In 1965, Belgian Count Alain de Villegas and his Italian cohort Aldo Bonassoli started developing desalination technologies in Switzerland. Their tech soon proved to be a complete dud, which may or may not have had something to do with the fact that neither of them even remotely resembled a scientist: Bonassoli was a former TV repairman, and the count, oddly, was an actual count. They both shared a considerable enthusiasm for things like alchemy and UFOs, but being super into extraterrestrials doesn't necessarily translate into any usable knowledge of, well, anything. Not ones to be deterred by mere failure and inexpertise, the two soon started developing a device that could "detect new freshwater reservoirs from the sky" ... at which point it was only a matter of time before they asked themselves "Hey, wouldn't that technically apply to all sorts of liquid reservoirs?" And so my second-favorite buddy cop movie ever, Bonassoli And The Count, leapt into Act II.
In 1976, the men started marketing their brand-new invention, a revolutionary plane-mounted "sniffer" device that could detect -- all together now -- oil fields by just flying above them. Delighted at the prospect of removing all the There Will Be Blood bullshit from their operations, Elf-Aquitanie jumped at the chance to grab the technology. They were so happy about it, in fact, that they ate an immeasurable amount of s**t in their scramble to get a functional sniffer. Throughout the research, Bonassoli (who acted as the chief "scientist" while de Villegas took a more passive role) adamantly forbade the involvement of any actual scientists at any point of the process. Yet despite his secrecy and constant failures to produce anything approaching a finished product, Elf-Aquitanie bombarded him with lucrative multi-million-dollar contracts. You know, as you do.
This may have started out because the technology was obviously a top-secret gamechanger that the company couldn't risk it falling to other hands, but come on. A year or so of a former TV repairman funneling away your cash might be acceptable. Elf-Aquitanie took until freaking 1979 to smell the coffee. At that point, they finally brought in top nuclear scientist Jules Horowitz, who took roughly 0.2 seconds to debunk the whole device. When Bonassoli told him his machine could detect a metal ruler from behind a wall, Horowitz took the ruler and hauled ass around the corner. Bonassoli's device printed out a perfectly clear outline of the straight ruler ... whereupon Horowitz emerged holding the real ruler, which he had secretly bent into an L shape. At that point, I assume Bonassoli shrieked at him, transformed into a bat, and flew away, swearing vengeance.
By the time the story exited the vaults of governmental secrecy and went public in 1983, it became a national scandal, especially when it turned out that the people who had gotten duped by Bonassoli and the count included former President Valery Giscard d'Estaing and former Prime Minister Raymond Barre. By then the count had already quietly disappeared into whatever paradise island counts go to after they've earned countless dirty millions. As for Bonassoli, the worst he got was a few accusations and dirty looks. He happily waltzed back to his native Italy, where he ... stayed completely in the open, maintaining that he never made any money out of the ordeal (sure, guy) and even trying to peddle the exact same f*****g device to the Italian government. And that's a lesson for all of us: When one door closes, beat on the closed door of a neighbor until they tell you to f**k off too.
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