With the advent of NASA in 1958 (along with the corresponding Soviet Space Program), Americans became veritably obsessed with the idea of space travel – and also the possibility of making contact with alien beings. Pop culture latched onto to it to such a degree, that even a cartoon about the Stone Age, The Flintstones, introduced in 1965 a “spaceman” character named The Great Gazoo (who may or may not have been gay).
Now, with Planet Earth in a critical state, and with President Trump’s comical proclamations about launching a “Space Force,” our interplanetary state of mind has been decisively resurrected. Perfect timing, then, for the enthralling new documentary Calling All Earthlings.
Directed by Jonathan Berman, the film follows the efforts of Howard Hughes associate George Van Tassel, as he, beginning in 1954, attempts to build his “Integratron” near Joshua Tree, California. The aircraft mechanic turned visionary claimed that in the previous year, he was taken on board a spaceship from Venus, and gifted with a special technique for rejuvenating the body. The desert dome was meant to become a research center on the extension of human life, and a place where the technique could be performed.
The riveting narrative for the doc comes by way of interviews with relatives, scientists, historians…even legendary musician Eric Burdon, a resident of the area. Paranoia and government conspiracy, naturally, factor into the story.
There is a further zeitgeisty frisson to the proceedings, considering our current quest for body healing through meditation and wellness – as well as the much-buzzed-about commercial space ventures of the likes of Elon Musk and Richard Branson. But mostly it is a fascinating glimpse back to a thrilling moment – the excitement that came with the possibility of discovering alien life – in our early modern history.
Screenings and special related VIP events will take place in New York City this week, August 1 – 7. Buy tickets here.