Sunday, July 7, 2019

Prisoners of the Moon review – the dark side of the Apollo 11 story

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This considered documentary blends archive, original interviews and reconstruction to track down an ugly, sticky thread from the great tapestry of self-congratulation that is forming around the 50-year anniversary of the first moon landing. Where a number of recent documentaries and dramatic features celebrate, however justly, the bravery, vision and scientific achievement of the Apollo 11 mission, writer-director Johnny Gogan’s collaboration with co-writer Nick Snow is a reminder that it was thanks to contributions from scientists smuggled out of Nazi Germany after the second world war that the Americans beat the Russians to the moon.

In particular, this zeroes in on the story of Arthur Rudolph, who is played in flashbacks with enticing ambiguity by Jim Norton. Rudolph, an engineer, joined the Nazi party in 1931 and worked directly under the pioneering rocket scientist Wernher von Braun on the V-2, which was constructed using slave labour drawn from the Mittelbau-Dora concentration camp. Along with Von Braun and others, Rudolph ended up in the US, playing a major role at Nasa in its early days.

All this gives the film a timely charge, but the emphasis is much more on Rudolph’s later years, particularly 1990 when he tried to enter Canada and ended up facing an immigration hearing, big chunks of which are re-enacted here, with Cathy Belton playing Rudolph’s sinister barrister Barbara Kulaszka. Meanwhile, actor Marty Rea, dressed in concentration-camp striped pyjamas, recites passages from the memoir of survivor Jean Michel to chilling effect, appearing like Banquo’s ghost during the trial scene to see justice done.  (more...)

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