Gram Parsons’ Sci-Fi Movie, Lost and Found

By Lisa Lynn Morgan

Cover photo: Ida Random and Julian Jones-Leitch in Saturation 70, photo credit, Anthony Foutz archive

They say the desert never forgets, and if you live here long enough, you start to believe it. Lost things can turn up suddenly after a wind or rainstorm, perhaps weathered and only in pieces, but found all the same. The phenomenon is especially strong in Southern California’s high desert. It’s as if the rock formations remember you when you return. Anyone revisiting Heart Rock in Joshua Tree National Park will feel it recalling your last visit and reminding you exactly who you were with. If you want a more scientific example, Fairy shrimp eggs, dormant for years in the dried-out soil at Barker Dam, started swimming again after Tropical Storm Hilary. Why would it be any different for Cap Rock’s favorite son, Gram Parsons, and the Sci-Fi Movie he starred in that was tragically lost in the sands of time… until now.

Decades after his death, Saturation 70, the Sci-Fi movie filmed partly at Giant Rock during a 1969 UFO convention, is being brought back to life in a book. Containing never before seen photos of Parsons with fellow counterculture influencer, Michelle Phillips (of The Mamas and the Poppas), and Julian Jones, the five-year-old son of Rolling Stone, Brian Jones, Saturation 70 is co-authored by published author, Chris Campion, and the film’s mastermind, American writer direct-actor, Tony Foutz.

Speaking with Campion about the project, my first question was automatic; “How does one stumble onto a story about a mysterious missing film project, and find enough material to write a book about it over half a century later?”

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“In 2011, I interviewed Stash Klossowski de Rola for another project I was working on,” Campion answered. “Stash is the son of Polish-French painter Balthus, a former drummer with legendary rock and rol ler Vince Taylor and his Playboys, and the aristocratic playboy prince of the ‘60s counterculture, who was a friend to Beatles, Stones, and everybody in between. He casually mentioned that he first came to LA to appear in a science fiction film called Saturation 70, with Gram Parsons, Michelle Phillips, and Julian Jones, and that the film was co-produced and was to feature special effects by Douglas Trumbull, who had just finished work on Stanley Kubrick’s 2001. I’d never heard of Saturation 70, but it sounded fascinating, so I looked up whatever information I could, which at the time amounted to no more than a few paragraphs in two or three books about Gram Parsons.”

Campion tracked down the film’s director, Tony Foutz, who was living in Ireland. “He told me the remarkable tale of how he had come to make Saturation 70, and all the people he’d been associated with, and encountered, across the worlds of film, music, art, and more and I was hooked. It was clear he had an incredible story to tell. He agreed to participate in an article I wanted to write about Saturation 70, which ran in Mojo magazine. That turned into a 2014 exhibition about the film at the Horse Hospital in London. Since then, Tony and I have continued to collaborate and decided it was past time to put together a book that would serve as a definitive document about this extraordinary lost project and its connection to the high desert.”

Photo credit: Gram Parsons at the Chateau Marmont, 1970, in footage shot to promote Saturation 70, photo credit, Anthony Foutz

“I came to realize that it represented something unique in Gram Parson’s story,” relished Campion. “It’s the untold origin of his connection to Joshua Tree. Gram’s association with Tony Foutz, with whom he roomed at the Chateau Marmont during the making of the film, is what first brought him out to Joshua Tree, along with Keith Richards and Anita Pallenberg, to go UFO-spotting on a remote peak in the Joshua Tree Monument. The iconic Michael Cooper photos taken that night were, for decades, the only available photos of Gram in the high desert, despite his storied connection to the area. Now, through luck and perseverance, we’ve managed to obtain a whole cache of photos of Gram, the cast and crew, at the 1969 Space Convention in Giant Rock, which is where the story of Saturation 70 began also. Those will be published for the first time in the book.”

“Can you explain the scene that inspired Foutz to film in Joshua Tree,” I asked?

Campion answered like the expert he is on the subject at this point: “From 1956 onwards, George Van Tassel, the owner and operator of Giant Rock Airport, hosted an annual Space Convention there, which was a huge draw for people across the country with an interest in or who had encounters with UFOs. At its height, it drew over 10,000 people and was featured in Life magazine.”

“In October 1969, while prepping a film for the Rolling Stones to star in, called Maxagasm, Tony Foutz was tipped off about the Space Convention by his Hollywood agent. He promptly rented a Winnebago to drive out to the desert, taking along a film crew and a whole group of friends, including Gram Parsons and Michelle Phillips. The idea was to capture documentary footage of the convention and its attendees that could be used to test out some of the special effects he and Douglas Trumbull were planning for Maxagasm. When they got to back to LA, they were so impressed with the footage that Tony came up with the idea for another film entirely, and Saturation 70 was born.”

Filmmaker, Tony Foutz, who “knew Ingram from the time he left The Byrds to his dead end,” explained his relationship with Parsons: “We were laconic friends with a shared sense of irony and caustic humor. For a spell, we were roommates chasing chimera down creativity’s cluttered trail.” Foutz first met Gram in the UK, when Gram was touring there with The Byrds in 1968. Parsons had stayed on in London, declining to travel to South Africa to play with the group due to his feelings about apartheid, which also ended his tenure with The Byrds.

Book photo credit: Wolf + Salmon

When asked what Parsons was like as an actor, Foutz beamed, “He was a natural for my film with his lazy boy smile and faraway eyes; a Kosmic Kiddie in the flesh.” (In Saturation 70, the Kosmic Kiddies were the aliens who came to save the Earth from environmental destruction)

Chronicling this far out tale in a book for the world to embrace goes far beyond sentiment for Foutz. “It’s a resurrection of an imagined reality gone missing,” he shared. “My lost and found again orphan of a movie was much more than just hi-jinks in the high desert; not about nostalgia of the good ole days, but a sentient multi-layered vehicle that’s all about today’s social and environmental dystopia. It’s authentic, and that’s why it’s still around.”

Contemplating the loss, I had to ask: “How is something like that lost?”

Photo credit: Tom Wilkes (Anthony Foutz Archive)

“The film had mostly been shot when the financing fell apart,” Campion explained. “Everyone involved moved on to different projects. Tony Foutz started prepping a movie he’d written about a female roller derby team, which was to star Michelle Phillips and Helena Kallianiotes. No-one really knows for sure what happened to the Saturation 70 footage or where it ended up. It may have languished in storage at a lab somewhere in LA before eventually being tossed. That’s what the film’s producer, Perry Leff, assumed had happened, when I spoke to him some years back.”

“Until I took interest in Saturation 70, 40 years after the film was made,” Campion continued, “nobody really knew about it, and those that did hadn’t considered it in any way significant. Even Tony Foutz, who’d had a pretty successful career as a scriptwriter and script doctor, hadn’t thought about Saturation 70 in years before I contacted him and reactivated his interest in the film.”

“Is there a chance it could show up one day,” I asked?

Campion answered, “I still hold out hope some more footage will turn up, but fifty years on, it seems unlikely. It’s a miracle, as it is, that there is enough material — numbering a few hundred photos and almost fifteen minutes of film footage —to enable us to produce a book that documents the whole story.”

The Kickstarter for this project miracle is running until November 10th. There are some great packages and incentives still available ranging from $15 to $500 No self-respecting Gram Fan would pass them up. Check them out at

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