NewYorker.Com Review: Richard Brody on The First Man

“The one scene that embodies the sixties onscreen is, to my mind, among the most contemptible scenes in recent movies. It takes place midway through the action, when Congress begins to question the value of the space program. Neil is dispatched to represent nasa in a meeting at the White House, where senators fret about “taxpayer dollars,” and while there he is summoned to the phone and informed of the deaths of three astronauts in an Apollo test. The point is clear: that the astronauts are risking their lives while Congress is counting beans and playing politics. 

But Chazelle takes that notion even further a few minutes later in the film, when, racked with unspeakable grief over the deaths of his colleagues, Neil drives off to be alone. “Half the country” may oppose the moon mission, but here Chazelle offers a peculiar, tendentious, and self-revealing cinematic interpretation of that phrase in the form of a montage. It shows Kurt Vonnegut, appearing in a black-and-white television clip, saying that the government would do better to spend the money on such things as making New York City “habitable.” There’s an archival clip of chanting protesters, featuring, prominently, a sign saying “¡Ayuda al Pueblo!” and footage, staged for the movie, of Leon Bridges performing Gil Scott-Heron’s 1970 song “Whitey on the Moon.”

With this sequence, Chazelle openly mocks people who thought that the moon money was spent foolishly—those pesky intellectuals, blacks, and Hispanics who go on TV or into the street demanding “gimme” while the likes of Neil and his exclusively white, male colleagues uncomplainingly put their lives on the line to accomplish historic things in the interest of “mankind.” In its explicit content, and by artful omission, “First Man” subscribes to the misbegotten political premise that America used to be greater—and that the liberating and equalizing activism of the sixties ignored, dismissed, and even undermined that greatness.”

Read the complete review HERE

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One Response to “NewYorker.Com Review: Richard Brody on The First Man”

  1. This is a GREAT review. There are many things I disagree with, but truly a fantastic perspective. Hats off!! I can only wish I could write like this…

    Like

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