Documentaries used to be so dang serious. But somewhere down the line, the mating habits of dung beetles gave way to comedy. Turns out legit documentaries CAN have overt comedic elements like Michael Moore's look at the demise of Flint, Michigan in Roger and Me. And from my home town in East Texas, there's Hands on a Hardbody, which tells the wacky tale of contestants vying to win a truck by being the last one standing beside it with at least one hand touching the vehicle at all times. Filmmakers just continue monkeying with the IDEA of documentaries, including completely phony takes like the legendary This Is Spinal Tap. But probably the greatest docu-comedy of late is an unblinking, hilarious journey into the world of "Star Trek" fanaticism called Trekkies. And the documentarians dern near top themselves with a similar foray into fringe culture called Six Days in Roswell (1999, 81 minutes). What separates their work from other "true" documentaries, is the introduction of comedic actors, some completely imagined, others are just amplified versions of REAL people like Richard Kronfeld the film's star.
The movie: Fifty years ago, the military announced that a UFO crashed (or was shot down) near Roswell, New Mexico -- after word spread, serious back-peddling ensued, and the other-worldly craft was deemed merely a weather balloon. Almost ever since, the sleepy little town of Roswell has become a mecca for UFO fanatics -- especially during the 50th anniversary celebration in 1997, and Minnesotan Rich Kronfeld was among the descending hordes. He's an awkward, charmingly naive dweeb in corduroy pants, who still lives in his mother's basement, fiddling with his collection of antiquated audio/visual equipment. Rich digs space. He LOVES "Star Trek." In fact, he's the fella in Trekkies with the Captain Pike chair, and he even enters it as a float in the Hopkins Raspberry Festival parade. Rich decides he'd like to be abducted by aliens, and the best way he figures, is to travel to ground zero -- Roswell. It's through his perspective that viewers experience the full zaniness of space-alien mania. He takes us to the actual (maybe sorta) crash site where one can marvel at rock, dirt, brush and the occasional jack rabbit. Rich interviews countless folks who believe that they've either seen a flyin' saucer, or been probed by the little green bastards. We also meet UFO experts like "Communion" author Whitley Strieber and Stanton Friedman a nuclear physicist who began the civilian investigation of the crash back in the '70s, and who co-authored "Crash at Corona: The Definitive Story of the Roswell Incident." There's also the Alien EXPO with dealer tables featuring all things extraterrestrial (as one exhibitor says, "We put 'alien' on it. It sells.") Rich ends each night, recording his findings in his journal, back at the motor home he has to share with the dogs of the strange old man he's renting it from (as all the motels are booked solid.) The wildly silly adventure ends with the most startling event of the trip: "Roswell, The Musical."
Notables: No breasts. Multiple dead Martians. Belly dancing. Alien heavy-metal band. Two examples of pancake humor. Yodeling. One fireworks display. Gratuitous manure footage. Deep-chakra massage.
Quotables: A Roswell pilgrim sums up the famous crash, "It's incredible, because what might have happened, might have happened." Stanton Friedman gets heavy, "They're not here to help us, or hurt us, but to quarantine us." Seems the sky's the limit, "We will, one day, be the Disney World of the alien environment." Trekker in full Klingon garb on the whole scene, "I think they're looking for some form of spirituality -- and to make a lot of money."
Time codes: Minnesota governor candidate Jessie Ventura marches for votes in the Raspberry Festival parade (13:29). Rich hones his marksmanship skills (27:35). Fun with double entendre (34:22). Famed abductee Whitley Strieber (52:00). Alien meets Jesus (1:05:00). "Roswell, The Musical" (1:08:28).
Audio/Video: They did an excellent job with the digital transfer which is said to preserve its original fullframe ratio (however, outtakes included on the disc are presented in widescreen). Solid, utilitarian Dolby Digital 2.0 audio track, with the only blemish being a bit of static popping during the rock concert.
Extras: It'd be easier to list what this disc DOESN'T have. What a fan's feast! The commentary with filmmakers Timothy B. Johnson and Roger Nygard and star Richard Kronfeld is as funny as the movie itself. They guide viewers through the mix of reality and fiction, pointing out their actor friends, explaining why the mixture of genres was even necessary in their minds. They also establish that, yes, Rich IS a real person. The hijinks continue in the 20-minute "An Experiment in the Desert: The Making of Six Days in Roswell." There's an outtake reel with 36 minutes of footage easily as good as anything in the flick. Check out the early works of Tim, Roger and Rich with a variety of clips and film shorts including Johnson's childhood 8mm "Victory for the Frog" which features stop-motion animation of Star Wars toys. 15 photos with captions. Cast bios. UFO notes. Critic quotes. Trailers. Static menus without audio.
Final thought: Danged brilliant. Fantastic flick that just gets funnier with every viewing. Rich is masterfully quirky, with a wry wit that expertly bleeds every bizarre Roswell encounter of its last drop of absurdity. Highly Recommended.
G. Noel Gross is a Dallas graphic designer and avowed Drive-In Mutant who specializes in scribbling B-movie reviews. Noel is inspired by Joe Bob Briggs and his gospel of blood, breasts and beasts.