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July 4, 2014

Movie Review: Mirage Men (2013)

Directed by John Lundberg, Roland Denning and Kypros Kypriano

Movie Review by Greg Goodsell

People desperately want to believe in life after death, that their pets love them, and that there is life on other planets. In doing so, they construct elaborate ideologies that have no basis in hard fact or logic – saying that such trivialities have no bearing on their hard-won belief systems. Into this vacuum, Richard C. Doty, former special agent for the Air Force Office of Special Investigations appears. He frequents UFO conventions and the like and appears as a sympathetic, articulate advocate for those who believe in Unidentified Flying Objects. Doty, of course, has a secret agenda – widely spreading disinformation involving flying saucers and alien greys in order to throw people off an even more sinister trail about the U.S. government.

One of the major characters in the fascinating documentary Mirage Men is retired military man Paul Bennewitz. Manipulated by Doty into believing the Earth has had visitors from another planet, poor Bennewitz is eventually led to the laughing academy as a result. What’s remarkable is that these seemingly normal, even gifted people can be led astray with stories that have no basis in fact or logic. As presented in “Mirage Men,” a very trumped-up report involving American astronauts visiting the inhabited worlds of Saturn doesn’t bear scrutiny, even on a subpar “science-fiction for young readers” level, and yet many people believed in it.

Mirage Men focuses on Doty, a plump, bespectacled man who cheerfully admits to lying on many levels. As an interview subject, he admits to numerous falsehoods perpetuated by the U.S. government while at that same time remaining unwaveringly steadfast on other parts of his fantastical story. Is Doty lying? Is Doty presenting falsehoods interspersed with the truth? How do we really know fact from fiction, which is at times entirely subjective?

Mirage Men, based upon the book “Mirage Men: An Adventure into Paranoia, Espionage, Psychological Warfare, and UFOs” by Mark Pilkington, moves along well. There are some clues as to its low budget; the producers were only able to come up with a single photograph of Paul Bennewitz, which is used over and over again in the manner of a rushed E! Entertainment documentary. Footage is considerably beefed up with countless clips from such government-funded educational shorts. Black-and-white footage of Americans going about in the manner of what their government dictated to them in the ugly fashions of the late 1940s, early 1950s recalls the classic documentary The Atomic CafĂ© (“When the H-Bomb comes … Duck and Cover!”) of 1982.

Altogether, Mirage Men proffers lots of questions but is at a loss as to why the U.S. government – working with other governments, would expand all this energy is spreading lies and falsehoods to a community that is of little importance. The majority of the UFO and conspiracy theory buffs that this writer has personally met, with rare exception, are just a few steps away from pushing shopping carts with all of their belongings down the street. In a rare moment of rationality, reporter and documentarian Linda Moulton Howe floats the possibility that the story of disinformation is itself disinformation to dissuade people from asking about UFOs.

A related documentary that this reviewer found much more fascinating is Whispers from Space (1995). Focusing on “UFO-logist” Gray Barker, Whispers form Space details on how Barker, a conflicted gay man living in rural Virginia, cooked up various fascinating conspiracy theories involving flying saucers. Barker was credited with coming up with the term “Men in Black” to explain away government agencies covering up evidence about extraterrestrial visitors. Eventually Barker would build a fawning national and international fan base who would gobble up his plainly faked home movie footage of flying saucers (a Barker cohort is shown bobbing a toy spacecraft on fishing line to show how it was done) and ludicrous stories. Barker grew weary of it all, passing away at the age of 59 in 1984 from AIDS.

Both Doty and Barker, it would seem, owe a great debt to Plan 9 from Outer Space’s (1959) phony psychic Criswell. Admitting that he couldn’t look out the window and tell what the weather was like that particular day, Criswell appeared to justify his legacy of horseshit with the handy sign out, “Can you PROVE it didn’t happen …?” Well, can you?

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