Featuring: Christo Roppolo, Dennis Deakin, Laurence Cefalu, Steve Cefalu, Jim Culcasi and Gregg Maldanado.
Director: Justin Gaar
Despite a title that vividly conjures a 50’s B-movie aesthetic, Justin Gaar’s documentary feature provides a great deal more than the thrilling, occasionally giggly charms of an old-school alien invasion pic (though it supplies a little bit of that, too). Dissecting an ageing, eccentric UFOlogist’s obsession with lights in the sky along California’s central coast, Curse of The Man Who Sees UFOs deftly combines the joyous ‘I Want to Believe’ ethos of fan-favourite X-Files episodes with an unexpected and ingratiatingly warm human insight.
From a purely cinematic perspective, endearing UFO nut, synth-music composer and part-time horror effects designer Christo Roppolo possesses the kind of boisterous personality and towering physicality that makes him the ideal on-camera subject. When Gaar (holding the camera and narrating, though never revealed) first meets the slightly bedraggled but infectiously enthusiastic Roppolo, the disorientation that the director experiences in the presence of such a larger-than-life, left-of-centre force of nature is palpable.
When Roppolo unleashes the unbridled passion that drives his obsession, the impact is breathtaking (and often laced with salty adjectives). This is partly because of his storytelling skill, as in one graphic recounting of public defecation that may have been brought on by the UFO presence; less funny are memories of a childhood visitation, when he describes ‘Bullwinkle the Moose’ confronting him and his terrified younger sibling. But it is his hours of legitimate footage of unexplained phenomena in the skies over Monterey, Pebble Beach and Pacific Grove that legitimises and fuels his fixation.
The content is largely the shaky-cam, long-zoom blurred-focus variety, but there is no denying that much is ‘unidentifiable’, including pulsating colours, red orbs and triangular shapes, often flying in perfect unison and exhibiting non-linear trajectories. Gaar adopts the crucial role of sceptic, accompanying the viewer through stages from broad disbelief to a succinct revelation-of-sorts. The director acknowledges that there is a military base nearby, but does not give screen time to Air Force whistle blowers or weather experts eager to explain away Roppolo’s often compelling vision.
Where Garr’s film soars is not in its account of flying saucer worship but in a second-act refocusing on Roppolo’s past, encompassing such unexpected thematic developments as artistic dreams unfulfilled, family tragedy and betrayal and emotionally crippling grief. Gaar contends that his subject’s myopic enthusiasm for and unique bond with the sky visitors may have a great deal to do with a soul-crushing period of sorrow. The director’s observations are perfectly positioned to enliven the narrative; they spin a likable study of a UFO enthusiast who may be onto something into a dissection of a man haunted by memories and struggling with the melancholy of ageing emotions.
A terrific debut work, Gaar’s film exposes not the facts behind the UFO craze, but a man determined to leave a lasting legacy from the remnants of a life that promised a great deal more. In searching for the truth out there, Curse of the Man Who Sees UFOs reveals that a more profound understanding of reality can be found in one man’s existence.
The film’s title, in fact, is perfectly appropriate, given that it captures the burden of Christo Roppolo’s misfortune in life, his proclivity for swearing when excited and the mixed blessing of being able to see what others can’t.