For All Mankind

Al Reinert answers a single question in For All Mankind, his poetic 1989 documentary about the Apollo missions to the moon: What did it feel like? The former newspaper reporter tosses chronology aside in favor of narrative. He weaves together a single journey to the lunar surface based on millions of feet of footage from nine Apollo missions, much of which had never before emerged from its icy vault at NASA’s Johnson Space Center. This unorthodox picture, which has been remastered by Criterion for the 40th anniversary of the 1969 moon landing this month, may never earn plaudits from space buffs for historical accuracy, but it certainly wowed viewers at the Sundance Film Festival where it won both the Audience Award and the Grand Jury Prize. Opening with John F. Kennedy’s 1962 speech inciting the space race “for the progress of all people,” the film launches the viewer into the mental realm of the American astronaut. An eerie soundtrack by Brian Eno sets the mood as Reinert juxtaposes philosophical narration from crew members with popular tunes they listened to at the time, including Frank Sinatra and the booming motif of Stanley Kubrick’s 2001. Reinert wants to tell us that the astronauts are ordinary men in extraordinary circumstances as they gleefully somersault in their seats, fumble with moon rocks, or recall the haunting dreams they had sleeping in the Lunar Module with an entire planet to themselves. The troubles of Apollo 13 are only hinted at in the documentary, but Reinert would explore that drama six years later as screenwriter for the eponymous feature starring Tom Hanks.