MIRAGE MEN review - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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To paraphrase The X-Files, is the truth out there? Matthew Kresal reviews the recently released documentary Mirage Men.

Fans of science fiction will no doubt be aware of the influence of UFO lore upon the genre. It can be felt in films ranging from Close Encounters Of The Third Kind and Independence Day to TV shows like The X Files and Dark Skies. But truth, as the saying goes, is often stranger than fiction. When it comes to the UFO phenomenon and the various topics associated with it, that would most certainly appear to be the case. The recently released documentary film Mirage Men, based on interviews conducted for the 2010 book of the same name by Mark Pilkington, certainly proves that the real world can produce tales as strange as any you are likely to encounter from science fiction.

Mirage Men explores more than sixty years of US government involvement in the UFO phenomenon but it doesn't so with the typical conspiratorial overtones. While it touches upon everything from rumors of secret government bases to crashed UFOs, it really looks at something just as compelling but often overlooked - how the phenomenon has been manipulated, especially by groups and agencies within the government itself.

The main focus of the documentary is Richard Doty, a former agent of the Air Force Office Of Special Investigations (AFSOI) and how Doty and some of his colleagues in the 1980s were responsible for helping to foster much of what is today part of the lore that has become synonymous with UFOs. For example, it presents what one interviewee calls the “sad, strange, horrible” true story of Albuquerque, New Mexico electronics engineer and UFO researcher Paul Bennewitz who, having filmed and recorded transmissions from what he thought were UFOs over an Air Force Base, was targeted by Doty and his colleagues to the point of being driven virtually insane, having come to believe an alien invasion was imminent from underground bases in New Mexico including the (in)famous Dulce Base.

The Bennewitz story is just the tip of the iceberg. The documentary explores the efforts Doty and his colleagues made around the same time with others including UFO researcher William Moore (who is notable for being one of the original investigators of the Roswell Incident) who made a Faustian bargain that involved him spying on others in the UFO research community in an attempt to get information out of the government. Another example is investigative journalist Linda Moulton Howe who, having produced the Emmy Award winning documentary A Strange Harvest on cattle mutilations and preparing a documentary on the UFO topic in the 1980s, was given documents by Doty claiming humans had been genetically altered by aliens. Along the way there's also an exploration of cattle mutilations with the odd origins of that sideline of the UFO story and ends by exploring the alleged human/alien exchange program Project Serpo, which appears to be just the most recent addition of disinformation to UFO lore.

The question the documentary really tries to answer is a simple one: why do any of this at all? Is it just a series of cover stories to protect any number of things from the early development of stealth technology in the 1980s to drones in more recent times? Is it to cover up what the US government actually knows about UFOs? Or is the truth somewhere in the middle perhaps, having been  irrevocably distorted by the ongoing need for “national security”?

In the end, Mirage Men doesn't have all the answers nor claims to have them. What it does present on the other hand is a fascinating look at how the UFO phenomenon, whatever the truth behind it might be, has been manipulated and often so by the very government that officially claims they don't exist at all. Ultimately then, Mirage Men shows that, as The X Files told us, the truth is out there but it may very well be stranger than anything we could imagine.

Matthew Kresal lives in North Alabama where he's a nerd, doesn't have a southern accent and isn't a Republican. He's a host of both the Big Finish centric Stories From The Vortex podcast and the 20mb Doctor Who Podcast. You can read more of his writing at his blog and at The Terrible Zodin fanzine, amongst other places.

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