05 April 2008

In the shadow of the moon

Tonight, I went to see In the shadow of the moon, the documentary about the moon landings. I am a child of the space-age (just), and I remember as a child, leaving school with my class to watch the moon landing. I remember not quite understanding what we were going to see or understanding why, but, once the broadcast started, being entranced. At one point all the kids went off into another room to eat their lunches, and I just wanted to stay by the television. It could be, of course, a glorified and romantacised notion now of what really happened, but that's how I remember it. It had a huge impact on me, and no doubt seeded the future spec fic writer in me.

One of the astronauts in the film (was it Michael Collins?) talked about afterwards, visiting other countries, and the people talking about how we had done this -- we, as in all of humanity, something he'd never really experienced before. I got that. I felt it too -- this immense pride that we had been able to pull back impossible boundaries and do this marvellous thing. If we could go to the moon, we could achieve anything. We could rise above all the ugly aspects of our nature, the selfishness and pettiness and greed, and achieve greatness. Human beings might actually be worth something!

There are those who have always disputed the money spent on the space program -- that it could've been used to address poverty or pollution or something else, but you might as well argue that humankind doesn't need art. The space program is a powerful symbol of the peaks we can aspire to, an embodiment of hope. Or, if you want to take the bleak view, something we'd better perfect for when we completely stuff things up here.

And for me there was a writerly parallel in this film. Something I always find amazing is the chasm between the published writer and the unpublished in terms of their "authenticity" (for want of a better term). If my book were accepted tomorrow, then overnight I would go from being a small player in the scene to being a major player whose opinion was sort after and trusted, and I might not have learnt a damned thing extra in the inbetween time. This film, and The right stuff both touched on this too -- in quite different ways -- how the astronauts were suddenly catapulted to the position of national heroes, but they hadn't actually done a thing. How interesting to hear them talk about it from their perspective.

Would I recommend the film? Absolutely. Those who don't go gooey at the sight of a Saturn V (are there really people out there who don't?), who don't want to go to space camp -- or even better: space itself! -- who don't know who the Mercury 7 were, or the first Russian and American into space may not be as het-up about the whole film, but should find enough of interest anyway. Makes me want to go out and watch The right stuff all over again. Already the soundtrack is playing in my head...

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