Wednesday, September 12, 2007
UFO: Movie in the Mist
In a way, it's like a dream. No, actually it is a dream, the kind that only poses as still life for a split-second: The misty vision of a faded metallic exterior, a disc shape entwined in the cobwebs of antiquity. No, it isn't a UFO, just a film container, one of several, stubbornly protective for over 50 years of the motion picture reel inside. All but forgotten by theater patrons shortly after a lukewarm international premiere, the film's faint glow lives on now only because the people who know about UFO history provide the interest, the cinematic spark of life -- life support itself -- for its resurrection. Yellowed promotional material carries the full title: "UFO: The True Story of Flying Saucers." But most of us just call the movie "U.F.O." The dream, the Gothic mist, the cobwebs mysteriously unoccupied by the phantom spiders who allegedly spun them into angel hair, how cunningly they enhance the terrifying wrinkles of time, all the while concealing things of paramount importance. . .
A change of plans. My original intent here was to regularly include documents and photos relating to the 1956 full-length documentary motion picture, "U.F.O." But as you and I have continued sharing so many miscellaneous documents and events through the months, exploring other areas of the UFO subject, it's become clear that this unique and important film deserves its own Internet site. The "downside" right now is that I still need to find items filed away decades ago, and time to put it all together is another consideration because I really want to keep the current blog going until most of what I feel essential is posted. Having warned you initially of what an un-pack rat I would be with this blog, I harbor no illusions that some of my "essentials" don't qualify as your essentials, of course.
However, I do want to offer something of a prelude to tease you a bit, so the least I can do is offer a few paragraphs about my interest in the movie and my relationship as a writer to it. I'll remind you, too, that if you go to nicap.org and enter my name in the search engine, you can find my two oldest articles (now with photos) from the seventies about "U.F.O." NICAP's page of items for sale, with all contributions going to support the NICAP site, offers the movie itself, too.
Should you prefer a French translation, or if you don't understand French but want to impress your friends by telling them that you read and understood every word offered in that language (!), the site, ufologie.net offers my earliest movie article (" 'UFO' Revisited") in both French and English versions.
Now, allow me a few paragraphs to introduce you to my interest in the film. . .
About The 1956 Movie "U.F.O."
by Robert Barrow
When I first saw the 1956 United Artists documentary motion picture, "U.F.O." on TV in the mid-sixties, I could hardly believe my eyes. UFO history had been my interest as a teenager for a while, but I never even heard of this seemingly obscure film. Yet, it held a spellbinding attraction for me. Because much about it concerned the real life of Air Force spokesman Albert M. Chop, whose hardened skepticism transformed into overt acceptance of UFOs as a real phenomenon with apparent intelligence behind its identity, Chop was always of interest to me. I wanted to ask him a few questions about his life and the movie based in large part on his government work.
Locating him wasn't difficult because he worked for NASA in public relations at the time, even announcing the occasional space launch on national TV as the "voice of mission control." Al sent back a very nice letter and his sincerity was abundant.
Within three years I was into a four-year Air Force enlistment, but never dismissed the importance of the movie, "U.F.O." That's why, eventually fortunate enough to write a few national magazine articles, I broached the idea of a movie update article to Official UFO Magazine. The proposal was approved and ultimately I contacted people in some 12 states and 17 cities.
The February, 1977 issue of Official UFO carried the lengthy results months later in my article, " 'UFO' Revisited," offering interviews with such movie participants as Al Chop himself, Tom Towers (the actor who played Chop), American Airlines pilot Willis T. "Doc" Sperry (experienced a dramatic UFO encounter), Maj. Dewey Fournet (original UFO project monitor for the government project) and producer Clarence Greene.
A few months later, using the London pressbook's synopsis of the movie and adding a few update details here and there -- in addition to some new visuals that did not appear in the Official UFO article -- Argosy UFO carried my second piece on Clarence Greene's feature-length motion picture in its Winter 1977-78 issue.
A third article, intended to complete a trilogy on the movie with focus primarily on lead actor Tom Towers, met disaster when I submitted it to Saga Magazine's UFO Report. Stuffed with rare visuals, some absolutely irreplaceable, the package was "lost in the mail" according to editors. I was devastated and gave up on the project at that point.
In 2005 I was invited to write an update article on the movie for the J. Allen Hynek Center for UFO Studies, and in January, 2006 the piece appeared in Volume 30, #2 of the International UFO Reporter. In 2006, I pulled out the old unpublished article about Tom Towers, now long deceased (approx. 1991), in hope of at least memorializing this interesting man. The piece appeared in August, 2006, in Volume 30, #4 of the International UFO Reporter.
The movie, which used to appear sporadically on cable TV, saw release on videotape in 2000 by MGM Home Video, but it was discontinued about three years later with no DVD ever issued (the NICAP memorial web site does sell copies, with all receipts used to support this important non-profit project).
Why should we care about "U.F.O." so much, and why does it represent more than just a movie? There are two enticing reasons. First, this 1956 documentary, now more than 50 years of age, is a brilliantly shining beacon that establishes and endorses the early history of UFOs in the USA -- a time when the U.S. government seemed "this close" to telling the American people that UFOs are real, with intelligence behind their maneuvers, and perhaps of extraterrestrial origin. With several former government and military people who lived the story of the UFO behind this film's production, the efforts of every serious UFO researcher who ever dared to confront the UFO enigma are legitimized forever.
Second, "U.F.O." reflects American history, plain and simple. This documentary deserves a prominent spot in both the Library of Congress and the motion picture industry because of its integrity and, not to be ignored, its implications. Based soberly upon the government concern once openly exhibited for a still very much unexplained phenomenon, this old movie has the potential one day to be the most important motion picture ever made. If the U.S. government ever discloses the same facts it was on the verge of revealing in the early fifties -- with even just the minimum of details -- "U.F.O." will be the ultimate silver screen reminder that our existence, our science and our very lives pale in comparison to things we can't even imagine.
(Even more information on the film may be found by following the link below to the "UFO Updates" section of the Virtually Strange Network, where I commented extensively in a 2002 post.)