Monday, June 10, 2013

Highly Strange Cinema: Wavelength (1983)

I'm not quite sure how it happened, but somewhere in the course of my wanderings I came across this strange interview from the Project Camelot site. It wasn't from the Dying NASA Scientist, but close- it was from a physicist who claimed to work at Lawrence Livermore National Labs in California. In it, he made this rather startling claim:
What can you tell us about the ET presence?
Look up the movie Wavelength. It’s based on a totally true story. Have you seen it? It's based on an incident that took place at Hunter Liggett. This is a hot one. 

You shot down a disk?
[shaking head] We should never have done it. It wasn't me personally, but the group did. Between us we had all this gizmo weaponry and I guess they panicked and thought they were in a movie or something. 
The disk was disabled and it was captured, and so were the occupants, and I saw these very briefly. They were small child-like humanoids, with no hair. And they had small eyes, not large almond-shaped eyes. I don’t think anyone knows about this. As far as I know its not on the internet.

This is incredible. I've never heard of this incident.
 Most of the other witnesses ended up in Vietnam and many were killed. I may be the only living witness to what happened... I dont know. The rest of the story is in a sci-fi movie called Wavelength, which was released in the early '80s. Id never heard of it until I ran into it years later, in Arizona. Did I just say this? [laughs, for the first time]When I saw the video, I was expecting some, you know, light entertainment with a beer or two, but I mean, my mouth just hung wide open. 
The beginning of the film just completely clearly and accurately describes the incident, and the film is very close to the rest of the story, including the use of an abandoned Nike base in Southern California to store them. Go find it. Its all basically true. I was just amazed when I saw it. The person who wrote it must have been there, or knew someone who was there. But I don’t know who.
I'd never heard of the film Wavelength, which is strange since I had my ear quite low to the ground in 1983, being a regular Starlog reader. It probably never got released in the Boston area. It was an independent film, shot in 1981 but not released until the middle of 1983. Critics at the time compared to E.T., but it could be not less similar. 

After re-watching the film and doing some research, I would most definitely say it was based on a true story, one that's popped up in allegorical form in some other venues, including The X-Files

But although it does have something to do with aliens and the area around Hunter Liggett, I would venture to guess it has nothing to do with a crashed flying saucer or recovered alien pilots. Rather it has to do with a dark and disgraceful chapter in postwar America...

Wavelength was written by Mike Gray, a writer and political activist better known for his nonfiction and documentary work. Having earned a degree in aeronautical engineering from Perdue (that's Gus Grissom's alma mater, for those of you keeping score at home), Gray also worked for Aviation Age and later went into advertising. In Chicago he formed a film group that began producing commercials but soon began making highly-charged political documentaries.

Gray's group made documentaries on the protests at the 1968 Democratic National Convention as well as the murder of Black Panther Fred Hampton. These earned him some unwelcome attention from the Chicago Police, encouraging his migration to Los Angeles. Gray was also highly critical of drug war policy and wrote about its negative effects on the country up until his death for magazines such as Rolling Stone.

His biggest brush with notoriety came when the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant experienced a highly Synchronistic meltdown just two weeks after the release of his very 1970s conspiracy film The China Syndrome, which depicted a similar event at a fictional plant in Los Angeles.

What was so remarkable about that film is how it depicted media manipulation- the whistleblower was painted as a nut and a drama queen and when a reporter tries to defend him, her signal is cut. But Gray wasn't merely lucky- as an engineer, he had based his script on serious research of the shortcomings of nuclear power plant design.

Gray later produced The Rocket Pilots, a 1981 TV documentary on aviation where Gray used his connections to the aerospace industry to score some eye-catching money footage at Edwards Air Force Base.

It was immediately following the making of that film that his focus took a very, very sharp turn leading to the making of Wavelength. Gray later insisted that it was not inspired by an actual UFO crash and retreival operation and I believe him.

That doesn't mean I don't believe that Wavelength wasn't based on real life events of an extremely weird nature.

Wavelength is a very dark and angry film, made in a semi-documentary style. It's very much more The X-Files than it is E.T. or Close Encounters. It's also very much in keeping with Gray's nonfiction work in tone, which leads you to wonder exactly what it is he is trying to tell us here.

His aliens are played by young boys with shaved heads and body stockings, who Gray goes out of his way to depict as being vulnerable and preyed upon in the "Hollywood underground." Most fans see it as cost-cutting (one reviewer said "Gray spared every expense" in making the film) but I see it as a statement.

As Gray later told it, he'd been living in the Hollywood Hills near an abandoned Nike site, near his friend Robert Carradine and actually knew a real life prospector named Dan. He just tossed this all together and came up with the script. Voila. Just like that. He had wanted Kaki Hunter as the female lead but the producer insisted on Cheri Currie instead.

Carradine plays a struggling musician living in - where else - Laurel Canyon, ground zero of the soft rock scene that doused the rebellious flames of the late 60s. Crosby, Stills and Nash, Joni Mitchell,  Jackson Browne, Carole King, James Taylor, Linda Ronstadt, the Flying Burrito Brothers, America, and the Eagles all emerged from the Canyon in the early 70s, releasing all those peaceful, easy records that drove me and others like me screaming into the arms of hardcore punk by the end of the decade. 

Strangely enough, many of these singers came from military families, particularly from families involved in military intelligence. Perhaps this isn't so remarkable given that their fathers all came of age during the largest military mobilization in the history of civilization, or that military intelligence often meant writing songs for Armed Forces Radio or drawing cartoons for leaflets to be dropped over occupied cities, but the confluence of events remains rather curious nonetheless.

Either way, it sets us back into the 70s rather than the early 80s when everyone in LA was playing skinny tie New Wave (which I have no doubt Gray was all too aware of). Anyhow, after a run-in with a greedy producer, Carradine drowns his sorrows in a local bar where he meets Cherie Currie.

Our struggling soft rocker's bungalow overlooks an ostensibly abandoned military installation, which upon closer inspection turns out to be not so abandoned after all. One night Currie (I'm not going to bother with the character names) is awoken from his bed by voices in her head, voices that almost sound like forlorn whales. Not wanting his mellow harshed, the soft rocker dismisses it all.

Keenan Wynn enters the picture, playing a character so unlikely he can only be a metaphor- a gold prospector working the Hollywood Hills (Gray later claimed he was based on a real person!). What becomes clear is that he is Gray's stand-in for an old-time Hollywood biz figure- he brags that he help build the tunnels for the military installation beneath the City of Dreams.

Wynn does the old, loveable Katz' Deli curmudgeon riffs to the hilt and makes one wonder if he isn't a stand-in for a old exec who schooled the newly-arrived Gray on just nasty Hollywood could get "underground"(Gray did mention some producers who mentored him but their names escape me at the moment- he was very close with the Douglas family).

Because when Carradine and Currie get underground they find a huge secret installation that is torturing captured aliens who -again- are played by young, vulnerable boys.

The black ops team soon discover that Currie can communicate with the aliens so she is hooked up to all kinds of equipment where she reads their minds. The only problem is that the aliens starting killing off their captors. And that's all I'm going to tell you- go watch the rest on YouTube.


Now let's unpack some of this.

When told of the Project Camelot theories on a radio interview, Gray explained he came up with the idea for Wavelength during a vacation to Big Sur sent him through Hunter Liggett Military Reservation on the way back (probably wanting to avoid the nauseating Pacific Coast Highway) where he just happened to daydream about lasers and UFOs and so on. 

First of all, where did Gray go during his stay in Big Sur? There are some bed and breakfasts there of course but there's also Esalen, then a hotspot for the Hollywood glitterati.
At the time Gray had his brainstorm for Wavelength, Esalen was under the spell of one Jenny O' Connor, a voluptuous young British woman who Esalen co-founder Dick Price under her thumb, so much that she was soon calling the shots there, while crediting all of her decisions to the alleged spacegods known as The Nine. 

The Nine were affiliated with one-time CIA mad scientist Andrija Puharich, or were his creation, depending on whose story you believe.  Puharich was on the outs with his old employers for losing his marbles in public with the Uri Geller book, and was having a run of bad luck (the people burning his house down and trying to kill him kind of bad luck) so I'm not exactly sure who was running The Nine at the time (possibly Sir John Whitmore).

The Nine were also connected to Gene Roddenberry, who took their money for a screenplay he never wrote. But with The Nine any connection at all- no matter how tenuous- seems to have a weird resonance, which we'll see a few years after Wavelength.

Hunter Liggett is on the grounds of an old Spanish mission which has a very long history of UFO sightings, including sightings of "flying ghosts" sighted by Indians dating back to the early 1700s.

Big Sur itself is no stranger to UFO weirdness. So it's not surprising that this trip should change the course of Gray's career for several years.

But not his basic nature; Wavelength is not a hippy-dippy space brother film. It's an angry fulisade against the military-industrial complex's abuse of American citizens, particularly children, which I believe Gray folded in with the abuse of children that is a grim fact of life in the Hollywood underground. Hence the film is literally set underneath Hollywood itself.


What's more it is a direct indictment of the MK Ultra program- which a radical like Gray was most certainly aware of- and I believe also an indictment of stories Gray heard of an continuation of the program taking place on secret black bag installations. 

I can't possibly understate the importance of this. If you look at Gray's body of work before and after Wavelength, it is unmistakably political and activist; writing books, articles and policy papers against the war on drugs and the death penalty in particular. He also wrote a serious work on the Space Race, so serious that it was a featured selection on the Skeptically Speaking booklist.

And here he is writing and directing a serious, angry and politically charged movie about aliens. Not a studio film, mind you, something he did just for the bucks, but an independent film financed by Maurice Rosenfield, a lawyer best-known for creating the class-action lawsuit.

Let's go to the shots in which Gray tells us what he's really talking about here.

Directly after the shot above, in which the two black bag head shrinkers watch Carradine on a hidden camera, Gray flashes to this Code of Conduct. Some of you may be aware that the original selling point of MK Ultra was reports that captured US soldiers had low escape attempt percentages due to secret brainwashing techniques.

That was the pitch- I don't believe that was actually the point of the program. I think it was infinitely more bizarre than that. Only an idiot thinks you can control anything when someone is on LSD. And these people were not idiots. Evil, but not stupid.

Gray reinforces the connection later by showing Currie standing in front of these plaques as well.

And the headshrinker running the show here is one "Benjamin Stern", who I think you will agree is a dead ringer for MK Ultra ringleader Sidney Gottlieb.

According to his biography, Gottlieb retired in 1972,  declaring his work to be a failure, and dedicated the remaining years of his life to goat farming and caring for lepers.

Yeah. I'm thinking that's probably not the way it went.

According to some theories, after MK Ultra ended (meaning ended its experimental phase, and began its field-testing phase under Evangelical cults such as the Jesus People and Jim Jones' Peoples Temple), Gottlieb went from bad to weird. Getting seed money from CIA Director Richard Helms, Gottlieb allegedly began Operation Often, a project that would eventually explore the fringes of the occult, parapsychology and UFOs.

I'm thinking the truth is somewhere in between. That with the Evangelical program in the MK ascendancy Gottlieb did some freelancing here and there, probably mostly in the black budget world where the real action was.  And was most likely was involved in this psychotronic experiment that ended up in people getting killed, for whatever reason.

What's more, another doctor is called in, a British doctor who's a ringer for MK Ultra vampire Ewan Cameron. Gray shows some of Cameron's techniques in action on the "aliens" here- isolation, sensory deprivation, induced coma.

As I said, I believe Gray was rolling in stories he heard about post-Ultra experiments with stories he was hearing about producers preying on underage children, so in a remarkable stroke of unambiguous symbolism he has his essentially naked boys escape from the underground right under the Hollywood sign. 

Why do I believe Dan is a producer and not a prospector? The first thing Currie does when she sees him is scream, "DON'T TOUCH THEM!!!!" Being the good guy, Dan is confused but curmudgeonly affable.

The fact that the "aliens" are taken home to the Mojave Desert leads me to believe their real-life counterparts were Navajo or Hopi children abducted by this post-Ultra op for their perceived psychic powers. We see this when they take part in a ceremony by the Native Americans who help them escape. 

But it also raises questions about the nature of MK Ultra itself, questions I think have not been properly answered. I think its goals were a lot weirder that simple mind control, which after all was much more efficiently executed by television and religion.


Nick Redfern's book Final Events begins with a story told by a priest named Ray Boeche, who was also involved in the murky world of UFOlogy. He claims he was approached by two men who worked for the Department of Defense in 1991, who were concerned about the work being done in the field of psychotronic warfare. They claimed that black project groups were getting involved in heavy occult activity and seeking to contact NHEs, or non-human entities, which they intended to weaponize.

It sounds like the kind of bullshit you'd chalk up to religious hysteria- and in truth it's all coated with all the usual kinds of nonsense about Crowley and the rest (which even Michael S. Heiser finds absurd), almost certainly for disinfo purposes. Except in this case, Boeche was shown a series of photographs of the catastrophic results of one of these experiments.
Information given, but not allowed to note during meeting: Discussion of individuals killed during psychotronic weapons experiments.
1. Male, white, 25-30 yrs., allegedly death by remotely induced cardiac arrest.
2. Female, white, 20-25 yr., allegedly death by remotely transmitting and creating head trauma equivalent to crushing of right anterior portion of the skull. 
3. Male, white, 30-40 yrs., allegedly death by remotely controlled suffocation. 
Setting was in a laboratory environment. Alleged victims were wired for EEG EKG, seated in reclining chair, somewhat similar to dentist's chair.
Now why do I think this is important in this context?

Well, in the film the same thing happens. 

But not in the same kind of Project Blue Beam way, indicating that whoever was passing this to Boeche would be basing it on this incredibly obscure film. More in a way that this event was mostly hushed up but got talked about and showed up in different allegorical treatments, albeit most after Boeche's information had gone wide on the Internet.

But Wavelength was a long time before that. 

Let's go to the tape again...

"Setting was in a laboratory environment. Alleged victims were wired for EEG/EKG, seated in reclining chair, somewhat similar to dentist's chair."

There's also the fact that one of those allegories was in Taken, where the Cherie Currie role was filled by Dakota Fanning, who would later play Cherie Currie herself in The Runaways film, a fact absolutely no one considered except maybe Currie herself when that role was cast.

So even if I see most of the Collins Elite story as deliberate disinfo being put out there to muddy black project waters with religious flifferoo, I do believe that there was some mind-bendingly horrific event sometime in the 1970s  in which some bizarre attempt to contact alien beings resulted in people getting killed. How exactly is anyone's guess- it could be something as simple as the wacked-out equipment they rigged up for this bondoggle.

But I do think they were using kids- most probably kidnapped or orphaned Native kids- as "mediums" for all of this. That would be par for the course for the Gottlieb/Cameron kind of crowd and might necessitate some bullshit story about Aleister Crowley and the rest being cooked up to muddy the waters in case people talked. That's the kind of thing that would get a Mike Gray pissed off enough to make a feature film about it.

It could be I never heard about Wavelength back in 1983 because it was made clear that it would be better if people didn't know about it.

How do I interpret all of this?
I think that Gray heard stories of the weird shit that black bag groups were up to while he doing his documentary on the rocket planes. I think he also heard a lot of stories about UFOs and other kinds of weird shit from people he very much respected which got him interested in the subject for several years. He also seemed to like to get high so who knows what he ran into down in Big Sur some brilliant starlit night?

Getting back to The Nine, Gray was hired as a writer/producer for the second season of Star Trek: The Next Generation. But the managerial chaos in the writer's room (Roddenberry had set up a situation in which line producer Rick Berman and head writer Maurice Hurley were at odds and couldn't challenge his primacy) drove him away before the end of the season, but not before working on the pivotal episode 'Contagion', with its dimension-jumping "demons of air and darkness." 

It's worth noting that when we finally see a UFO in Wavelength, it's nothing even close to a flying saucer or anything made of nuts and bolts. It's an enormous gateway to another dimension altogether.