Friday, March 22, 2019

Apollo 11 (The Movie)

Last year, it was Ryan Gosling playing Neil Armstrong in First Man – reviewed here last November at

In this new documentary, however, Neil Armstrong plays himself (as does everyone else in the story). Apollo 11 uses real footage from that 1969 NASA Moon Mission. Besides camera footage from the moon itself, we get to watch the crowds (both VIPs and ordinary people) gathering to watch the launch and the reception of the astronauts on their return. For those of us above a certain age, the story is familiar, well remembered for the exciting event it was. I was 21 and had spent that summer Sunday afternoon at the beach at Far Rockaway with some friends. but we were back on the "A" train and home just in time to watch the TV coverage of the actual touchdown by the lunar module on the moon's surface. Later we watched as Armstrong took his famous "giant leap for mankind." 

It is perhaps hard to explain to a post-modern world, which has lost  a sense of excitement or engagement with great public purposes beyond one’s own narrow and immediate interests, the excitement that space exploration had for my generation, but exciting it most certainly was - and not just because we were beating the Russians (although that too was very important at the time).

Stylistically, this is a very much in the moment documentary. It lacks the looking backward commentary we are so used to hearing in such documentaries. It lets the event speak for itself - 8 well documented days in 93 amazing cinematic minutes - including hitherto unseen footage from the time. What commentary we do get was  in effect part of the event itself, commentary that accompanied the event at the time - including even some of the on-air words of that era's most familiar spokesman, anchorman Walter Cronkite. Hearing his voice again after all these years only adds to the authenticity of the portrayal.

We know the story already and how it ends, of course. We won't be surprised so much as awed - awed by the amazingly audacious ambition that underlay the event and the human and technological know-how that made it possible. We may come away grateful that human beings can aspire and accomplish so much - and saddened by how thoroughly diminished more recent generations' ambitions and aspirations have become.

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