Directed by: Al Reinert
I have been curious to see Al Reinert’s For All Mankind for some time; I’ve developed a fascination with space in recent years and I’m always looking for an opportunity to learn a little more. Reinert’s film documents all nine Apollo missions by presenting them without distinction, or even the introduction of individual astronauts on each mission, giving the appearance of a single mission and a single narrative for this tight 80 minute documentary. For All Mankind is thwarted by it’s own subject matter because in space the American spirit makes even less sense than it does on Earth.
Much of this film is breathtaking, as Reinert relies almost entirely on footage shot by the men during their missions into space. Reinert wants to revel in the beauty of these rare images, the majesty of the Earth as seen from the inaccessible viewpoints. The way that Reinert avoids exposition in order to let the images express themselves lends a tranquility to sections of the film. Watching a couple astronauts (I assume Armstrong and Aldrin) bouncing around and singing and giggling like children offers a wonderful humanity to these men who appear so stiff for so much of the film, and one astronaut’s consideration of his vulnerability is powerful.
What disappoints is that, despite all of Reinert’s efforts to avoid nearly all political context in his film, a nauseating sense of American nationalism bleeds through. It has always been a sore point for me that Americans seem unable to shake the misconception that space has anything to do with America. The blue marble of Earth rising over the horizon of the Moon is a far more compelling image than that of the astronauts floating around their space craft listening to Merle Haggard, yet the latter dominates the tone of the film. I don’t think this is Reinert’s fault, he is clearly trying to create an object of rare and unqualified beauty, but the space race is a direct result of the Cold War and the American spirit is woven so deeply into the fabric of that mission that Reinert would be hard pressed to make this film without it. Unfortunately, the contemplative beauty of Reinert’s elegant composition, Brian Eno’s score and the courage and intelligence of the astronauts themselves is undercut by the pushy presence of politics that stains Cold War space exploration.