Buzz Aldrin, Neil Armstrong, Joan Ann Archer, Janet Armstrong, Johnny Carson
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Some things never date, and some achievements never tarnish. We launch, we hold our breath, we cheer. It doesn’t need anything added or taken away, it is still just dumbfounding.
Some things never date, and some achievements never tarnish. Getting a man to the moon and back again in 1969 is surely the undisputed king of such endeavours. Of course, there was space travel before and after this achievement, but this is the capstone of all of it really.
It was also a fundamental change of human positioning in a way, affording a perspective that had never been so concretely available before. It was that all-at-once view of our tiny, blue, beautiful planet “waltzing in its bowl of cloud” as a poet once wrote. The ship’s view was our view, and everything was different after that. This was beyond ‘historic’ somehow.
2019 marks fifty years since that event, and American producer/director Todd Douglas Miller has scraped together some old and new footage to tell the whole story again. The question, incidentally, as to whether this is America’s achievement or ‘mankind’s’ is somewhat elided here. (it is the Stars and Stripes up there on the non-hoax, real lunar surface, of course).
The film starts, suitably enough, with the stately progress of the unbelievably huge rocket to its launch pad. There is a strange and solemn majesty in that ‘parade’. We sense at once the sheer enormity of the enterprise, partly through the building-sized craft that is needed to do it.
The whole idea of forcing your way out of the atmosphere by the thrust of fuel shooting out of the bottom of the rocket (like a giant firework in one sense) seems at once primitive and awe-inspiring.
Some of the tropes here are reasonably familiar; Mission control – a huge screen-filled control room staffed by hundreds of men (and a very few women) with white shirts and black ties and 1960s haircuts. Then there is the inside-the-space-craft footage with the crackly soundtrack of the astronauts talking in their “eagle has landed” code, and somehow the sense that it all looks held together with gaffer tape and tin foil. Then the galumphing around on the dusty lunar playground.
The arc of the ninety-minute narrative is ‘obvious’, and the documentary doesn’t try to mess with that linearity too much. We launch, we hold our breath, we cheer. Given that we have all seen so many images and interviews over the years, there is no point in trying to deconstruct or re-invent it all. That is the point though. It doesn’t need anything added or taken away, it is still just dumbfounding.