Alex Chionetti, his khaki field vest and bronzed skin lending him the aspect of an anthropologist fresh in from the dig, is having difficulty with his audience.
His nighttime video is blurry and shakes. The footage purportedly shows what Chionetti calls "the entity in the cornfield," said entity being a humanoid figure from space at a site of alleged multiple UFO landings in a field in Metepec, Mexico, in September, 1994.
Well, it might be. Then again, the entity also looks like Snoopy with a flashlight under his sheet--dancing, as it were, in the dark.
Could we have some science, please?
There are complicating factors associated with this footage, Chionetti notes. It was shot from behind the apartments of village residents who were frightened in preceding days by a UFO landing at the same cornfield site, and the best camera gear and photosensitive films were not available.
Chionetti runs a separate video, this time shot in clear daylight, showing a blighted area of the cornfield in which unnamed investigators are holding up wilted pumpkin vines--the broad leaves blistered by some unfamiliar kind of heat or energy.
"We're analyzing samples of these leaves at a scientific institute at a university there," says Chionetti, again naming no names.
Back to the Snoopy shot, with the words "Programmas de Investigation" authoritatively printed on the TV screen, Chionetti's narration becomes determined, even august:
"This is the most important part. It looks organic, or humanoid or insectoid. There is something coming from the head. You can see a slight head appendage, moving fast. This is the first time this film is being shown in the United States. Now it looks like it's eating corn."
At one point in Chionetti's rambling presentation, a viewer had called out: "Alex, did you consider using a tripod?"
Going for the laugh, our self-professed UFO field investigator replied, "If you have a good camera with a good telephoto to donate, I'll bring it to Mexico."
We've been here before.
No educated, thinking person in the modern world disputes that life outside the world as humans define it probably exists. It would be imprudent, not to mention metaphysically impossible, to assume otherwise.
But Snoopy in the cornfield? Is this the best we can do?
A fair number of educated, thinking people belong to the Ventura-Santa Barbara chapter of the Mutual UFO Network (MUFON), and last Friday night they hosted Chionetti as featured speaker. The title of his talk, "Humanoid Aliens and UFOs in Mexico," packed them in: Nearly 100 paid $3 member or $5 guest fees to sit in a meeting room at the Days Inn along the freeway here.
Though a bit tabloid in tone, who wouldn't want to hear such a program?
The U.S. government to this day fuels speculation of massive cover-up in its mishandling of the Roswell, N.M., "incident" in 1947; in that case, the government backpedaled on its own public report that material of apparent extraterrestrial origin was recovered. As recently as January, 1994, the U.S. Defense Department declined Albuquerque Congressman Steven Schiff's request to open the Roswell files.
Increasingly erudite and documented interpretations of sightings, alien phenomena and even abductions have proliferated in recent years--with the likes of a Stephen Hawkings or a Carl Sagan lending shape to a debate that lifts the stigma surrounding UFO study. Simply put, you no longer need to be a nut to believe there's something out there.
Still, the unknown, whatever the subject, has always drawn a different crowd. And no one understands this better than those who trade on the unknown. So much of what they do is unknown, unknowable.
Like another shaky video.
Chionetti introduced himself as an Italian-born Argentine based in Los Angeles for the last 10 years, studying alien phenomena in Europe and the Americas since that time.
He arrived half an hour late to his own show. It added a certain drama to things--that just-off-the-plane, absent-minded professor look. As he spoke, Chionetti deftly confided to his audience the difficulty he has as a globe-trotting UFO researcher: unreliable witnesses, poor understanding from airport radar operators, the ruinous effect of the media and "yellow journalists" in scavenging and altering sacred UFO landing sites.
At the break, however, it was clear Chionetti was having trouble selling the unknown to MUFON's already converted audience: nearly half of those in attendance left.
Asked what was going wrong, Chionetti turned on his listeners and said: "This is the last lecture I give to this kind of audience. They have no patience. And their level of scientific understanding is, you know, not so high."
Well. That's a pretty damning assessment coming from a latecomer who declines to cite his specialist fields of scientific study and affiliation--and a guy who will tell you for the asking that a main occupation of his in recent years has been to edit two bilingual weekly newspapers in Los Angeles.
Whether those unnamed newspapers contain the yellow journalism that ruins UFO sites isn't the point.
Exploring the unknown is.
That's why, when Alex Chionetti hands you his business card, it seems as fitting as not that it says nothing of UFOs or newspapers. Instead it carries the title "Star International Films: International Film Distribution & Coproduction," with a Sunset Boulevard address. Like the unknown itself, he's highly diverse, a great mystery.
Could we have some science, please?