It was different then. Back in 1956, in an America full of confidence and an even greater sense of wonder, even the New York Times was willing to publish a review of a serious documentary on Flying Saucers. AH Weiler wrote in the review “the fact that truth can be more engrossing than fiction is quietly and effectively demonstrated in ‘Unidentified Flying Objects,’ which landed at the Mayfair yesterday.”
If “Unidentified Flying Objects” is not as startling as an imaginary invasion by tiny, green men with pointed heads, it does, however, leave an impression of restrained documentation that is instructive and sobering …
“Unidentified Plying Objects” is not a specially imaginative example of movie-making. But in avoiding sensationalism the producers have given dignity to the “credible observations of relatively incredible things.”
Even viewers who think UFOs and flying saucers are bunk will find the movie still functions, albeit unintentionally, as a very effective Time Machine. Through the magic of the Internet the viewer can go back to a time when you could walk up to an airplane on a runway, park a convertible all day in a street on Washington DC, work as a public information officer for the Air Force and still be journalist in good standing, and describe the defense of the United States from all enemies, foreign and domestic, terrestrial or extra-terrestrial with an entirely straight face.
Thrill to the sight of prop-driven F-51s circling around towers guided only by men looking out the window with binoculars. Marvel at an age when people took video on film in cameras that were made in the United States. Watching astounding scenes of people analyzing things by measuring angles, figuring distances and calling for information on telephones. Open the portals of memory to an age when Life Magazine and Look were read by millions of people nationwide.
Although the movie does not begin with LP Hartley’s famous lines, “the past is a foreign country: they do things differently there,” it could have. Indeed, the first impulse on watching the documentary is to rush out and look up, not at the sky, but at the street level. Where did it go, that other country? One is almost tempted to ask whether Flying Saucers really could have existed in the 1950s and have stopped existing for us today because we no longer have the wonder to reach for the stars.
But Weiler was right. “Unidentified Flying Objects” remains a convincing docudrama in its own way both on the subject of UFOs themselves and about the way we moderns have learned to look inwards, as if to gaze in any other direction were foolish. And strange though it may seem, the universe was a larger place then, in the 1950s. It was a time when people were willing to accept the possibility of man treating with God and settling other planets, as we would think of going down to the mall, back before it became crazy to think it.
Someone once remarked that people who lived more than a 100 years ago were not as stupid as we think. Perhaps that’s true even if they didn’t have Iphones. For most human history it was normal to wonder what was over the next hill, across the unconquered ocean and beyond the sea of sand. The heavens were our birthright and exploration our destiny.
Who could have guessed that in the 21st century, forty plus years after landing on the moon, NASA’s would be reduced to boosting the self-esteem of the Muslim world or that the most highly regarded minds of Western science would see it as as their unsacred duty to never let humanity stain the heavens with their nuclear power and nonecological ways. Perhaps Ezekiel did.
And when the cherubims went, the wheels went by them: and when the cherubims lifted up their wings to mount up from the earth, the same wheels also turned not from beside them. When they stood, these stood; and when they were lifted up, these lifted up themselves also: for the spirit of the living creature was in them. Then the glory of the LORD departed from off the threshold of the house, and stood over the cherubims.
Is it too late to follow in their fiery path? Probably. The carbon footprint would be too big.