Film

Apollo 11

Found footage of the moon shot

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

As we approach the 50th anniversary of the July 20, 1969, first manned moon landing, the documentary Apollo 11 brings back once more the awe of that event. What makes this film different from numerous other such movies is that, in many instances, it utilizes footage never before seen publicly. Director Todd Douglas Miller made a phenomenal discovery: Troves of newfound, soundless 65-mm and 70-mm footage of the mission, originally housed in a NASA storage facility, were accidentally located in the National Archives along with about 11,000 hours of uncategorized audio recordings that had to be painstakingly synced up to the shots.

The footage was not cropped, as is the case with so many similar documentaries, and the films were restored and scanned at the highest resolution possible. The result, according to the filmmakers, is the highest-quality digital collection of Apollo 11 footage available. This is not merely a technical achievement. The startling crispness of the imagery makes the experience of watching this film almost like seeing the mission—from pre-liftoff to post-recovery, from the launch control center at Cape Canaveral to the mission control room in Houston—for the first time. The familiar becomes newly minted.

Some of the footage is a revelation, and none more so than the scenes of Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins, and Buzz Aldrin suiting up for the moon shot. We’re right there with them in the room. With a hint of puckishness, Aldrin plays to the camera. He’s always the easiest to read in these moments; he seems to be truly enjoying himself and not simply warding off his fears. Later, in orbit, he jokes with the flight controller that floating in space reminds him of being in a revolving restaurant.

For those who have seen First Man, with Ryan Gosling as Armstrong, it’s inevitable that memories of that movie, and Gosling’s psychologically closed-off characterization, would come into play here. From what we see of Armstrong in Apollo 11, it’s impossible to know what’s going on inside his head, except that, unlike Gosling, he does crack the occasional smile. The documentary made me realize once again how much I value the actuality of a filmed record such as this and how difficult it is for any dramatization to do justice to its stark reality. The only account of the mission that, for me, captures, and even transcends, this documentary is Norman Mailer’s masterful nonfiction book Of a Fire on the Moon, perhaps because his expressiveness as a prose stylist is on par with the power of the imagery and because he gets inside the philosophical and psychological momentousness of the occasion in a way that perhaps only a great writer can.

Miller takes a far more conventional approach to the material, presenting the events chronologically and, except for some voice-overs from Walter Cronkite, avoiding any sort of narrative overlay or parade of talking heads. It’s a remarkably uncoercive presentation. He realizes that, given the forcefulness of the footage, any attempt to dictate how we view the events would be an egregious intrusion.

The fact that, going in, we already know the outcome to the Apollo 11 mission does not detract from the film’s inherent suspense. At every stage, we, along with the astronauts and the NASA controllers, are confronted with the same dreaded alternative: What if anything should go radically wrong? That nothing did, that the film concludes on a high and prideful note, with a ticker-tape parade down Chicago’s Michigan Avenue, only reinforces the fright that was ever-present beneath all the well-wishes and techno talk.

Much of the commentary about this film has focused on the way the moon shot represented perhaps the last time the whole world was uplifted as one. This may be too nostalgic a view of that time, which, after all, was an era when the cold war and the space race were in full swing. Still, the transcendent hopefulness of the Apollo 11 mission strikes a necessary chord today. This was no Arthurian legend. It really happened. The transcendence it instilled, however fleeting, bears repeating.

Silver Reef Money
More Film...
Booksmart
School’s out forever

Booksmart besties Molly and Amy pretty much aced high school. Valedictorian and student-body president Molly (Beanie Feldstein) was accepted to Yale, her top-choice university—and the first step in her goal of becoming the youngest Supreme Court justice—while study buddy and super-activist…

more »
Long Shot
Make America laugh again

Seth Rogen’s rambunctious brand of self-deprecation tends to dictate the tone of the many raunchy studio comedies he’s appeared in over the last decade, but Long Shot finally provides a co-star who can match that dopey charm. In director Jonathan Levine’s frisky romantic comedy,…

more »
The Brink
The hate you give

The charm of odious men is overrated. At a certain point in The Brink, Alison Klayman’s brisk documentary tagalong behind far-right pot-stirrer Steve Bannon, an admirer tells Bannon that although he might have just come off poorly in an onstage debate, at least he’ll have surprised and…

more »
Events
Today
Upper Skagit Library Photo Contest

12:00pm

Plover Ferry Rides

12:00pm|Blaine Harbor

The Hobbit

7:00pm|Judson Auditorium

Matilda the Musical

7:00pm|Bellingham Arts Academy for Youth

Birch Bay Kite Festival

10:00am|Birch Bay Beach Park

Birch Bay Book Sale

10:00am|Birch Bay Beach Park

Lummi Island Artists' Studio Tour

10:00am|Lummi Island

Plover Ferry Rides

12:00pm|Blaine Harbor

Solace on the slopes

7:00am

Ski to Sea Race

7:30am|Mt. Baker to Marine Park

Rabbit Ride

8:30am|Fairhaven Bicycle

Ski to Sea Seconds Sale

10:00am|Good Earth Pottery

Historic Fairhaven Festival

10:00am|Historic Fairhaven

Paper Voodoo Workshop

10:00am|Blaine Harbor Center

Langar in Lynden

11:00am| Guru Nanak Gursikh Gurdwara

Bellingham Handmade Market

11:00am|Goods Nursery and Produce

Plover Ferry Rides

12:00pm|Blaine Harbor

Public Sails

12:00pm|Squalicum Harbor

History Tour

12:30pm|Whatcom Museum's Old City Hall

History Tour

12:30pm|Whatcom Museum's Old City Hall

La Conner Live!

1:00pm|Gilkey Square

Audubon at the Museum

1:30pm|Whatcom Museum's Old City Hall

Art of Jazz

4:00pm|BAAY Theater

Oceans Flamenco with Savannah Fuentes

7:30pm|Tha Outlet

Trove Web
Tomorrow
Upper Skagit Library Photo Contest

12:00pm

Plover Ferry Rides

12:00pm|Blaine Harbor

Plover Ferry Rides

12:00pm|Blaine Harbor

Public Sails

12:00pm|Squalicum Harbor

Oceans Flamenco with Savannah Fuentes

7:30pm|Tha Outlet

Plant Diagnostic Clinics

4:30pm|Bellingham Public Library

Swing Dancing Classes

5:00pm|Presence Studio

Open Mic Night

7:00pm|Village Books

Salish Sea Early Music Festival

7:00pm|St. Paul's Episcopal Church

Poetrynight

7:00pm|Alternative Library

Guffawingham

9:00pm|Firefly Lounge

Trove Web Cascadia Weekly Subscribe Ad 1
Tuesday
Upper Skagit Library Photo Contest

12:00pm

Plover Ferry Rides

12:00pm|Blaine Harbor

Mapping Mars

4:00pm|Wilson Library

Artist Workshop

6:00pm|Bellingham Public Library

Bellingham Reads

6:30pm|Bellingham Public Library

Books & Brews

7:00pm|Village Books

Skagit Folk Dancers

7:00pm|Bayview Civic Hall

Punch Up Comedy Showcase and Open Mic

7:30pm|The Shakedown

Spring Choral Concert

8:00pm|Performing Arts Center Concert Hall

see our complete calendar »

Village Books Trove Web Kids Guide 2019 Cascadia Weekly Subscribe Ad 1