When I was seventeen, my skies were full of George Adamski’s saucers and Jesse Marcel’s crashing Greys, all monitored by things wearing immaculate suits and the faces of men. The Truth was always out there, just out of sight and always on the verge of being revealed. The aliens hadn’t landed on the White House lawn but they were definitely on their way. Seventeen years later, they’re still on the way and apparently bringing the awful truth about the star gate under the Persian Gulf and the half-dolphin super-soldiers being created to fight the upcoming wars with the creatures that live beneath the Earth and regularly menace NASA employees with them. UFOlogy is a million ring circus, the possibility of finding something interesting buried far too often beneath the sort of conspiracy theory that tends to veer into ‘They come for our women and anal cavities!’ territory. In fact, the only thing worse than that is when something interesting is genuinely uncovered only for it to be reported on in a way which boggles belief in the age of the cameraphone. Lenses unfocus, pictures never come out, microphones are turned off and The Truth remains something which is always at one remove from you. Urban myths like it out there, and they’re in no hurry to be dragged out into the light of day, or, at the very least, under a decent CCTV camera.
Enter the Fresno Nightcrawlers, stage left, moving very oddly.
In late 2008, Jose, a Fresno resident, was woken late at night by his dogs barking in a very unusual way. When he checked the CCTV fitted to his house, he saw two odd creatures walking across his lawn. Jose was terrified but kept the tape and, eventually, approached Univision 21, a local TV channel about the incident. They, in turn, contacted Victor Camacho, a local UFO investigator and member of international body MUFON whose talk on the case brought it out into the open in 2008.
That holy trinity of separation, investigator to confidant to witness is very common, the information still held frustratingly out of arm’s reach and the situation isn’t helped any by some of the editing choices made on the video. For no readily apparent reason, a second of footage of an animatronic grey alien is used as a scene buffer, Camacho even apologising for this. Even worse, the footage itself is never spliced into the report. Instead, at several points we watch the footage from Jose’s CCTV camera being played on a TV which is in turn being filmed by another camera, the image all but lost beneath huge pixels, interference and a frankly surreal editing decision. It’s not even like the rest of the film hasn’t been post-produced, after all someone thought a second of animatronic Grey would be a good idea, but for some reason no one thought to splice in the original footage.
What’s tragic about this is that the Fresno Nightcrawlers might just be something incredible. The camera watches a tall, thin creature with no arms walk slowly across the lawn, stop and then proceed onwards. A few seconds later, a creature which looks for all the world like a billowing pair of trousers follows it, the flaps of it’s clothing, or body, clearly visible blowing in the wind. It’s less than two minutes long, you can barely see what’s there but what’s there looks strange, different, alien. If it’s a fake, it’s a great fake and the more you look, or squint, the more you see exactly how odd these creatures are. There’s a natural gait to their walk’ and they appear almost relaxed, ambling through Jose’s garden in the same way that people browse in a shop. They look confident, assured and crucially you see them moving for a relatively long time, something which is all but unheard of with most ‘alien’ videos. A couple of seconds, if you’re lucky, is usually all you get but here you get a clear view, a locked off camera and a chance to take a good look at whatever is using Jose’s lawn as a shortcut. Or you would do, if anyone had thought to encode the original film and upload it. Instead, you’re left squinting at something which might be incredibly important, on a TV screen, being filmed and shown on another TV screen. The million ring circus strikes again, the truth stays just outside the light.
But for all that, I keep coming back to the Fresno Nightcrawlers and their oddly polite amble through Jose’s garden. I’m fascinated by what they could be certainly, but the stage magician in me is curious as to how it was faked, if it was. An episode of Fact or Faked looked at the case and ruled out puppets and a person in a costume but nonetheless, if it is faked, it’s a fantastic piece of work, somewhere between a performance piece and digital art. What haunts me about it though, is its banality; these ridiculous, geometric creatures, collections of white stick limbs and cloth, look a little rubbish in a completely convincing way. They amble, they stop, one of them rushes to catch up with the other. They look for all the world like tourists walking down a foreign street and there’s something rather charming about that. To paraphrase the old line, perhaps they’ve not only been here for a long time, they’ve done some sightseeing. I hope they got an I HEART FRESNO bumper sticker.