Thursday, October 25, 2018

Review of 'First Man'

A really long film that managed to be both tense and boring at the same time. Once we get to Apollo 11 the tension has gone, and we're all just waiting for Armstrong to say the lines that we know are coming; but earlier on it really feels like we're in that test plane or space capsule - the film is really claustrophobic and uncomfortable. Armstrong's character is oddly devoid of affect - not surprising, that's why NASA chose him, because he didn't let emotion get in the way of his judgement, even when a normal person would be scared witless. There is a sort of overlay that says he is bottling up the emotion of his young daughter's death from cancer, but it wasn't convincing to me. Clare Foy as his wife does all the feeling for both of them.

There is some suggestion in the film that the point of the moonshot was to beat the Soviets, who seemed to be winning the space race, but it doesn't really go anywhere with this. Towards the end we are left with the feeling that the moonshot was worthwhile in its own terms, and that all humanity benefitted from this great achievement of the USA. This is not examined at all. The film does show how there was dissatisfaction with the space programme before the success of Apollo 11, and suggests that this all evaporated when the landing was successful.

In order to achieve this it engages in a bit of dishonest sleight of hand. In general there is very little about the context of the time, but for a few minutes we get some audio overlay of anti-war protests and some shots of placards protesting the money wasted on the programme. Then there's some footage of a young black man performing Gil Scott-Heron's fabulous rap "Whitey on the moon" - all part of the sour carping criticism of the space programme that will later be vindicated by the spiritual moment of Armstrong's first step on behalf of all humanity. Except...that "Whitey on the moon" is from 1970, after the landing, and represents part of the still-strong protest and radical politics of that era. The film-makers must know this because they will have had to licence it, but they have literally re-organised history to make it say what they want it to.

Watched at the Everyman cinema in Muswell Hill.

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