WHISPERS FROM SPACE (1995).
UFO Believers are usually lumped into the same 'Misguided Halfwit' category as Bigfoot Sighters and Dane Cook Fans, and this engrossing indie documentary makes the case that they're all gullible sadsacks in need of a life. Focusing on West Virginia eccentric and self-professed UFO expert Gray Barker, it's a cinematic vivisection of a disturbed huckster who helped create and profit from a cultural phenomenon. Alas, Barker 'left our planet'...er, died in 1984 at the age of 59, so he's unable to defend himself. It begins like a typical bio, amidst info on Barker's early life and interviews with backwoods friends and family. His flying saucer preoccupation began with a local legend dubbed the "Braxton Monster" -- a floating, glowing creature supposedly from a crashed UFO that received national media attention. Sensing a profitable trend, he began a magazine entitled "The Saucerian" in 1952 and jump-started the Men in Black urban legend with his book "They Knew Too Much About Flying Saucers." But it isn't long before the tone shifts, with various pot-shots at Barker's legacy. Was he an alcoholic? A closeted gay man? A total fraud who didn't even believe his own bullshit? Several colleagues and UFO aficionados are interviewed, and the most enlightening is James Moseley (featured on a '60s Joe Pyne compilation reviewed in SC#29), who explains that Barker didn't believe in this UFO garbage, wildly embellished stories in order to keep public interest alive, and even concocted a UFO hoax on State Department stationary! Hard to believe, Moseley (the current editor of "Saucer Smear") is the only voice of reason in sight, as he spills the beans about Barker's con man motivations and willingness to dupe naive suckers searching for a greater meaning in life. As Barker's timeline moves onto his bout with mental illness, some of the interviews get creepy (a flamboyant roommate blames Gray's legal problems involving sodomy and delinquency of minors on evil children!), but the biggest laugh comes from pathetic Richard Taylor, who boasts a "profound" connection to Barker and proudly shows off "genuine" flying saucer footage that looks like a 99¢ model kit swinging from a wire! Later, Moseley explains how he and Barker faked that crude film-clip back in the '60s and sold it to deluded saps! The b&w photography perfectly captures the subject matter's '50s veneer, but this 105-minute film could've used a good trimming, since (no surprise) those connected to Barker tend to ramble on a bit. Overall, it's a fitfully fascinating portrait of a sad, cynical and troubled "money-grubber" who created his own niche within fringe culture.
© 2007 by Steven Puchalski.