Moonwalk One (1970)

If you are interested in any part of U.S. history, then you will probably want to check out the collection FedFlix. It is a huge selection of films produced by the U.S. government, in many different genres. I have previously reviewed a number of them, not least the Why We Fight series.

This week I take a look at a documentary that was made after the Apollo 11 moon landing, Moonwalk One, a slow-moving, almost meditational, film that may have been the first feature-length documentary about the event.

Saturn V lift-off with Apollo 11 in Moonwalk One (1970)

Moonwalk One covers selected aspects of development and preparation before the flight. It also features some interesting historical background to the space race, including clips from the Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers movie serieals. But the focus of the film is, of course, on the mission itself. The lift-off, the landing, and the trip back. In order to explain things, there are some simple, but adequate, pedagogical animations.

The film is, in many ways, similar to The History of Apollo series of short documentaries that I have previously written about. That series covers the entire Apollo program, whereas Moonwalk One goes more in depth about one single mission. Both are good, and which one you choose is a matter of preference.

This film is best enjoyed as a reflection of its time. I was born in the same year that this documentary was released, yet I can almost understand the immense feeling of accomplishment and belief in the future that the moon landing nurtured. It is definitely a good documentary if you happen to be interested in the space race, in particular the scenes depicting the impressive Saturn V lift-off. But it lacks the perspective that a few decades tend to lend to historical events.

The Apollo 11 Lunar Module returning from the moon in Moonwalk One (1970)

Moonwalk One
Download link
Year: 1970
Running time: 1 h 35 min
Director: Theo Kamecke
Image quality: Good
Resolution: Medium (720×540)
Sound quality: Good
Best file format: MPEG2 (4.2 G)

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The Star Wars Holiday Special (1978)

Imagine being kicked in the shin. Repeatedly, over and over again, for almost two hours. That is what it feels like to watch The Star Wars Holiday Special. I normally try to stay away from writing about bad movies on this blog (although on occasion I make an exception or two), but this is one you just need to experience because, you know, you have to see it to believe it.

Patty Maloney, Micke Morton, Paul Gale and Harrison Ford (Han Solo) in The Star Wars Holiday Special (1978)

Everyone knows that the first Star Wars film premiered in 1977. Less well known is that The Empire Strikes Back (1980) was actually not the second part of the saga. That honour goes to The Star Wars Holiday Special, which made its TV premiere for the Christmas season of 1978. Here, you will see Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Anthony Daniels (C3PO), Peter Mayhew (Chewbacca) and James Earl Jones (voice of Darth Vader) reprising their roles from the first film. However, none of these are the main characters. Instead, the action centres around Chewbacca’s family – his father, wife and son – living in a tree house that would have made Johnny Weissmuller green with envy.

This is where the Holiday Special’s problems start. Through much of the film, these relatives just walk around, howling their lungs out in poor imitation of wookie language (which, embarrassingly, was created by Ben Burtt himself). The so-called story, about Chewie having to make it back home in time for celebrating the all-important Life Day holiday, is stupid enough in itself, but every step of the execution just keeps making it worse, and then worse again.

There is actually one segment of the Special that is rather good (when compared with the rest). About halfway through, there is a ten-minute animated short film. The inclusion of this is incredibly silly, plot-wise speaking, but when seen in isolation, the animation (which is not in any significant way connected with the rest of the plot) has a number of redeeming features. Sure, the animation is a bit too cartoonish and the voice actors (also the original cast, as far as I can tell) certainly did not put their souls into the job. But on the other hand, and very much unlike the rest of the Special, it has a lot of nice Star Wars-esque alien planet environments. The story is simple but not bad. As an oddity under the Star Wars brand, this short is well worth exploring. Also, it is the first-ever appearance of Boba Fett.

Since The Star Wars Holiday Special has never been restored and officially released after the original airing, copies found online tends to be of really low quality. The main copy at the Internet Archive is the best I have seen, with almost-decent technical quality. There is also another version available, with worse quality, but on the other hand it comes with all the commercials from the original airing. They provide a welcome break from the inanities of the Special, and also add some unintended entertainment of their own.

This film is best enjoyed because you know that pain is your friend. Besides, what does not kill you will make you stronger. George Lucas has allegedly gone on record saying that, if he could, he would smash every existing copy of this film with a sledgehammer. This in itself is reason to watch it. Also, when properly applied it can actually be useful. Carrie Fisher has stated that she always puts this film on when she wants her late guests to leave the party.

R2D2, C3PO (Anthony Daniels), Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew), Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher), Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) in The Star Wars Holiday Special (1978)

The Star Wars Holiday Special
Download link
Year: 1978
Running time: 1 h 48 min
Director: David Acomba, Steve Binder
Stars: Carrie Fisher, Harrison Ford, Mark Hamill, Anthony Daniels, Peter Mayhew
Image quality: Poor
Resolution: Medium (720×480)
Sound quality: Acceptable
Best file format: MPEG4 (597 M)

Freedom River (1971)

This Short Film Month of October continues with a more recent film than previous entries. This time we turn our focus onto a very short and at first sight insignificant little animation that turns out to have layers of depth and meaning in it. The film in question is Freedom River.

Boats and "Immigration" sign from Freedom River (1971)

Made in 1971, Freedom River has to be seen against the historical background of the Vietnam war, and all of the political awakenings and awareness associated with that time. Freedom River is not, strictly speaking, an anti-war film. It is critical to many aspects of American society at the time, and that is probably the reason why it has remained fresh for four and a half decades. Many of the political issues raised in the film are just as relevant today as they were then, and since the film stays with generalisations, without going in-depth on any one subject, it feels almost timeless.

Surprisingly little information is available on the Internet about this little gem of a film. Orson Welles narrated the only voice heard in the film, and you would think that his name alone would generate enough interest for this film to achieve a classic status, but apparently not. One surprising and interesting comment, however, can be found in the film’s user reviews section at the IMDb. Joseph Cavella, the film’s writer, has this to say about the production of Freedom River:

“For several years, Bosustow Productions, a small studio for which I wrote several films, had asked Orson Welles, then living in Paris, to narrate one of their films. He never responded. When I finished the Freedom River script, we sent it to him together with a portable reel to reel tape recorder and a sizable check and crossed our fingers. He was either desperate for money or (I would rather believe) something in it touched him because two weeks later we got the reel back with the narration word for word and we were on our way.”

The film is not without its faults. The animation is very effective, but perhaps overly simplistic at times. Also, there is an undercurrent of patriotism that seems to suggest that freedom and prosperity are inherent in the very land of America (although the actual place is not named). The film would, I think, have been even more powerful if it had acknowledged that humans alone can create a good society, and it could also have mentioned the problems brought upon the Native Americans by the white immigrants. But these are minor quibbles.

This film is best enjoyed as a political allegory for any time. Until we have truly achieved Utopia, this sort of commentary will always remain a reminder of what is important in life.

Beach and houses from Freedom River (1971)

Freedom River
Download link
Year: 1971
Running time: 7 min
Director: Sam Weiss
Stars: Orson Welles (voice)
Image quality: Acceptable
Resolution: Medium (512×384)
Sound quality: Acceptable
Best file format: MPEG2 (242 M)

Que viva Mexico! (1979)

Que viva Mexico! is one of those films which is interesting even before you have started watching it, because it is a fascinating history.

Sergei Eisenstein's Que viva Mexico (1979)

The brilliant Soviet film maker Sergei Eisenstein went to Mexico in the early 1930s, to make a film there. He immediately started shooting, and the ideas for the script grew as he worked with the material.

But Eisenstein was never to complete his film. After having shot a good deal of film, he ran out of money and, unable to enter the United States, where he had planned to complete the film, eventually had to go back to the Soviet Union without being able to bring the film with him. The film material instead ended up in the US, where it was used to make several other films.

In the end, the complete, unedited material was sent to Soviet in a trade, but by then Eisenstein was long since dead. Instead, his assistant Grigori Alexandrov, who had been with him in Mexico, set out to make a film as true to Eisenstein’s vision as possible. This is the film that can be downloaded from the Internet Archive. It was not released until 1979, almost 50 years after the project had commenced.

The Internet Archive version is dubbed in Italian. Provided that you either understand Italian or have a good set of subtitles, that is not really a problem; only some brief parts in the beginning and end require lip synchronisation. I distinctly remember having seen this version some years ago with subtitles, so I assume that I found and downloaded them from some other Internet site. Try Google, and they should hopefully not be too hard to find.

This film is best enjoyed if you know a bit about the background, which is why I have focused on the film’s history above. However, it is in many ways a beautiful and powerful film, and gives us a brief glimpse of life in Mexico in the 1930s.

Sergein Eisenstein's Que viva Mexico (1979)

Que viva Mexico!
Download link
Year: 1979
Running time: 1 h 24 min
Language: Italian (no subtitles)
Director: Sergei Eisenstein, Grigori Alexandrov
Image quality: Acceptable
Resolution: Medium (576×456)
Sound quality: Acceptable
Best file format: Cinepack (667 M)

The History of Apollo (1968 – 1973)

The United States’ moon program, the Apollo program, has often been mentioned as the peak of the big Space Race between the US and the Soviet Union. While the program was still going on, NASA produced a series of very interesting documentaries, one for each mission. The majority of these are available at the Internet Archive.

Apollo 4 Saturn V rocket in The Apollo 4 Mission (1968)

As far as I know, there was never an official title for this series. Each part was produced as a stand-alone piece to be released after the respective mission. The title The History of Apollo was used as the subtitle of a DVD compilation of these films, and I thought it made for a nice umbrella title.

The editing and narration are fairly low-key. There is some focus on the technical aspects of the missions, and compared to many later Apollo documentaries, there is little about the astronauts’ feelings and practically nothing about their private lives. There is also nothing about the politics behind the missions. For my own part, I find this to be a refreshing change. We get to focus on the process of getting men on the moon, and that is as it should be.

Here is a list of all the parts, and links to the Internet Archive for each.

The “missing” Apollo 10 episode can probably be found on other Internet sites.

This series is best enjoyed if you are interested in a specific mission – or if you are really into the big Space Race and the Cold War. The documentaries are very good, and a nice document of a historically important period. At between 15 and 30 minutes of length for most they are quick watches, but the entire series, especially in one sitting, is a bit over the top.

NASA control room during an Apollo mission from Apollo 13 - Houston, We Have a Problem (1972)

The History of Apollo
Download link (Apollo 11 episode)
Year: 1968 – 1973
Running time: 4 h 49 min
Director: Ted Lowry
Image quality: Acceptable
Sound quality: Good

Santa and the Three Bears (1970)

When Santa and the Three Bears was first offered as a Christmas special to various American TV networks, they declined, saying that it did not include an antagonist. This goes to show just how stuck people often are in the preconceived Hollywood notions of how a story is supposed to be told.

Santa Claus and the Three Bears (1970)

So there is no evil nemesis in Santa and the Three Bears. Just an old and kindly park ranger and a bear mother with her two cubs. The cubs learn about Christmas and want the ranger to tell them more about it. So they decide to wait up for Santa Claus, instead of going into hibernation. Sounds boring? It is not. Not unless you are absolutely allergic to a bit of sentimentality which, admittedly, this film has its share of.

The film is also filled with music. Original music, yet it fits perfectly with the Christmas theme. If you love Christmas music, then you are going to love the music for this film.

Santa and the Three Bears is certainly not the most polished piece of animation. It looks mostly like some low-budget Hanna Barbera cartoon. But that is easy to forget and forgive when the beauty of the story starts to kick in.

This film is best enjoyed while getting into the mood for the Christmas season, especially if you fancy the American variety of Christmas.

Santa Claus and the Three Bears (1970)

Santa and the Three Bears
Download link
Year: 1970
Running time: 46 min
Directors: Tony Benedict, Barry Mahon
Stars: Robert Hal Smith
Image quality: Acceptable
Resolution: Medium (720×540)
Sound quality: Acceptable
Best file format: DivX (700 M)

The American West of John Ford (1971)

Last week, I wrote about the John Wayne film Angel and the Badman, and about John Wayne’s status as a Hollywood legend.

Wayne made his big breakthrough in the classic western Stagecoach (1939). The director was John Ford, and if John Wayne is the leading western actor of all time, then Ford is the leading western director. Ford’s career and legacy are described in the documentary The American West of John Ford.

John Wayne in The American West of John Ford (1971)

Clips from many of Ford’s films are shown in the documentary, and some more are mentioned in passing. Of all those films, the only ones that I know to be at the Internet Archive are two wartime propaganda films, namely The Battle of Midway (1942) and December 7th (1943).

As a documentary, this is a fairly unique film, because some of Ford’s most respected leading actors, John Wayne, James Stewart and Henry Fonda, appear as cicerones, talking about Ford and also with him (Ford was still alive when the documentary was made, but died two years after its premiere). Thus, the film revolves around first-hand accounts of the legandary director, and also those of legandary actors, now gone.

The documentary is nice because it tells the story in a very personal way. John Ford’s own participation is not in the traditional interview situation, but in locations where he shot some of his best-known pictures. He seems relaxed, and this is perhaps the film’s greatest strength, because we feel like we get close to him.

This film is best enjoyed by western fans who want to see some of the actors and the director that were perhaps most responsible for shaping and popularising the genre in the decades following the 1930s.

James Stewart and John Ford in The American West of John Ford (1971)

The American West of John Ford
Download link
Year: 1971
Running time: 1 h 40 min
Director: Denis Sanders
Stars: John Wayne, James Stewart, Henry Fonda
Image quality: Acceptable
Resolution: Medium (720×406)
Sound quality: Good
Best file format: DivX (698 M)