I thought it would be fairly obvious.  Turns out that when there’s only one road that dwindles into nothing on the horizon and you’re on a half tank of gas, complete knowledge of a situation is comforting.  Fortunately, that lone road was the right one.  And so, we plunged onward through a surprisingly dense Joshua Tree forest, dodging the occasional free-roaming cow.

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And then we saw the sign, with the accompanying white pickup on top of the hill.  To this point, the trip was scenic, but uneventful.  Something about seeing that sign, with its dire warnings and legends of authorized lethal force, exhilarated me with the overall sense of menace.  Which was made more pointed by the imposing and silently watching pickup on the nearby hill.

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I know, I’m a nerd.  But I love it.

There was no real danger, other than an uncomfortable talking to and hefty fine.  But the sheer drama of the signs and the razor wire and the hours of driving through nowhere to get to this point were exciting enough; it conjured a story in my head, full of aliens and spaceships.  Often, in the Mojave Desert, I’d felt a sense of magic laying just under the surface, a sense that anything could happen.  Here, in Groom Lake, I felt a similar sense of endless potential, but this time at the hands of dark but human forces.

And maybe that’s why people are endlessly fascinated with Area 51.  In a time when people are losing all sense of control over their daily lives, perhaps traveling to this zone of strangeness (to borrow Peter McCue’s phrase) and looking that lack of control in the face gives us comfort.  In that way, looking for secrets at Area 51 reflects our modern fears and concerns.  Much like how meeting beautiful Venusians reflected our fears and gave us hope in the mid-century.