The world held its breath

By Richard Paradise - November 1, 2007

One of the single most significant historic events I have ever "witnessed" was watching the first lunar landing as it happened, on television, as an eleven-year-old kid. Okay, maybe there was a 13-second delay, but I was right there with those guys - my heart pounding, skipping a beat every time Uncle Walter (Cronkite) interjected his incomparably eloquent journalistic commentary. But even Cronkite couldn't suppress his awe as mankind's greatest achievement unfolded before our eyes.

Between 1968 and 1972, nine American spacecraft voyaged to the Moon, and 12 men walked upon its surface. They remain the only human beings to have stood on another world. "In the Shadow of the Moon" brings together for the first time, and possibly the last time, surviving crew members from every single Apollo mission that flew to the Moon, and allows them to tell their story in their own words.

Without a single frame of CGI or simulation, the filmmakers compiled astounding, never-before-seen footage with inserts of intimate confessions by some of the remaining Apollo crew members who took part in the nine moon landings. "Shadow" shows just part of how the work of 400,000 scientists and engineers came together to make President Kennedy's dream of putting a man on the moon by the end of the decade, a reality.

"The extraterrestrial film footage, shot by the astronauts themselves, has been brought out of storage only a handful of times since the '60s and '70s," Chris Riley, the film's co-producer, explains. Considering that there may not be any more footage shot on or from the moon by an actual human again in our lifetime, this film is very precious indeed.

Although Neil Armstrong, known to be somewhat of a recluse, does not make an appearance, he is certainly there in spirit. His fellow crew members make it known they felt he was the right choice for the first man out. That he was preternaturally calm under pressure, they concur. Recollecting how Armstrong delivered those poignant first words as he descended the steps of the LEM, and how it might have been more tempting for him to simply yell, "Whoopee! I did it!"

"In the Shadow of the Moon" effectively evokes that brief time in late-20th century America when we thought that the government was doing something right. This documentary puts a human face - and soul - into those bulky space suits, and lets us know what it was really like to be on those harrowing missions.

"In The Shadow of the Moon," Friday, Nov. 2, 7:30 pm at the Katharine Cornell Theatre, Spring Street, Vineyard Haven. M.V. Film Society. $8 or $5 for members. Doors open 30 minutes prior to screening.