In the late 1960s, Gram Parsons, fresh from leaving The Byrds and becoming close pals with the Rolling Stones, signed on to star in a sci-fi film, Saturation 70.
Directed by Anthony Foutz, who worked with the likes of Orson Welles and Richard Lyford and was the son of a very early Walt Disney exec, the film was shot across Joshua Tree and Los Angeles.
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But Saturation 70, which also featured the work of Douglas Trumbull, the pioneering special effects wizard behind 2001: A Space Odyssey and Blade Runner, was never finished, and the footage subsequently vanished.
But a new book tells the wild story of a possible lost classic.
Chris Campion, who rediscovered the film while working on a book about The Mamas & The Papas, is putting together Saturation 70: A Vision Past of the Future Foretold, raising money via Kickstarter for the project with a view to publish next spring via Wolf+Salmon.
Foutz talked with Deadline about the movie, how he fell in with Parsons and the Stones, why the movie fell apart and what happened with the footage.
Foutz was living in Italy in the ‘60s, having briefly worked with Welles and more extensively with Marco Ferreri, when he was introduced to Sam Shepard. Around this time, he had also become friends with Anita Pallenberg, who started dating Keith Richards. Foutz and Shepard started working on Maxagasm, a sci-fi Western that was set to star Richards, Mick Jagger and Brian Jones.
Maxagasm, considered one of the hottest unproduced scripts of the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, was written at Redlands, Richards’ home in West Sussex, after Foutz met Parsons at Jagger’s apartment in London. Foutz’s agent Michael Gruskoff, who was at Creative Management Associates (where he also represented the likes of Dennis Hopper, Peter Fonda, Robert Redford and Steve McQueen), recommended that he and Trumbull head to Giant Rock, near Joshua Tree, where there was a big UFO convention happening. Funded by $5,000 from Universal Studios, which was on board Maxagasm, Foutz got a gang to go out to the desert to shoot some test footage on a variety of cameras.
Maxagasm fell apart, Foutz said, because Universal wanted all of the music rights from the Stones, “which was not going to happen.” But the trip, in turn, inspired a different story: Saturation 70.
“It was a moment of spontaneous combustion,” Foutz told Deadline. “I always said that Maxagasm was the mother of Saturation 70.”
Foutz, who was living with Parsons in the Chateau Marmont, returned to L.A. and spent the next three weeks writing Saturation 70.
The film, which has been described as a counterculture Wizard of Oz and a psychedelic Alice in Wonderland, followed a Victorian star child played by Julian Jones-Leitch, son of Brian Jones, who falls through a wormhole into smog-ridden, dystopian, present-day Los Angeles and is compelled to embark on a hazardous quest to reunite with his mother.
He is helped on this quest by a Nudie-suit wearing Fairy Godmother, played by Ida Random, who later went on to be an Oscar-nominated production designer on films such as Rain Man and The Big Chill; Nudie Cohn, who designed Parsons’ infamous suit on the cover of the Flying Burrito Brothers’ The Gilded Palace of Sin; and a group of aliens in Hazmat suits known as the Kosmic Kiddies, who landed on Earth with a mission to rid it of poisonous toxins and pollution. The Kosmic Kiddies were played by Parsons; Michelle Phillips of The Mamas & The Papas; photographer Andee Nathanson; and Stash Klossowski de Rola, a close confidante of the Stones.
“It was a film about all of the problems in the world,” said Foutz.
The film was set to feature effects designed by Trumbull using an early computer, including bursts of black-and-white footage that had previously not been seen on screen that would include news about the latest environmental and social problems. “That was the saturation we were talking about,” Foutz said.
It’s a message that was incredibly prescient.
“We were talking about the environment and guns and privacy, all these social issues that are the issues of today,” he said. “That was the driving force for me to do this [book] because it’s not just about nostalgia and the good old days.”
The film, which had a budget of just under $1 million, was to be produced by Dimension V, a new shingle by CMA’s Perry Leff. The company, however, was backed by mutual funds and soon collapsed due to financial problems.
Foutz said that when the plug was abruptly pulled, he felt like he “must have been Attila the Hun in my last incarnation.”
“You never have a movie until you have the answer print,” he added.
The film’s footage was subsequently lost and all that remains are a short showreel of scenes shot for the movie and a promo reel, largely shot at Trumbull’s studio Trumbull Film Effects. Stills from those are included in the book alongside images taken at the 1969 Space Convention shoot at Giant Rock by A&M art director Tom Wilkes, black-and-white production stills; and some Polaroids taken on set by cinematographer Bruce Logan, who later went on to work on Star Wars: A New Hope and Tron.
“Perry took possession of everything. He paid for it, he owned it,” said Foutz. “I had actually forgotten about Saturation 70 until Chris [Campion] found out about it. He found Perry Leff and he asked him what happened to all of this footage, and Perry had just moved from Beverly Hills to Bel-Air a year or two before Chris interviewed him and when he moved they had binned everything.”
Campion told Deadline that he thinks there’s a chance that there might be some more footage in Trumbull’s archive and is hoping to try and find it if it still exists.
Foutz was relatively sanguine at the time about the end of Saturation 70 and instead went on a round-the-world odyssey to shoot a film inspired by a drag boat racer in Long Beach.
“There was so much else going on in music and everything else, there was other stuff that we were thinking about,” he said. “I moved on; you can’t sit there at the stop sign.”
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