Thursday, February 6, 2014
For All Mankind
I'm not here to bash GRAVITY, but rather tell you of how enthralled I was while watching FOR ALL MANKIND. I have had a lifelong fascination with NASA and the Space Program, regrettably never having made the drive up the Florida coast to see a launch. The 80 minute film from director Al Reinert is a painstaking edit of countless hours of footage from several Apollo and Gemini missions from the late 1960s and early 70s. We begin on the ground, then inside the capsule, eventually weightless above Earth's atmosphere. There are cuts to Mission Control in Houston, with several sometimes worried looking men in short sleeve dress shirts and ties communicating with the likes of Jim Lovell, Jack Swigert, and Michael Collins. Those clips and names will be familiar to fans of Ron Howard's APOLLO 13, the 1995 drama with Tom Hanks and company. Right down to the snapshot of the makeshift C02 filter the men threw together under great time constraint.
The narration throughout the film is culled from mission recordings and various interviews with the astronauts, explaining the unexplainable glory of viewing Earth, "floating in a blackness beyond perception". Seeing fires in the Sahara desert as tiny dots on the blue sphere. That sunrise. There are also the familiar anti-gravity jokes, as food floats away and waste disposal is explained. Clips taken on the moon are breathtaking, even the ones we've seen so many times. One astronaut wonders what would occur if there was a tear in his spacesuit.
The effect is mesmerizing. It works in ways perhaps a traditional narrative (or documentary with an agenda) just couldn't. It celebrates the science and the art of the mission, the unity forged among those watching back on Earth. FOR ALL MANKIND is a must for NASA aficienados, and may well even convert some who aren't. Just see it. You could wait for the next TCM airing or get your hands on the Criterion disc. Then, purchase Eno's Apollo: Atmospheres & Soundtracks, the 1983 album from which most of the score is used. You may actually go beyond the infinite yourself.