Friday, March 7, 2014

On Their Own

A reader (whom I'll be happy to identify by name in this space, should he wish to grant permission) recently questioned me about something indirectly related to a substantial issue -- the use of stock film footage in motion pictures.  Stock films and photos are generally in the public domain or available to a production staff from some source for a fee, or simply for a mention in the end credits.  The inclusion of stock images can greatly enhance a motion picture's message when alternative sources are just not available or beyond the director's reach for legal reasons, or merely because the ownership contact at a location where one wishes to film refuses to cooperate for any variety of reasons.

Of course, the use of stock music in movies is also well known.  The creepy background music for the original George Romero film, Night of the Living Dead, depended greatly upon stock music as a mood enhancer and scare tactic, and the implementation of stock music is noted in the original soundtrack (LP)album.

As the motion picture, U.F.O." was being developed and eventually produced between 1954 and 1956, a major obstacle became clear:  There would be no official government cooperation for producers Clarence Greene or Russell Rouse. 

To the current day, it's widely common for U.S. government officials to go "all out" to provide locations and in-your-face production values for movies intended to put the government or military in a "good light" -- but woe, unspoken brickbats and denials to scripts taking an opposite view.  In fact, this acknowledged practice has been and is still being discussed by Robbie Graham (of the Web site Silver Screen Saucers) and his colleagues in the film industry.

But -- a major motion picture about UFOs and recognition that in the early fifties some higher-ups believed the U.S. government should be on the verge of 'fessing up about "saucers" representing an extraterrestrial source?  Government cooperation?  Fat chance!

Indeed, the reader's query sent me back to my old faded and submarginal (especially for handwritten notes) photocopy of Tom Towers' script, and as I flipped through more than 100 pages from beginning to end, every spot where fresh filming would have been ideal was sacrificed instead for the use of stock film footage.  This was no accident or oversight.

Long after the movie's release, Air Force documents surfaced indicating official fears about "U.F.O." and the negative publicity it was expected to generate regarding the government's position on the phenomenon.  As it turned out, Clarence Greene's documentary pretty much bombed at the box office and any potential public uproar of consequence did not materialize -- as the government continued to dismiss and deny, as per Robertson Panel (1953) protocol, by the time the early fifties' frank official honesty had all but disappeared.

Greene realized from the outset, even after enlisting the help of notables Edward Ruppelt, Dewey Fournet, Al Chop and others with previous government UFO investigation experience, that official cooperation would not be forthcoming.  As a result,, other than the weekend that Tom Towers spent filming exterior "walking around" scenes in Washington, D.C., stock film footage fills a lot of production nooks and crannies.  Such file footage in "U.F.O." includes exterior Pentagon scenes, Wright-Patterson AFB, runway shots, Air Materiel Command, miscellaneous Washington scenes, F-51 aircraft and other military planes, views of military pilots (!), plus a laboratory and work table.  In addition, scenes involving a darkroom (I'm not sure that some of these made it into the movie's final cut), projection room, Washington Airport and the White House were file footage, as were scenes showing a busy Pentagon switchboard.

Topping off this mosaic of old footage was obvious newsreel material of General John A. Samford and others.

The funny thing is, were Clarence Greene alive today (and it is my understanding that he died in a nursing home years ago, virtually broke financially, and perhaps a broken man in other Hollywood ways), attempting to remake "U.F.O." nearly 60 years later -- this time, armed with awesome computerized special effects and digital cinematography unimaginable in the fifties -- the government would still slam the door of cooperation.  What's changed since 1956?  Well, with the addition of the TSA, DARPA, NSA steroid-level spy abilities and all manner of who-knows-what -- I think you can guess.