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Wes Anderson’s Asteroid City: An Ode to Giant Rock?

Wes Anderson is one of the most influential indie filmmakers in modern cinema. His photography style, dialogues, soundtracks, and color palette, are so familiar they are very easy to turn into a parody that is instantly recognizable.

Last week Anderson unveiled the trailer for his next movie: Asteroid City. And although movie critics and fans began to fawn over the impressive assemblage of superstars in its cast, the UFO nerd in me was captivated by other details.

The movie takes place in the 1950s in a fictional town called Asteroid City placed in the Southwest of the United States, and aside of the fact the setting makes it easier to capture the kitschy Americana Anderson is so fond of putting into his movies, part of me wonders if the movie may not be also loosely based on the rich history of the early UFO conventions; particularly the ones that took place at the legendary Giant Rock.

Located in the southern California desert, Giant Rock had the distinction of being considered for a while “the largest free-standing granite boulder in the world.”* In the 1930s a German immigrant by the name of Frank Critzer managed to dig beneath the rock, to create a comfortable underground abode where he lived in solitary and unmolested for several years.

By the time World War II hit, unfortunately, Critzer’s eccentricity and nationality made some suspicious of him being a Nazi spy. In 1942 he was given an order to leave, which he stubbornly refused and barricaded himself inside his hole of a house. During a police raid it is said that a tear gas grenade tossed inside the subterranean gallery fell close to a case of dynamite which Critzer kept for his prospecting activities; the dynamite ignited and blew the old caveman wannabe to smithereens —a scene surreal enough to be part of a Wes Anderson movie, no doubt.

Five years later, a man who was one of the few friends Critzer had decided to move in to Giant Rock with his family**. That man was George Van Tassel, a former test pilot who was fated to become one of the most famous ‘contactees’ of the early UFO era.

George Van Tassel (1910-1978) next to a model of the Integratron, a rotating building made entirely out of wood which he attempted to build (but never completed while alive) following the directions of the Space Brothers.

During the war George became an aircraft inspector for another famous eccentric —Howard Hughes. But by 1947 he was seeking to become an independent businessman and profit from the small landing strip which Critzer had built near his property, in hopes of attracting visitors to his remote outpost. Van Tassel renovated the airstrip and also built a small café and a pilots lounge which were attended by his wife —it is said the burgers were so good, Howard Hughes would fly hundreds of miles in his private plane just to have the opportunity to feast on them.

In 1952 George earned his “saucer stripes” when he claimed to be receiving telepathic messages from a legion of different extraterrestrial emissaries, including “Clatu” —not meant to be confused with the Klaatu of the 1951 movie “The Day the Earth Stood Still” (or was he?)— and “Ashtar,” who would later be channeled by other psychics (that’s the problem with channeling messages: you just can’t find a way to secure exclusive rights over them).

Because of this otherworldly transmissions, Van Tassel decided to found the College of Universal Wisdom. He also wrote a book: I Rode a Flying Saucer! The Mystery of Flying Saucers Revealed —an odd choice for a title, considering it consisted only of his psychic messages, and there weren’t any ‘physical’ interactions with his ET friends yet; that would soon be remedied by 1953, when the space brother ‘Solganda’ invited George for a spin across the solar system aboard his spaceship.

Giant Rock became the beacon that united many of the most prominent voices of the Contactee movement, with yearly gatherings that attracted thousands of attendees from 1953 to 1977. A veritable “Burning Man for saucerheads” as the book ‘A’ is for Adamski (co-written by my friends Adam Gorightly and Greg Bishop) aptly puts it.

UFO Contactee Buck Nelson (1895-1982)

Even if I’m totally wrong, and Wes Anderson never heard of Giant Rock, I am nevertheless fully convinced that some of the Contactee characters of that era like Gabriel Greene or Buck Nelson, who attended Van Tassel’s UFO conventions on numerous occasions, would have made perfect extras in Asteroid City.

And if you want to learn more about who Gabriel Greene and Buck Nelson actually were, then I suggest you grab yourself a copy of ‘A’ is for Adamski: The Golden Age of the UFO Contactees, which would also make for a nice prop in a Wes Anderson movie —the cover, designed by yours truly, is teal. Need I say more??

Asteroid City premieres in theaters on June 16.

(*) In February of 2000 the giant boulder split into two, which was considered by the native locals to be a bad omen.

(**) It is said that by the time the Van Tassels settled in Giant Rock, the granite walls inside their underground home were still tainted from the explosion that pulverized Frank Critzer. Nothing says ‘cozy’ like a coat of ‘German Red’ in your living room, don’t you think?

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