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Screening Aims to Trace the Fixation on Space

July 29, 1997|MARK CHALON SMITH | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

HUNTINGTON BEACH — Aliens may not have landed on Earth, but they sure inhabit our minds.

The Huntington Beach Art Center recently opened "Are We Touched? Identities From Outer Space," which looks at the UFO scene. As part of the exhibit, the center will screen on Friday a 120-minute program of videos and films that aims to "examine transformative experiences based on concepts of outer space," curator Tyler Stallings says.

The result is a hodgepodge of UFOdom, some of it familiar, funny and unsettling, much of it confusing and surprisingly dull. The most obvious flaw is that the eight shorts rarely fulfill a promise of insight into our fascination with aliens.

The opening video, "The UFO Experience," is a kind of an infomercial created by the Unarius Academy of Science out of El Cajon. The 40-minute segment (the evening's longest) may appeal to anyone who gets a kick out of watching fringe-dwellers espouse their unusual beliefs.

We see Uriel, the group's leader, explaining that 33 alien ships carrying 33,000 benevolent space travelers will land on Earth in 2001 and make life here a paradise. A man happily tells of having met one of these extraterrestrials, who just happened to be tan and blond, not unlike himself. Why do the Unarians believe this? What formed their hopeful, incredibly specific relationship with the alien phenomenon? With such important questions left unanswered, viewers can easily dismiss these people as complete weirdos.

"Star Trek: The Final Frontier," a heartfelt 11-minute film by David Jarvey, details Jarvey's work with Creativity Explored, a San Francisco group that provides art workshops for mentally disabled adults. In the film, they act out a "Star Trek" episode using handmade props. What the therapy accomplishes and how it originated are never addressed.

More revealing is the 15-minute documentary "Desert Sri Yantra Project," which follows artist Bill Witherspoon as he draws a 400-yard-long design in a dry Oregon lake bed. The image, finished in 1991 and fully seen only from an airplane, mountaintop or flying saucer (it could happen!), is striking, not only for its precision and scope but for the news accounts it generated.

People wondered if aliens left it. Witherspoon quickly fessed up, though, and in the film he explains his motivations, among them to "enliven silence."

Michael Masucci and ia Kamandalu's six-minute piece, "Deposition," also works. This arty film centers on a woman who has a breakdown after being abducted by aliens. Far from hysterical, it's eerie and often visually poetic.

The most disturbing video is 35 minutes of coverage of the Heaven's Gate mass suicide, taken from local and network news programs. Repeat viewing of cult leader Marshall Applewhite and his serene followers--who believed they'd beam up to a mother ship after shedding their bodies--still leaves nonbelievers feeling stunned and confounded.

*

Videos and films from "Are We Touched? Identities From Outer Space" will screen Friday at 8:30 p.m. at the Huntington Beach Art Center, 538 Main St., Huntington Beach. $6 (which includes museum admission). (714) 374-1650.

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