Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Shadow of the Moon

Last night I saw a preview screening of In the Shadow of the Moon, a documentary about the Apollo programme focussing on the experience of the astronauts. It was not a critical documentary, which was fine - its main interest lay in hearing the astronauts speak about how they felt at the time and afterwards. The rhetoric of nationalism (and masculinity to a certain extent) was present throughout most of it but only mildly.

A review described it as "uplifting" and I did wonder from whose perspective it would be so. Nevertheless, I did find parts of it uplifting, particularly the footage of the separation of the Saturn V stages, which sounds really boring, but was actually quite moving! And the docking manoeuvre for the return journey. There was also a fabulous sequence in slow motion of the Apollo 11 Saturn V liftoff, the camera still as the rocket body slowly moved past it with suitably majestic music, and then, as the base of the rocket came into the view, the music fading into the terrible roar of burning fuel. It made me feel much more - I don't know how to describe it - affectionate? about the Saturn V than previously.

Which makes me think about emotional attachment to space artefacts. I love Vanguard 1 and Asterix 1, but don't really have any favourite rockets. Why?

Well, that's not quite true - I am quite fond of Veronique and the Pierres Precieuses series. I guess what I'm wondering is why certain space hardware appeals to different people.


  1. Veronique and the Pierres Precieuses! Is it just me or would that be a great name for a band?

  2. But surely that sort of imagery (Saturn V slowly moving past the camera to the strains of majestic music, quite possibly Also Sprach Zarathustra) became cliched decades ago? What was different about this one to elicit a different reaction from you?

    Not that it being cliched means it loses its power, necessarily -- that sort of thing still always gets me going. (But then I used to play out Shuttle launch sequences with my friend during school lunchtimes ... maybe I'm strange!) Having said that, here are a few different musical accompaniments to film of space hardware, which I think work quite well:




  3. Perhaps what made me feel differently about this one was the representation of the hardware, not as a disembodied technology, but as something that the astronauts were directly responding to. A couple of them spoke of the experience of time from liftoff to the first separation - that was really interesting.

    I did think throughout that a Glass or Nyman soundtrack would have been rather nice...

    Can't listen to your YouTube recommendations today because this university does not provide computers with speakers!

    (And your school lunchtime activities were possibly a little strange, but in a good way ....)

  4. Great write-up. See my review here: http://tropophilia.com/2008/02/28/movie-review-in-the-shadow-of-the-moon/

  5. You have a most interesting blog.

    Stay on groovin' safari,

  6. Your review, Jarred, highlighted some aspects of the film I hadn't consciously registered before. You're right: the lack of narration, having only the words of the astronauts, does make it quite a different viewing experience from most space documentaries.

    I thought too, that their reactions were actually rather pedestrian - no profound revelations - like these were really smart men, but the sheer ordinariness of their remarks makes you more able to imagine how you might feel if you were in their place. So the effect is not necessarily to isolate them as a different breed of human (a proto-posthuman?), the 24 who have been to another celestial body, but to emphasise their humanness, if that makes sense.