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cinemadaily | Over the Moon for “Mankind”

cinemadaily | Over the Moon for "Mankind"

To mark the 40th anniversary of the moon landing, Criterion is issuing DVD and Blu-ray editions of Al Reinert’s 1989 documentary about the Apollo missions, “For All Mankind.”

“A Texas journalist making his first film, Reinert takes a self-effacing tack, favoring the astronauts’ point of view and allowing them to speak for themselves,” writes Dennis Lim in a piece for the LA Times on the reissue. “But ‘For All Mankind’ is nonetheless a remarkable feat of assemblage: Reinert combed through thousands of hours of archival footage from the NASA vaults — the men were armed with 16-millimeter data acquisition cameras — and conducted many more hours of his own interviews… There is also the requisite awe and wonder at the out-of-this-world view as the Earth recedes and the moon approaches. Confronting an endless expanse of nothingness, one of the men waxes philosophical, pondering the meaning of infinity. But thanks in part to Brian Eno’s hushed, haunting score, ‘Mankind’ never succumbs to hokey or fuzzy grandeur; if anything, the film maintains a low-key simmer that is a pleasant change from the triumphalist cliches of most spaceflight narratives.”

Criterion has a piece by Reinert in which he reminisces about the making of the film: “I tracked down and pestered all the men who went to the moon, Armstrong and Aldrin and the ten who followed them onto the surface, plus the other dozen who went all but the last fifty miles. Twenty of them let me turn on my tape recorder while I asked variations of the endless question: What was it like?

“I looked at all the film they brought back, and the kinescope transfers of the video they broadcast, and the miles of earthly footage that NASA shot in the course of their adventure. I listened to the radio transmissions and the flight controller’s loop, and I read the debriefings and the books they wrote afterward. I tried to get inside their experience, so I could identify with it and finally make it real.”

A critical appreciation of the film from Terrence Rafferty: “‘For All Mankind’ is irreplaceable: one of a kind and likely to remain so. It is, formally, among the most radical American films of the past quarter century and, emotionally, among the most powerfully affecting. It makes its impossible title stick. In “For All Mankind,” we all lift off together, and we all come home the same way, and few movies have captured so well the rhapsodic absurdity of our common voyage.”

Brian Sholis, writing for Artforum reflects on the film’s significance 20 years later: “Many people, reflecting on the dubious cold-war inspiration for NASA, or lamenting its ratio of cost to demonstrable benefit, or chastising the always malfunctioning, dangerous shuttles that arrived in Apollo’s wake, will use this anniversary to criticize the entire enterprise. Their claims are often legitimate. But the blank velvet amplitude of outer space, the backdrop for most of the film, reminds viewers of one Apollo Program legacy still to be puzzled out. The inky, airless expanse that is so palpable a presence in ‘For All Mankind’ is an indication of the deep ontological shift represented by traveling so far into the unknown. Irrespective of politics or science, forty years later the mind still stutters when trying to grasp precisely what it means to have been to the Moon and back.”

“Al Reinert’s 1989 documentary on the men in the moon — a mass portrait of the 24 astronauts who participated in mankind’s only trips to the moon, the manned Apollo moon flights between 1968 and 1972 — plays like one of the great science fiction epics, even though what we see is indisputably science fact,” notes Michael Wilmington for Movie City News. “Reinert’s movie is often as homey and ‘ordinary’ as the ubiquitous crew cuts and often-Southern drawls of the Houston ground team, as familiar as the taped music that went into space — including country ballads by Merle Haggard and Buck Owens and, most fittingly, Frank Sinatra singing ‘Fly Me to the Moon’ — and as poetically otherworldly as ‘2001’ itself or as Tarkovsky‘s ‘Solaris.'”

“Both the Blu-ray and standard-def DVD include an audio commentary by Reinert and astronaut Eugene Cernan, a new ‘making of’ doc, interviews with astronauts, NASA audio highlights and liftoff footage, and a booklet featuring essays by Reinert and film critic Terrence Rafferty,” reports Cinematical on the extras available.

Finally, the New York Times’ A.O. Scott commemorates the anniversary of the moon landing by looking back at Stanley Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey” and in a piece about the pop-cultural effects of the space program. “John F. Kennedy’s vow, at the start of the decade, to put a man on the Moon by the end had unleashed not only the ambitions of contractors and technicians, but also the imaginations of filmmakers and television writers, who exploited the visionary dimensions of Kennedy’s promise even as NASA scientists and astronauts were sweating the details,” writes Scott. “Two examples, now canonical, stand out. The first, ‘Star Trek,’ with its Kennedyesque ‘final frontier’ rhetoric and its spirit of earnest, can-do liberalism, has become a staple of popular culture, so frequently parodied and reinvented that its boldness is easy to forget…

“But the wonkiness of ‘Star Trek,’ which ended its run about six weeks after Neil Armstrong’s Moon walk, was nothing compared with the tripped-out sublimity of Stanley Kubrick’s ‘2001: A Space Odyssey,’ released in 1968. In that film, the human adventure beyond Earth — to the Moon and toward Jupiter — brought about a whole new stage in the evolution of consciousness, a fulfillment, transcendence and wholesale alteration of human possibility.”

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