Monday, March 4, 2019

Apollo 11

Posted By on Mon, Mar 4, 2019 at 11:11 AM

click to enlarge Who has two thumbs and just landed on the dang moon?
  • Who has two thumbs and just landed on the dang moon?

Anyone who thinks the moon landings were fake should see Apollo 11.

The moon race was a unique kind of Cold War competition. The technologies of war and mass destruction were redirected towards peaceful exploration. The contest was not who could kill more, but who could go farther. And for once, that exploration was victimless.

There were no indigenous populations in space — at least, none that we know of — to displace. The Apollo program was an intersection of state propaganda, engineering, and science. That means that it was documented every step of the way by the most advanced photographic equipment available. Unlike other major historical events, many of the artifacts produced were cataloged with an archivist’s care in real time. There’s more real, verifiable, physical evidence that we went to the moon that there is of your birth.

Every so often, NASA gets the footage out of the nitrogen-filled vaults where it is intended to last until the fall of technological civilization and gives some filmmakers, armed with the latest video and audio technology, a crack at it. The last time this happened was in 1989, with For All Mankind, a film cut together from Apollo archival footage and contemporary interviews with the astronauts. It’s an amazing documentary that won the Sundance Grand Jury Prize and was nominated for an Academy Award. But that film has been overshadowed by its score, an instant ambient classic by the creator of the genre, Brian Eno.

Apollo 11 premiered at Sundance 30 years after For All Mankind. Instead of offering an impressionistic interpretation of the entire three-year lunar exploration program, the new film focuses on the first moon landing. All the footage is from the two weeks around July 20th, 1969, when the attention of the world was focused on Cape Kennedy and the sky above.

Director/Editor Todd Douglas Miller had access to all of NASA’s archives of 16mm, 35mm film, and hours upon hours of audio recording. Incredibly, the team even uncovered some previously unseen 70mm footage taken by a NASA documentary crew wandering through the crowds gathered on the beach to watch the launch. Ordinary people gathered to watch history in the making turns out to be some of the most compelling footage from a film where people land on the moon.

All of these sources were digitized in the highest possible resolution, color corrected, and transferred to IMAX size. It’s a good reminder of the resolution possible from even 16mm film. The images you’ve seen, like the long slow pan up the Saturn V, are stunningly rendered here. But there are lots of footage that have never been seen before, like the closed circuit video footage of the astronauts climbing into the elevator. The haunted look on Neil Armstrong’s face as he suits up makes a good argument for Ryan Gosling’s emo spaceman performance in First Man. The spacecraft, blown up to IMAX size, look like steampunk contraptions from a different age. The walls of the lunar module are clearly as thin as aluminum foil, and flex madly in space when a thruster washes across them. You can clearly see the reflection of Buzz Aldrin in the window as he films Neil Armstrong taking the first steps on the moon.

Miller’s editing is uncannily good. He takes inspiration from the other great cultural documentary about 1969, Woodstock, and uses splitscreen liberally and effectively. While not nearly the equal of Eno’s Atmospheres, Matt Morton's score, created using vintage synthesizers, throbs and booms majestically. The film is a masterpiece of visual storytelling that is destined to have a very long life in educational and science center IMAXes all over the world.

It is a melancholy experience to watch the triumphs of Apollo 11 in 2019. This is what We The People could accomplish if we put our minds to it. And yet we have a Russian-installed gangster in the White House helping as the super rich loot the country. We have a scientific challenge that needs addressing with the same urgency as the space race, and much larger stakes. But we have a climate change denier in charge who wants only to profit from the destruction of technological civilization.

Back to the moon landing conspiracy theorists. There’s no way what we see in Apollo 11 was faked. The scale of it is just too big, and the results too haphazard. It’s obvious most of Apollo 11 was shot by people with very little cinematographic training. Kubrick’s vision of space travel was clean, hygienic, and effortless. Apollo 11 is dirty and precarious.

I think it’s significant that the moon landing conspiracy theory first surfaced in its modern form on Fox television in 1999. If a simple hour of deceptively edited TV could erase from the minds of millions the greatest propaganda triumph of the twentieth century, then the sky was the limit.

Now we have people being manipulated into believing Hillary Clinton’s satanic pedophile ring is based in a DC pizza joint. The trick is not to erase the images you don’t want, or even create fake images. It’s to convince your marks to reinterpret all images in the way the propagandist wants you to interpret them. Meaning itself is systematically destroyed. Apollo 11 simply strives to reconstruct the events from the existing evidence. And for that simplicity, it might be one of the greatest documentaries ever made.

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