A Moon For All Seasons [on MOONWALK ONE]

From the Village Voice (December 7, 1972). – J.R.

 In case you’re wondering why MOONWALK ONE,

 a film produced for NASA by Francis Thompson, Inc., 

 is currently showing at the Whitney Museum — rather

 than, say, on CBS or Channel 13, or at the Little Carnegie

 or Radio City Music Hall — I can offer a clue, if not a

 definitive explanation. Feeling as intimidated as the next

 layman about my ignorance concerning the moon shot, I

 thought of boning up on the subject before writing this

 review, and checked the neighborhood bookstores to see

 what was available. Apart from [Norman] Mailer’s book

 [Of a Fire on the Moon],what do you think I found in the

 three fairly well-stocked shops that I visited? Absolutely nothing.

 No scientific accounts, no popular treatments, no picture books,

 no personal reflections. The moon landing may have been,

 according to Nixon, the most important event in the history of

 mankind since the birth of Christ, but apparently a lot of people

 would rather read about the making of STAR TREK. (On the

 other hand, if Christ had been born three years ago, I doubt that

 many people would want to read about that, either.)

 If people are somewhat tired of the moonwalk, this is probably

 because, as with the Kennedy assassination and Nixon’s trip to

 China, they’ve already seen it. Television, by inundating us with

 facts and figures while something is happening, may be fast

 becoming the garbage disposal unit of contemporary history.

 People become obsessed, then quickly grow indifferent. By

 “people,” I mean myself and most people I know; candor

 compels me to admit that had I not been assigned to review

 MOONWALK ONE, I probably wouldn’t have seen it.


But I’m glad that I did. However exciting, awesome, and

 eerie the moon shot was on television, seeing it on a movie

 screen makes it more of a spectacle, and a glorious one at

 that. And those who are skeptical about how interesting and

 imaginative a NASA documentary is are likely to be in for some

 pleasant surprises: an adventurous use of sound, a clever sense

 of pacing, and an occasionally ironic narration. The film is not

 quite a “personal” work, but it is close enough to frustrate you

 for not being more of one.

 The footage of the takeoff of Apollo 11 is one of the most

 beautiful things I’ve ever seen, in the movies or elsewhere.

 It is so beautiful, in fact, that it can make one forget that it

 is Apollo 11, or that it’s going to the moon, or that one is

 watching it on a screen. After a heady dose of this, the

 director, Theo Kamecke, cuts to the spectators below gaping

 up at the ascent. As he explains in the program notes, he is

 interested in “paradox” — that is, in showing the moon shot

 in all its contradictions and ramifications: the homey lady

 who helps to sew part of the spacesuits, clips of FLASH

 GORDON and BUCK ROGERS, celebrities (Jack Benny,

 LBJ) around for the takeoff, Sousa marches and majorettes

 after the return to earth, quotes from skeptical citizens, and

 flash references to Significant Ancestors of Spaceflight such

 as Descartes, Einstein, and John F. Kennedy.

 Kamecke calls this “paradox,” but one might as well call it

 consensus — the samc search for the golden mean and

 middle-class belly that drove Mailer into Life magazine and

 Thomas Wolfe imitations. A related impulse, one suspects,

 is responsible for beginning and ending the film with

 Stonehenge, with the narration mulling over cosmic

 mysteries: as though the moon shot were not marvelous

 enough in itself and had to be hyped up with supplementary

 profundities, with echoes of 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY in

 the bargain.

 But the factual details of the flight and preparations are

 fascinating, and easy to digest; the sequences inside the

 spacecraft are spellbinding; and the moonwalk itself, as

 recorded, seems to re-invent some of the beauties and

 terrors of the earliest handcranked movies. If Michael

 Snow had been given the assignment, we might have wound

 up with something millennial. MOONWALK ONE

 certainly isn’t that, but at least its better moments suggest

 the possibility.

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