Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Dope Island: Mayan Eyes Have Seen the Glory of...The Outer Space Connection

If you are reading this, it is likely you survived the Mayan Calendar running out, or you are a conquering alien. Let's assume the first. Nothing happened on December 21, 2012, outside of the usual binge-buying of firearms by gun nuts, while, faraway in tall towers, business schemers plotted more layoffs. Christmas season fourth-quarter cutbacks, foreclosures and all that. Otherwise, business as usual, nothing to see here.

Well, there was one thing to see, and I saw it, courtesy of a lucky thrift-store purchase. It is a theatrically released documentary that had much to do with creating the Mayan-doomsday myth, 1975's THE OUTER SPACE CONNECTION. This feature can probably be secured now in a variety of high-tech-downloads I little understand; I got it the old fashioned way, a fuzzy VHS copy in a battered slipcase cover in a thrift store.

THE OUTER SPACE CONNECTION grew out of a 1970s trend in pre-home-video days, of movie "four walling." Sounds like a home-construction technique. But it's really American showbiz jargon for when an independent organization rents out a movie theater for a day or more, and projects their own product - rather than the scheduled Hollywood stuff in wide release - usually for a specialty audience. Four walling is a way that indie filmmakers and religious and ethnic groups (most recently, fanciers of India's `Bollywood' Hindi-language blockbusters) get their niche entertainment in a plush, first-run movie house environment. Meanwhile, through tightly-focused ad campaigns, the indie distributor/promoter doing the renting fills the house, cleans up at the box office. In the old days they would move on to the next town.

In the 1970s this technique got sharpened by sharpsters (most prominently but not entirely, Utah-based Sunn Classic Pictures) who rented out theaters to present documentaries of dubious factual merit but lots of tabloid value such as THE BERMUDA TRIANGLE or BIGFOOT! MAN OR BEAST? The target audience was American's "family" demographic, moms and dads bewildered and bothered in the post-1960s climate of MIDNIGHT COWBOY and other very adult films playing just down the street. These four-walled movies were almost always G-rated (often made by Mormons) and, as far as family-friendly content...Well, if you were a 1970s parent, would you rather your kid see a woman raped in STRAW DOGS or mere science raped in IN SEARCH OF NOAH'S ARK?

The marketing was quite canny for pre-Facebook days. By the time the documentaries were made, there had already been "best-selling" book tie-ins, on racks at drug stores and airport kiosks throughout the country. Even the movie house peddled them, as part of the four-walling rental agreement.

THE OUTER SPACE CONNECTION was a book-movie combo hatched from the imagination and entrepreneurship of Alan Landsburg. A veteran documentarian, even with an Oscar nomination to his credit, Landsburg hit it big when he bought US rights to the 1971 West German documentary based on Erich Von Daniken's 1968 "ancient astronauts" bestseller Chariots of the Gods. Landsburg re-edited and dubbed the gee-whiz travelogue of pyramids and stuff (which was actually directed by Harald Reinl, an old crony of Leni Reifenstahl's) and cleaned up with it. THE OUTER SPACE CONNECTION, direction credited to Fred Warshofsky, and narrated by Rod Serling (who became somewhat of a regular in this pop-occult genre) is obviously a visit to the same space-well. A melange of `ancient-astronaut' theorizing, speculation that aliens help build the megaliths and culture of Egypt, Greece, stone-age Britain and - most especially, the Incans and the Mayans.

The, er, line of reasoning leads to digressions, often pretty boring for the 106-minute duration, into modern UFO encounters, Kirlian photography, free-of-charge NASA stock footage, the Bermuda Triangle, crystal skulls, cloning, the Book of Ezekiel, some  cruel-looking animal experiments, etc. Honest, I had to watch and re-watch this just get the various associations straight in my head. Those church-distributed right-wing conspiracy tapes about Bill and Hillary Clinton were easier to follow.

But the CONNECTION payoff is this: back when Neanderthals roamed the world, space aliens colonized bits of Earth, notably the Andes in South America. Mayan civilization arose from this "Earth Base One" and alien interbreeding (it was generously assumed in bygone days that most space guys were good-looking human-ish types, rather than bug-eyed dwarf goblins exemplified by The X Files) and genetic manipulation created the races of Homo sapiens.

For some reason the aliens didn't stay here for long (well, neither did LeBron, maybe it was a deal like that), but the calendar designed by Mayans (hence, by alien masters) runs out on a specific date, and that can ONLY mean - there are rather a lot of farfetched
deductions like that - this is an appointment time for the space visitors to return in a big way. Never mind all the grainy UFO footage claiming the aliens have been returning all along. December 24, 2011, is the movie's conclusion of the most important date in human history, when the aliens take over again.

Yes, that's right, December 24, 2011, is the date specified by THE OUTER SPACE CONNECTION, not December 21, 2012. So one might assume some of the other facts presented by the feature were a little inaccurate. But the immediate result of THE OUTER SPACE CONNECTION, (which is sooooo seventies in being titled to be an echo of the blockbuster cop actioner THE FRENCH CONNECTION) was indeed prophetic. Insofar as predicting producer Alan Landsburg's influential TV series In Search Of... made its debut the next year, tackling these paranormal topics in separate half-hours, instead of in a knotted bunch in a big-screen movie.

Syndicated success of In Search Of... has trickled down to whole History Channel and Discovery Channel series like Ancient Aliens, rehashing many of the same claims - much to the dismay of legitimate scientists and archeologists, who find notions that UFOs built the pyramids preposterous, if not downright racist against the engineering achievements of ancient Mayans, Egyptians, and so on.

So that about wraps it up for the Mayan prophecy. Now, I guess, we're stuck with that year from the TERMINATOR mythology when Skynet goes active and the machines take over. Not sure but I think it's 2022, and I'm sure the gun nuts will have even more reason to buy out Wal-Mart. Meanwhile, should you happen to find THE OUTER SPACE CONNECTION somewhere and determine to view it ironically, entertainment value is as emaciated as the mummies it depicts, though the Serling narration might be good for a few media-mashup audio clips.

And the panic and end-of-the-world parties it fed into once again demonstrates the formidable power of cinema sold out to hucksterism. As Burt Lancaster says at the beginning of THE CRIMSON PIRATE, "Believe only in what you see. No! Believe half of what you see!" And sometimes even that's optimistic. 

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