This 2002 documentary’s subtitle of ‘the quest for truth’ is a misnomer because its director William Gazecki isn’t particularly interested in the truth at all.
Instead Gazecki is bent on debunking the notion that crop circles – those ‘mysterious’ markings found in corn fields in Britain initially believed to be caused by UFOs – are in fact made by self-confessed hoaxers.
You see, in 1978 two guys from Southampton named Doug Bower and David Chorley dreamed up an elaborate hoax to make fun of UFO gullibles over a few pints at their local pub, the Percy Hobbes.
So they made a few crop circles meant to look like the imprints left behind by the ‘landing gear’ of a UFO at a nearby corn field. They did this by one of them simply holding the end of a piece of cord while the other walked around, dragging a heavy plank.
Their first few efforts went unnoticed and they were just about to give the whole thing up and try something else instead when the media finally caught a whiff of it and the entire crop circle phenomenon kicked off with a vengeance.
As time went on the two hoaxers would make more and more elaborate crop circles, which they designed in watercolours beforehand. At one point Bower’s wife grew suspicious of his mysterious nocturnal activities – so they took her along one evening and saved their marriage in the process.
Soon the crop circles started appearing in the United States, Canada, Bulgaria, Hungary, Japan, and the Netherlands too as copycat hoaxers emerged. The crop circles themselves spawned a minor cottage industry of its own.
Some scientists who should have known better tried to explain the phenomenon as being created by bizarre meteorological happenings. However, this explanation became strained as the designs grew more and more obviously artificial. Then the so-called cerealogists took over. These ‘experts’ claim that the circles are in fact made by superior alien intelligences trying to communicate with us.
Unfortunately Gazecki’s entire film consists of interviews with these UFO believers (although all of them are careful not to use that particular word, probably out of fear of being labelled as obvious kooks). Throughout the film’s entire two hours running time I kept on waiting for some of the self-confessed hoaxers to be interviewed, but alas, no such luck.
Even documentarian Michael Moore (of “Bowling for Columbine” infamy) who is often accused of being out to score ideological points makes an effort to interview those with opinions different to his own. In fact, his very first documentary the 1989 “Roger & Me” is in fact entirely about trying to obtain such an interview!
Gazecki does not offer his viewers one viewpoint that differs from his own. An hour-and-a-half into the film a woman kept droning on and on about something that sounded scientific, but I wasn’t knowledgeable enough on the topic to be quite sure. It was probably pseudoscientific gibberish, but it did sound dull enough to be real science though. My mind kept wandering to other topics – like what was I going to do afterwards – pretty much like science class in high school then.
I hung in there though, expecting one of the hoaxers that the movie slags off to be interviewed any moment now. When it became apparent that this wasn’t going to be the case, I gave up hope. This is a movie that definitely overstays its welcome.
Luckily for us director Gazecki is too clever to go for the overdramatic presenter/narrator option often employed in sensationalist UFO ‘documentaries’ and merely presents the material as it is. That is, unobjectively.
In 1991 Bower and Chorley grew tired of the hoax. Besides, by then they were already in their sixties. Also, I suspect they probably got tired of providing a meal ticket to a bunch of kooky charlatans. They confessed to the media and, with the cameras rolling, they created one of the more extravagant insectoid-like crop circles. Soon lots of other hoaxers – teenagers in Hungary for instance – also confessed.
As you might have gathered this hardly made a dent in the belief system of the various cerealogists. Sure, some of the crop circles may be man-made. But all of them? There are simply too many of them and they are way too complex to be the work of humans.
None of the various ‘authors’ and ‘scientists’ Gazecki interviews so much as mentions Occam’s razor – the simple rule-of-thumb which dictates that if two theories explain a set of data, then the simpler explanation must be the correct one. (For example, did the dog eat the boy’s homework – or was he simply too lazy to have done it in the first place?)
A journalist named Jim Schnabel investigated the whole scam for his 1994 book titled “Round in Circles” which is by all accounts quite a funny book. This probably would have made for a more interesting documentary than this one. Think a sort of “Mau Mau Sex Sex” meets “The X-Files” here, a quirky character study in the vein of the excellent “Mr Death” – much better documentaries than Gazecki’s (all of them reviewed on this site).
Incidentally Schnabel became hooked on making crop circles himself. He however prefers a garden roller to a wooden plank. Simply stomping the grain with one’s feet apparently also does the job. Chorley died in 1997 unfortunately, but his partner David Bower is still around.
It is a shame that a documentary like this still persist on the ‘alien intelligence’ explanation since the many crop circles shown in this film are quite spectacular and an art form in their own right. It’s like an artist not being given due credit.
Depressing really . . .