Mystery, murder and meditation meet aliens, federal agents and time travel in Calling All Earthlings. The documentary follows George Van Tassel, who mixed alien intelligence with the writings of inventor Nikola Tesla to come up with The Integratron, a time machine powered by electromagnetic energy. The documentary opens with a collage of witnesses testifying to strange lights, craft, and creatures with glowing red eyes, and then gets weird.
Tassel was far ahead of his time, both technologically and socially. He started a spiritual UFO cult which was stalked by busybodies worried about chants of love, peace and prosperity, while the FBI worked to infiltrate and influence the Integratron intelligentsia against their communistic ideas about free energy. Jack Parsons, the black magic rocket scientist who worked with the Great Beast Aleister Crowley and L. Ron Hubbard, explored free love as part of rocketry’s Suicide Club. But offering free energy proves more dangerous than a Babalon Working for Tassel.
Tassel was a former aircraft mechanic and inspector. He opened a small airport and cafe in the desert town of Landers, California, where some good smoke was being puffed, according to one of the locals interviewed. He set up shop next to a big rock considered sacred by Native Americans.
Tassel began the communication that led to the basic blueprints for the machine on August 24, 1953, when he was woken up by a man named Solganda who looked human and spoke English. The man from Venus gave Tassel plans for a dome that spins and creates a powerful electromagnetic field which promotes cellular rejuvenation allowing Van Tassel to grow old and wise enough to save humanity.
“Dedicated to Research in Life Extension,” the Integratron built as a “a time machine for basic research on rejuvenation, anti-gravity, and time travel.” The site in the Mojave Desert was chosen because of its proximity to magnetic vortices and its relationship to the Great Pyramids in Giza. The 21st century version of Moses’ Tabernacle is held down by a donut of cement that forms a small oculus at the apex of the dome. The structure is ringed by a rotating wheel of metal spikes. The two-story wooden building was metal-free. There were no nails or screws used because they could have interfered with the machine’s conductive properties. He also inadvertently invented Ikea.
It took Tassel 18 years to build the dome about 20 miles north of Joshua Tree National Park. The work was paid for by covert payments from legendary recluse Howard Hughes, members of Van Tassel’s Ministry of Universal Wisdom, Inc., and revenue from an annual Interplanetary Spacecraft Convention.
Archival footage of Van Tassel shows a normal enough looking guy. He wears a tie, and lost a lot of hair for a man who has been rejuvenated. But it’s when he goes into trance that he gets all Edgar Cayce, channeling love, harmony and good will from the cosmos. He became a follower of the Hindu Guru Paramahansa Yogananda, who started sending people on pilgrimages to help the man under the great rock.
Van Tassel channeled his messages during the beginnings of the Cold War, and the new-age movement. His story is ripe with paranoid mythology. Van Tassel died mysteriously in 1978 just before making a TV appearance. Ruled a natural death by heart attack, some think his wife, who cooked at the diner was a government agent who poisoned him. Van Tassel’s papers disappeared after he was cremated.
Jonathan Berman, previously directed Commune, about the 1960s commune Black Bear Ranch, says he’s a skeptix who wants to believe in magic. The dome is a talisman to Berman. He doesn’t explore what Van Tassel got from Tesla, he lets a medium channel Van Tassel’s spirit. The experts who talk about the dome sound both impressed and a little off-kilter. Social scientists and futurists Dr. J.J. Hurtak and his wife Dr. Desiree Hurtak give running commentary, along with Bob Benson, who helped print Van Tassel’s the newsletter Proceedings. The score was recorded by guitarist Elliott Sharp, who slides his bottleneck while lounging on the desert rocks as part of the proceedings. Eric Burdon, former lead vocalist for the sixties British Invasion group The Animals. Burdon apparently spilled win and dug some girl in the Mohave Desert.
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The FBI considered Van Tassel a “mental case,” according to declassified files used in the documentary, and scoffed at the belief that communication with extraterrestrials was possible. But the agency also wondered whether the annual Giant Rock Interplanetary Spacecraft Convention, which he hosted near a major military base for over 20 years his UFO conventions, was a commie front. Maybe because Van Tassel would have provided free sound baths to everyone.
Calling All Earthlings opened Aug. 1 at the Maysles Documentary Center at 343 Lenox Ave. in Harlem. The film will be available on VOD on August 28, 2018
Culture Editor Tony Sokol cut his teeth on the wire services and also wrote and produced New York City’s Vampyr Theatre and the rock opera AssassiNation: We Killed JFK. Read more of his work here or find him on Twitter @tsokol.