For All Mankind (1989, Al Reinert)

Very nicely assembled space doc, a tribute to the Apollo missions. Some 16 years after we stopped going to the moon, Reinert montaged audio interviews and film records from the flights into a concise movie with some familiar imagery (still good to see it in well-restored HD) but plenty of new stuff for a space novice like myself.

Lots of anti-gravity play, and talk about music. I was impressed that one astronaut took the 2001: A Space Odyssey soundtrack into space, forgetting that the film predated the first moon landing. And speaking of music, I liked the documentary’s music without paying much attention, didn’t realize until the end credits that it’s all by Brian Eno. Nor did it really occur to me until more than halfway through the short feature that multiple missions were being shuffled without comment. These are two things I’ll have to focus on next time. Turns out Reinert cowrote that Final Fantasy movie I hated, but I can’t hold that against him now.

T. Rafferty:

What he does in this project, editing millions of feet of film and hundreds of hours of audio recordings into an eighty-minute feature, is treat the whole Apollo adventure as a single, epic trip to the moon, peopled by a crew so anonymous that it seems to represent, well, all mankind. … [Nobody] is identified by name. The film simply proceeds, with serene inevitability, from one fiery liftoff to one gentle splashdown, not troubling itself to distinguish any individual mission from any other and never interrupting the hypnotic flow of otherworldly imagery with a shot of a talking head. At first, when one of the offscreen voices says something unusually poetic, or funny, you wonder whose voice it is, but after a while you stop wondering. It doesn’t seem to matter. It’s everybody’s voice.


I began interviewing the Apollo astronauts in 1976. They were mostly retired astronauts by then, changed men. Over the years I taped nearly 80 hours of interviews with those original extraterrestrial humans, and excerpts from the tapes constitute the major part of the soundtrack of For All Mankind. The movie thus speaks with the intimate voice of personal experience.

For All Mankind is the firsthand story of a great mythic adventure. Touching the Moon was by definition a work of inspired imagination and high art, and scarcely requires further embellishment. It speaks for itself more eloquently than it can ever be interpreted: an age-old dream that at long last was fulfilled.

Rafferty again:

It takes enormous daring to make an avant-garde movie about people as determinedly square as the scientists, technicians, and pilots of the Apollo team; where this journalist, who had never directed a movie before, found the inspiration for that unlikely project is—like so much in the film—unfathomable. … In the late nineties, HBO aired a twelve-part docudrama series called From the Earth to the Moon, to which Reinert contributed two scripts. (The series is less exciting than it should have been—it tries too hard to be stirring—but its history is pretty reliable.) Reinert also had a hand in writing Ron Howard’s Apollo 13, which effectively (if, again, a bit too strenuously) dramatizes the 1970 mission … But 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.

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