austin_dern (austin_dern) wrote,
austin_dern
austin_dern

My flying saucer I pray this night you will sail back before the day gets bright

The producers of Unidentified Flying Objects: The True Story Of Flying Saucers --- Clarence Greene and Russell Rouse --- have not the slightest doubt that flying saucers are real, are from outer space, and are hovering around the United States this very day (1956). This utter sincerity about the mystery floating around drives the whole film, which insists itself to be a documentary, and even has real actual flying saucer footage to show, which the middle stanza of the overly long prologue backed by Vaguely Stirring Kinda Military-Ish Music explains ``will be made available to established Scientific Research Institutions upon request.'' Lest you still somehow doubt their sincerity, ``The Producer has placed the original documents supporting this Motion Picture in the custody of TITLE INSURANCE and TRUST COMPANY, Los Angeles, Calif.'' So there.

Now picture that extended for about eighty minutes. The film is chock full of pictures of people looking up at things and pointing, and dramatic recreations featuring people who are clearly not actors reading off REAL OFFICIAL TRANSCRIPTS of investigations. What happens over and over is there's reconstruction of someone seeing something, and hearing reconstructions of what air traffic control thought about it, and then some explanations of how this was moving at fantastic speed and could not possibly be birds or Jupiter or ice in the sky from the narrator while real actual footage of people being interviewed, or documents being stamped SECRET, or city streets outside buildings are presented on screen. Over and over and over. In the midsection it turns into the biography of a guy who became the public information officer for flying saucer stuff and keeps getting more stuff to deal with.

One pleasant thing about the movie is that there's none of the modern suspicion of conspiracy or cover-up. The producers think the United States is not paying enough attention to this problem, but they don't think there's anything inherently suspicious about it. It's refreshing to hear flying saucer talk that's just about the mystery of what's in the skies, not, why won't they release the Roswell Eight? (Roswell, of course, gets no mention at all, since the movie was made in the 50s, and flying saucer enthusiasts hadn't discovered Roswell yet.) And there are striking moments of intellectual honesty: one long, talky segment with Uniformed Air Force Entity Man explains how a mysterious object was demonstrated to be Jupiter. This is part of the endlessly explained process of proving how reliable and thorough everyone is, and how reliable the witnesses are, and how thorough the investigations are, as many as fourteen times per sentence. There are also a lot of attempts to put out numbers with decimals into the dialogue, because lots of decimals proves how good the science is.

There are two really --- non-ironically --- good segments. One is set at air traffic control, again, as an airplane is talked in from the ground. It's an ordinary ground-controlled approach, for an ordinary flight with low visibility. However, it's --- to my untrained eye --- just played straight, showing the remarkable way that people can fly an airplane using nothing but electronics. It's something amazing most of us never see, and just witnessing that is great, at least until it touches down and turns into a model out of focus.

The other is based on REAL ACTUAL TRANSCRIPTS from a fighter sent to intercept a flying saucer over Washington, DC, from the July 1952 when there was this (now-forgotten) epidemic of flying saucers over Washington. Here it just sticks in air traffic control while a fighter tries to engage and encounter and maybe even bring down one. Obviously nothing came of this, but the scene --- superficially, just, grey people in a grey office with a limited amount of dialogue, half of it from a radio speaker --- is tension, the pure stuff. Movie makers are so prone to showing exciting stuff happening, by which they mean explosions, that they forget how thrilling it can be to savor the feeling of not knowing what's going on, and just having a slender thread of information while potentially --- literally --- world-shaking events are going on. The style was undoubtedly imposed on them by the lack of stock footage of jets chasing flying saucers, but the effect was of Kubrickian hypnotic power: people in systems facing things they can't control. It's disappointing when they go back to mock newspapers about the JETS READY TO CHASE LIGHTS with the immortal minor story, ``New Petitions Against Tax''.

The movie teases having some actual color footage of real flying saucers taken by people who prove their credibility by droning on for hours about their selection of f-stops and speak of their secretaries as Miss Jenkins, while having other people talk about how reliable they are. It's teased that the film will be shown mid-film, as part of the information officer's inconclusive journey, but that's a rank tease. Maybe a frame of the ``real'' footage is shown mid-film. They do, though, show the films a couple of times over, including in slow motion, at the end, where they look like every bit of real flying saucer footage ever, a couple bright dots moving in the sky filmed on 16 mm at a weird f-stop. Surely this flock of birds is proof of extraterrestrial visitors!

Make no mistake. This is a weird artifact of a film. It's utterly nonsense, yet perfectly sincere; a documentary made up of reconstructions of things that didn't happen; even a branch of flying saucer belief that's been forgotten by the more exciting and sensational sides of things. The result is fascinating watching, and good stuff for that juvenile part of one that still checks the night sky for mysterious discs and accepts that it's just Venus all over again.

Trivia: Milan of Kroton, a wrestler, won an Olympic crown in 540 BCE as a boy, and then again in 532, 528, 524, 520, and 516 BCE. He competed in 512, but lost to his disciple, Timasitheos, who was 28 years old. (He also won seven titles at Delphi, 9 at Nemea, and ten at Isthmia.) Source: Encyclopedia of the Modern Olympic Movement, Editors John E Findling, Kimberly D Pelle.

Currently Reading: The Great Lakes Triangle, Jay Gourley. Piece of mid-70s mild crackpottery about how yeah, you think the Bermuda Triangle is something but how about all the ships and planes that vanish in or around the Great Lakes. Which could be fun, except that it's 180 pages of laborious introducing the captain or pilot and giving the measurements of the ship or plane, reporting its last known location, and then ``and it was never heard from again'', and some padding explaining that the crew was excellent and professional and the weather so fantastically clear that the fantastic clearness was still being spoken of decades later, and so on. Pass.

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