Watching For All Mankind, a 1989 documentary collection of various bits of NASA's Apollo mission footage recently released on Criterion Blu-Ray, was an odd but rewarding experience. You would expect a film about such a distinctly human endeavor to concentrate on the people that made it happen but it's not about them, at least not in any direct way. The narration is provided by way of stories, anecdotes and observations from a dozen or so unidentified astronauts who do not appear on screen, often times disconnected from the stunning visuals on display, collected and masterfully edited from the various Apollo missions by the film makers. I'm not sure if this benefits or detracts from the final film but it certainly makes for a highly unusual (and weirdly personal) look at the technological miracle of mankind's first journeys into space.
Where In the Shadow of the Moon (a 2007 documentary that covers this same period) is about what going into space felt like to the astronauts, For All Mankind is about how it feels to go into space, if that makes any sense. The astronauts in the later film are the mediators of the experience and the viewer lives this experience vicariously through them. They are personalities and heroes and at the heart of the 2007 film. For All Mankind is not about personalities. It's about the Moon, how you get there and what you see along the way. The difference between these two films is telling and perhaps just a little culturally revealing. The cult-of-the-celebrity that's become so entrenched in western society over the last 20 years leads one to consider if we are interested in - or even capable of - interpreting the world around us without the assistance of some outside (and hopefully famous) interpreter like Oprah. To draw a sort of parallel to another pairing of films For All Mankind is to In The Shadow of the Moon as Old Joy is to Sideways.
I don't know if this new-found fascination with the '60s space program of my youth is merely nostalgia creeping in or whether I'm looking for an antidote to the banality of the iPhone world circa 2009 but I have to admit to being awed by this particularly inspired period of the 20th century. Perhaps it was the sense that anything could be accomplished if society set its sights on a worthy goal. I don't know.
There's something deeply spiritual in how these astronauts discuss their journey and it's something that's missing in our modern day world. We need to capture something of that again and fuck off to another planet as soon as possible.