One of the absolute finest docs of the year (right up there with Charles Ferguson‘s No End in Sight and Tony Kaye‘s Lake of Fire) is David Sington‘s In The Shadow of the Moon (ThinkFilm, 9.7). Finest as in touching, inspiring, thought-provoking…a genuine contact high.

This is going to sound funny coming from an L.A. leftie, but Sington’s film made me feel almost patriotic — at least patriotic in a nostalgic sense. It reminds you that despite the pestilence of the Vietnam War and race riots and all the other horrors going on in the ’60s and early ’70s this country — by virtue of the space program — used to stand for something at least partly good. What does the U.S. government stand for today besides rube ignorance, neocon arrogance, the inspiring of Middle Eastern hate and contributing mightily to the destruction of the planet so that affluent-alcoholic Americans can drive their fat SUVs?
And yet one of the most moving things in the film is a recollection from one of the Apollo astronauts that when Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed on the moon on 7.20.69, the sentiment wasn’t that “the U.S. did it” but that “we” did it — i.e., people of the earth.
And yet the emphasis in Shadow is not on the technical or political side but how the astronauts felt about what they went through, and what they were thinking deep down. Their recollections are even intimate at times. At least one of the guys (his name escapes) talks about having had a mystical experience during a moon voyage. No surprise in this. Anything that takes you outside the day-to-day groove can theoretically lead to a spiritual breakthrough, and in this sense the Apollo space program provided at least one or two of these former military pilots the same kind of God-head revelations that LSD voyagers were experiencing down on the ground during the same era.
There’s a special screening of In the Shadow of the Moon in Beverly Hills on Wednesday evening — special because it’ll be followed by an after-party with Ron Howard (who has endorsed the film by agreeing to a “Ron Howard presents” in the credit block) and astronauts Buzz Aldrin and Dave Scott in attendance.