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Walking on the Moon & Moonbathing


Well apologies to all for not posting too much, work is still marching on at a pace and bucking the credit crunch keeping me busy, and despite plenty of listening, not too much writing…  So it was the 40th Anniversary of the moon landings, quite rightly something we can SHOUT about as a world and be damned proud of.

I realise I tend have have the educated reader visiting this site so lets forget the crap of conspiracy and look at how BBC radio celebrated this anniversary.  There were several programmes highlighting the this great achievement and I have chosen a couple to highlight and maybe give a listen.

Maybe?  That hints at something I guess, whilst these programmes do not represent the best and worst of radio documentaries, they show one that hits the mark and one that just misses. Moonbathing, a radio 2 documentary misses the mark but has a much more difficult job.  Trying to equate a bunch of egotistical rockers enjoying spaced out visions with the people featured in Walking on the Moon who actually did the deed was always going to be a tricky job.  The problem lies in comparing the obvious pomposity of rock and pop music with the awe inspiring job done by the Apollo team in 1969.

Now with music ,one cannot be entirely impartial, one has tastes, biases and ears.  What I hoped for in this documentary was something about the process behind the creativity of some great music. Music inspiring or referencing the moon landings.  Gliding serenely above the rest was Brian Eno’s ‘Apollo Atmospheres’ which got a scant few minutes airtime in this documentary.  A beatiful album produced by Eno and Lanois to support the film “For All Mankind” produced in 1983.  It is also the only music that appears in both documentaries.

The documentary was interesting, I liked the Joe Meek stuff, the obvious mention of a Seraphim, the link to sputnik, 2001 etc.  What one gets is a kind of travelogue through space rock. This is  OK but the link to the moon is only by association.

The programme starts with Pink Floyd’s music for the BBC’s images of the moon landings, a relevant and interesting point yet covered in no real detail,then we go into Haydn’s Creation and Holst’s Planet  Suite,   followed by some twee 50’s country music to start the discussion about the ‘Space race’ and sputnik, cue “satellite baby” and in we go to Les Paul…

This is just the first 5 minutes.  The problem here for me is it never fell into either camp, it was neither seriously investigating the cultural (and popular) impact of sci-fi and space, nor was is highlighting some key space music moments, instead it rattled through a shopping list of space moments and music.

Now all that said, give it a listen, but it is only vaguely associated to the Moon landings, instead think of journey through space music and you’ll enjoy it. It is well researched and presented but the sheer volume of material covered lessens any memorable impact it may have.

Onto Walking on the Moon, how good is this documentary?  Listen to the first 10 seconds and try not get hooked, the music ( for much of the programme Brian Eno’s Apollo Atmosphere’s), Buzz Aldrins incredulous opening statement, inspiring stuff. I am going to have difficulty reviewing this programme without constantly heaping praise on it, but like so many other great Radio Four documentaries these programmes are just superb.

The confidence they have to let archive material and superb interviews tell the story is stunning. This should show other radio and TV documentaries that you do not need flashy technique or gimmicks to sell a historical documentary, just great interviews, confidence in the story and great editing.

The use of the original BBC coverage to drive the very basic narrative of the moon landing makes the journey seamless and it links into the comms traffic of the flight and back to more interviews. You learn so much about the feelings, the pressure and the hope that existed during the build up and eventual landings on the moon.

The interviews are wide enough to cover the story (the astronauts, control, wives) but still focused enough that the story and that focus is never lost (except once for me but more on that later).

When Buzz Alsdrin started to talk about the technical but fascinating detail of the actual landing, you slowy realise just how big, how important and how astonishing this feat actually was.  His voice drifting over the occasional music is hypnotic, his matter of fact explanation of this astonishing journey is fantastic. As we drift through interviews and comms traffic through to touchdown (via vintage BBC coverage) we get more and more tense til the final moment of the Moon landing. You get a sense of the tension at Mission Control and lastly and most importantly you get a vision of what it was like to walk on the moon, stunning material, beautifully assembled. The Gene Kranz interview is absolutely wonderful, interesting and personal.  He gives a great feel of the human side of mission control.

The only slight complaint I had was the vox pops of ordinary people’s recollection of the moon landing, what it mean to them, how they felt etc.  These are great and very interesting, but for those few minutes we lose the granduer, the power of the story. The very normality of these interviews is great but it just jars against the stunning storytelling of the last 30 minutes. It sounds apart and different from the rest of the programme (both stylistically as well as content) and may have worked better as a footnote, but this is a minor niggle.

The documentary picks up again after this ‘island’ and carries on to a great finish, and I cannot recommend this highly enough, great – great listening. Forget the visual spectacle listen to this documentary.

BBC Link.

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