First Man

I had very mixed feelings about paying to see ”First Man” but I did anyway. You see, its a subject I have taken very seriously my whole life, and although my method of embracing the space mania has changed over the decades the mania itself has remained as emotionally charged in me as it was the day I walked to kindergarten wearing my “space-helmet” of a cardboard carton with a hole for my head and another hole for the plastic covered window – I looked out through the fogged plastic that had once been part of a shirt box (the best kind) and I saw a boy the same age as me being led down Livingstone Road Marrickville by his parents (only my father was with me), this boy too, was wearing a “space-helmet” but he was walking along aping the exaggerated slow motion walk of the Astronauts in the low gravity of the moon.
I looked across the road at him in the bright morning sunlight and I thought; “He looks stupid” but I thought it quietly, kindly and above all I knew exactly why he was doing it, and probably most importantly I conveniently forgot that only minutes earlier I had been doing it myself. All in all this complicated realisation may well have been the first truly adult thought I had in my life; in retrospect it certainly feels like it. 

When I got to school, the playground was full of little men wearing space helmets and walking in far lower gravity than the girls or older boys were stuck with. The feeling of wonder, of humanity being a unified mass of individuals capable of being poetically united has never left me. If I’m strange, then so be it; I’m all the better for it.
Then along comes Hollywood. Was Hollywood going to bugger up the greatest story of the 20th Century the same way Peter Jackson rendered “The Lord Of The Rings” – as big budget run of the mill sword and sorcery tosh? Hollywood has a real gift for making the good stories into wide screen retard-o-rama, where any and all conflict is solved by people shooting each other, or indulging in bare-knuckle fisticuffs and glass breakage. In my jaundiced cynicism I could see Armstrong’s story being made more acceptable to mainstream audiences in Trump’s America by the detailed depiction of Armstrong’s early career as a bootlegger in a high powered car – hilarious chases where Armstrong’s iron nerve outdistanced the crooked Sheriff at every turn in the twisted Bayou roads. Or would Hollywood embrace the latest fad of the American peasantry  and have the astronauts see mysterious alien structures on the moon – but conive to keep it secret; **even though the whole moon trip had been faked anyway?* 
 
I was somewhat sure that the subject would be safe from the worst excesses of American idiocy since the shyster conspiracy theorists are still in the minority even if they probably count the president among their number. But in the time I had before the film, I concluded that it would most likely be a hagiography, a biography where every aspect of the character was suffused with the golden tones of respectful diffidence.
I was very pleasantly proved wrong on all counts “First Man” is a very good film in its own right; It is a very good in depth portrait of a very complicated man, who, to make matters difficult, appeared to be anything *but* complicated. General Patton was a loud, brassy, highly flamboyant character and was portrayed true-to-life by George C. Scott. Oscar gongs rained from the sky. Armstrong wrapped himself in the test pilot’s mantle of olympian cool to such a profound degree that  he made the leap from test pilot to astronaut that is covered so perfectly in Phillip Kauffman’s “The Right Stuff”. He excelled as an astronaut and by remarkable talent, crazy dedication and a generous helping of pure bullshit luck survived three of the worst U.S. space program almost fatal accidents; (Apollo 1, “the flying bedstead” and Gemini 8). This imponderable luck was probably that saw him rise in position in the crew to be commander of Apollo 11 and that mission to be the first landing. In reality, Armstrong was engaged in a rather nasty fight with Buzz Aldrin, who thought that protocol meant that he should be the first to step on the moon. In its only break with the truth the film ignores the way that Armstrong pulled rank and at the very last gasp took the reward for himself, and so by ignoring the issue, the film unforgivably further sidelines Aldrin from history in its quest to present its subject more simply and positively. In fact it is not until the very last shot in the film that enlightenment arrives, and not at all in the way I expected, except looking back on that plastic visor of my youth, perhaps I should have. 
 
Take it from me, “First Man” is a bloody marvellous film, and should be seen from the first frame, in the middle of the front row, with the sound up loud. You don’t need a box on your head though. Not until Mars. See you then! 
© Alex rieneck 2018 All rights reserved

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