Calling All Earthlings

The Golden State has long been hectored as a holding pen for wingnuts. Southern California especially is sometimes cited as a dizzy, slightly unhinged dystopia full of UFO abductees, conspiracy theorists, and religious cults. It’s a gross exaggeration, of course, but with a grain of truth.

The desert, in particular, is considered a magnet for outsiders and those of a mystical ilk. One such pilgrim to the state’s barren territory was George Van Tassel, a former aviation engineer who in 1947 moved his family to the town of Landers, located 40 miles north of Palm Springs. He had worked for Lockheed and Douglas Aircraft, and for Howard Hughes’s aviation concerns. But he was intent on following a markedly different path from the one he’d been on. A follower of esoteric spiritual pursuits, Van Tassel settled in Landers because of its proximity to Giant Rock, a seven-story-high desert boulder considered sacred by Native Americans.

Six years after relocating to the desert he was awakened one night by a man from outer space, the captain of a “scout ship” from Venus. His name was Solganda and he was 700 years old, although according to Van Tassel he didn’t look a day over 28.

The alien brought Van Tassel aboard the spacecraft — you knew that was coming —  and told him that Earthlings’ reliance on metal building materials was interfering with radio frequencies and disrupting interplanetary “thought transfers.”

“…built a circular, dome-topped building…according to the standards outlined by the extraterrestrial visitor…called it the Integratron.

The visitor also passed along a secret formula for a device that would generate electrostatic energy to suspend the laws of gravity, extend human life and facilitate high-speed time travel.

Over nearly two decades Van Tassel built a circular, dome-topped building, 38 feet tall and 55 feet in diameter constructed according to the standards outlined by the extraterrestrial visitor. It was built without screws, nails, flashing, or any other metal materials. He called it the Integratron.

Van Tassel died in 1978. The Integratron apparently was unable to slow the aging process and allow him to lead a centuries-long life as he’d hoped. Solganda’s whereabouts are unknown.

The domed building is now owned and managed by the Karl sisters, Joanne, Patty, and Nancy, who bought it from Van Tassel’s widow in 2000. They’ve restored it and become stewards of the dome, ensuring that the spot will continue as a spiritual retreat. Each year thousands make their way to the desert enclave, including celebrities such as Robert Downey Jr., Charlize Theron, and Robert Plant.

The chief attraction, the Integratron, is an acoustically perfect space, with its curvilinear dome and reverberating wood which acts as natural amplifiers. Visitors can experience a “sound bath.” They lie on mats while the sisters play quartz-crystal singing bowls, producing tones that fill the building’s main chamber. The Integratron website claims that sound baths result in “sonic healing,” “waves of peace, heightened awareness and relaxation of the mind and body.”

“…the triumph of conscious-raising culture, liberation from the constraints of the workaday world, or perhaps a victory for good ole American commerce…”

Calling All Earthlings features interviews with current-day Integratron adherents and some vintage video clips of Van Tassel telling his story. Others discuss more controversial topics, such as the conspiracy to suppress his research, shadowy forces that stole Van Tassel’s documents and may have even conspired to kill him. A vast governmental plot might be behind it all, they claim, the details of which are sketchy. Without casting aspersions on what the believers say, the film lets the principals speak their piece and their words are presented without irony or skepticism.

Most appealing is the film’s mixture of California post-War history, cults and a tinge of science fiction — an intriguing combination of elements that make it a winner.

It’s hard to watch the film without thinking of Tom Wolfe, the journalist, and author who made waves in the 1960s by detailing the Southern California way of life. He observed that many were developing their own communities and cultures based on the esoteric, sometimes outrageous interests that they obsessively pursued. Van Tassel and his citadel in the desert would fit neatly into Wolfe’s concept of neo-cultures developed around a rather narrow-focused community.

Call it the triumph of conscious-raising culture, liberation from the constraints of the workaday world, or perhaps a victory for good ole American commerce — visitor bookings are booming — where such landmarks become destinations for new generations of travelers in search of spiritual fulfillment. That’s a culture that Tom Wolfe would have no trouble recognizing.

Calling All Earthlings (2018) Directed by Jonathan Berman. Starring Daniel Boone, Eric Burdon, Valerie Gil, Desiree Hurtak, J.J. Hurtak, Ted Markland, Teddy Quinn, Victoria Williams.

8 out of 10

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