"'Property of Marvin'? Oh, he'll
be very angry, very angry indeed!"
The good people who made the comical documentary Trekkies return with an even more comical, but slightly less documentary, feature. Six Days in Roswell was filmed in 1997 during the 50th anniversary celebration of the alleged flying saucer crash near the town of Roswell, New Mexico. The main character of the movie is Rich Kronfeld, a strange young man who showed up in Trekkies. You may remember him as the guy who built his own mobile model of the "futuristic" wheelchair Captain Pike used in the original Star Trek series. He's back and this time he says that he wants to be abducted by aliens, so he's going to Roswell, New Mexico, for the celebration of the fiftieth anniversary of the supposed UFO crash there.
The movie follows Kronfeld's pilgrimage, where he spends as much time as possible attending all the festivities and talking to people, trying to figure out how he might arrange to be abducted.
Unidentified Flatbread Object.
The documentary crew interviewed (or filmed Kronfeld meeting or watching) practically every luminary in the field of Roswell studies. We see Whitley Strieber, the professional author who wrote the book Communion and became arguably the central figure in the alien abduction phenomenon; Karl Pflock, contributing editor of Saucer Smear; Kevin Randle, author of the recently released Roswell Encyclopedia; Budd Hopkins, the psychologist who has written many of the standard books on alien abductions; and Stanton Freidman, the man who is perhaps most responsible for the publication and popularization of the Roswell crash.
And "popularization" is the right word. Or perhaps pop-culture-ization. Almost nothing we see at the celebration has anything to with the Roswell crash, even if we assume that an alien spaceship did eat dirt outside of town. If an alien spaceship really did crash here, it should be the most important event in the history of humankind, but what we get instead are embarrassing haircuts and pancake-eating contests. While the traditional "gray" type aliens are certainly common, nearly everyone who has a shiny wig and bodysuit is in Roswell, celebrating their own idea of what an alien is.
Transportation by Rubbermaid.
As the movie goes on we get one unmistakable impression -- nearly everyone gathered in Roswell is there to make some money from everyone else. Kronfeld is fleeced by local man Norm Matheson, who wants to charge Kronfeld $200 a night to stay in his motor home. Kronfeld buys special alien beef jerky, Kronfeld buys fireworks (the gathering was over July 4th weekend), Kronfeld pays to see the original crash site. Kronfeld asks how much crystals charged with the "energy" of the crash site would cost, etc. When our star-struck protagonist notes to one vendor that the UFO he is selling looks a lot like an X-Wing fighter from Star Wars, the vendor replies, "We put the word 'alien' on it, and it sells."
This movie is funny, very funny. Director Timothy Johnson and cohort/producer Roger Nygard have a gift for finding the weirdest bits of Americana and packaging them into an entertaining story -- we found ourselves reminded of the books of Jane and Michael Stern. The story here is somewhat staged, because a quick check of the movie's official site shows that Kronfeld is not really the alien-obsessed loser he appears to be, but rather something of a performance artist. He's a human catalyst who prompts the people he meets into saying and doing ridiculous things. Still, even if it is a put-on, it's a funny put-on. We're not sure if Kronfeld really collects vintage electronics and school filmstrips ("Exciting Bulletin Boards, part one and part two -- part one is better"), but he certainly plays his part well enough to be accepted by everyone in Roswell.
"Sorry, that's just not the look
we're going for in this
production of My Fair Lady. Next!"
The fact that Kronfeld is playing a character adds humor, but once we figured that fact out, we began to wonder what else was staged. There is one scene in which two guys show up outside one of the convention centers with pro-government signs. This rubs a lot of the Roswell attendees wrong, because mistrust of the government has become a major theme of the Roswell experience, sometimes even eclipsing the alien aspects. We leave these two guys after the police have taken their signs away because they were inciting a riot, and they seem a bit disillusioned that the "government" they were trying to get people to trust has confiscated their personal property. Is this on the level? We're not sure, as the police are never seen on screen.
Those who grumble about the filmmakers' "betrayal" of the documentary format through their fictionalized central character are the same people who kibitzed at Titanic's historical inaccuracies. Sometimes such elements need to be jettisoned for the sake of entertainment, and Six Days in Roswell is highly entertaining. Besides, it's not as if the film is a serious endeavor to resolve the question of whether the Roswell crash was real. It's more an exploration of Roswell's more obvious strange visitors -- the ones from planet Earth.
* Though occasionally we see flashes of skepticism, even when he's in character. Kronfeld visits an organization that spends all of its time recording the skies around Roswell, and claims to have recorded hundreds of hours of UFO footage. Looking at one tape, Kronfeld observes that the UFO's look like swans in formation. The person showing him the tape replies that only a skeptic would look for another explanation. Go back!