Pat Matsueda

Prologue to Novella

At the end of May 2023, I watched a series of films released in English under the title The Forbidden Files (Les Documents Interdicts). Issued over a period of twenty-one years by French filmmaker Jean Teddy Filippe, they start off as one kind of filmmaking and end as another. Some of the films are what we would call found footage and possess the grainy canvas and staccato tempo we associate with amateur work, though parts of the narration, I assume, were composed by Filippe. Others in the series are documentaries that attempt to blur the distinction between the real and the concocted.

Over the course of about two hours, the films recount odd incidents, such as disappearances, alien abduction, experiments on humans, superhuman prowess, and witchcraft. These have a curious quality, as if a large hand had plunged down in time, scooped out these fragments, and tendered them for our consideration. Filippe seems to have selected short films that document inexplicable events without imparting a professional finish, as if to say that definitive explanations are not possible in the real—found—world.

The most curious is perhaps The Madman of the Crossroad, about a Hungarian immigrant named Tibor Nagy, who arrived in the U.S. in the fifties. He spoke no English and did not master the language until decades later. One day in April 1954, Tibor took his wife and their young daughter on a long drive, carrying his camera, as was his custom on such trips.

According to the account he provided later, they were on the old road connecting their town (Cape Town) with the one they intended to visit (Woolworth), when a large shadow fell over the car. Its mechanical functions ceased, and shortly after, the car materialized in a large, round room vibrating gently. They were in the white interior of a spaceship, and a man approached them. Wearing a helmet that covered his face, the man did not speak, but communicated with Tibor telepathically, telling him he could photograph anything but the ship’s interior.

Through the windows, Tibor and his family saw they were flying above the moon, and he recorded their flight with his camera until he ran out of film. After being returned to Earth, Tibor shared his extraordinary journey, drawing the attention first of reporters and then of a congressman, Senator William Lowley, who formed a “board of enquiry” and held a hearing. Translated by an interpreter, Tibor testified in Hungarian, and the board concluded that his account was fabricated. The whole thing, they declared, was a hoax designed to draw attention to Tibor and to benefit his garage business.

Despite this and the scorn heaped on him by the press and some of his neighbors, Tibor steadfastly insisted that what he said was true. The Madman of the Crossroad ends with him welcoming his remaining believers—thirty-six years after the event—into his garage, which had been designated an “exclusion zone” by the town and thus preserved. A group of about twenty people—including a few who are too young to have been alive in 1954—enter the vacant structure as if it were a shrine, and Tibor projects on a screen the images he captured that day. The final frame of The Madman of the Crossroad acknowledges the Hungarian Emigrants Association for its help in making the film.

As I write this, I am sitting at a square table at a coffeeshop, two firemen one table to my left, and rock music blaring over our heads. Having watched The Forbidden Files many hours ago, I now feel it is a mix of authentic footage and studio film, but the why of it is missing. Was it meant to be a riddle, a joke whose absurdity is designed to make us doubt reason, the way we think, so that we might happen on the truth in an irrational way?

Most of the humans captured on celluloid—some of which is from the forties and fifties—are gone, unable to add their thoughts. The diver who was dragged into the sea and washed back onto shore five weeks later. The friend who was summoned by an irresistible music and disappeared. The sawmill worker whose severed arm was replaced with an ugly but powerful prosthesis. The boy who could move objects with his mind. The scientist who performed an autopsy on an alien. The townspeople who rose up against a witch whose large hacienda vanished overnight. The witch herself. Miguel, a guide who took a journalist to a landscape of barren rock and phantoms and became a ghost himself.

Only one thing remains after watching the films: Tibor’s conviction that what he experienced was real. With that in mind, I have attempted to fashion a story that similarly challenges our faith.

Pat Matsueda is a founding editor of Vice-Versa and the mom of two cats, Ivy and Candace. She retired from the University of Hawai‘i in August 2022. In this photo by Alan Mawyer, she is dining with her Virginia cousins, the Mawyers.