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

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Orwell Rolls in His Grave (2003)

When I was a young man in the 80s and 90s, I used to think that I was living in a good world. That humanity, generally speaking, was going in the right direction and that we had a bright future ahead of us. Well, time has moved on, and so has my mind. Nowadays, I tend to be increasingly cynical about the future of mankind. Perhaps that is why I am writing a blog about cinema instead of anything important. A form of denial. Do something fun, and anxiety may perhaps be kept at a distance for a few hours more.

But even in the world of film, reality creeps up every once in a while, even though it is reality filtered through the minds and performances of the filmmakers. A good example of this is Robert Kane Pappas’ documentary Orwell Rolls in His Grave. Even though it is more than ten years old, it still has some interesting things to say about where today’s media are headed.

George W. Bush - one of the targets of the documentary Orwell Rolls in His Grave (2003)

It is important, when watching a film like this, to realize that it is not a balanced account of the state of things. Quite to the contrary, every person in the film who is allowed to speak freely is someone who shares Pappas’ point of view. That is not to say that it lacks value, nor that there is no truth in it. As a matter of fact, I find it absolutely terrifying to ponder the kind of world we are living in if only half of the accusations are true, and especially given developments such as the NSA surveillance, that were not known when the film was made.

Yes, the film is relevant, in spite of its age, and even though it has in some ways aged considedrably. There is much reporting about George W. Bush, for example, who was president at the time. Today, we tend to think that Bush was some kind of cruel American joke on humanity, not deserving to be taken seriously, but back then Bush was actually real and his statements and actions carried meaning.

The strength of this documentary, and the reason why it remains relevant, is the way in which it intertwines interviews and other typical documentary material with quotes from George Orwell’s book Nineteen Eighty-Four. As I have already noted in my review of the 1954 film Nineteen Eighty-Four, the US is not Oceania, and there is no reason to believe that it will turn into Orwell’s dystopia. But the allegories in the book and film are perhaps even more relevant today than they were when the book was written.

This film is best enjoyed when you are ready to step out of your bubble for a moment and look at some not so very nice aspects of reality.

They could be made to accept the most flagrant violations of reality ... and were not sufficiently interested in public events to notice what was happening. Quote from Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell, from the documentary Orwell Rolls in his Grave (2003)

Orwell Rolls in His Grave
Download link
Year: 2003
Running time: 1 h 44 min
Director: Robert Kane Pappas
Image quality: Excellent
Resolution: Low (480×320)
Sound quality: Excellent
Best file format: Cinepack (1.5 G)

Enron – The Smartest Guys in the Room (2005)

On the Internet Archive, there are quite a good number of well-made documentaries from the past ten-or-so years. One of them is Enron – The Smartest Guys in the Room. As the title implies, it is about the rise and fall of the energy corporation Enron.

The Enron offices in Houston, Texas, from Enron - The Smartest Guys in the Room (2005)

The Enron scandal, unravelled shortly after the 9/11 terrorist attack in 2001, is considered to be one of the worst cases of corporate fraud ever committed. As a result of the scandal, tens of thousands of employees and private shareholders lost huge savings, in many cases resulting in personal disaster.

The documentary points out three major perpetrators to Enron’s criminal and unethical actions: The founder and CEO Ken Lay, President Jeff Skilling, and Chief Financial Officer Andrew Fastow.

The narrative structure of Enron – The Smartest Guys in the Room is fairly straight-forward by today’s standards. A narrator guides us past many interviews, TV news clippings and senate hearings, as well as various audio and video recordings for internal Enron use. There are also interior and exterior shots of the main offices, and of course the mandatory flashbacks to education and early careers of the central persons.

The whole mix is presented in a believable and appealing way. The conclusions, including some interesting speculation on what caused so much callousness and greed, seem to hold up when I double-check some other Internet sources on the subject.

This film is best enjoyed if you have been pondering questions of good versus evil in mankind and want some more food for thought.

Enron's Jeff Skilling from Enron - The Smartest Guys in the Room (2005)

Enron – The Smartest Guys in the Room
Download link
Year: 2005
Running time: 1 h 49 min
Director: Alex Gibney
Image quality: Excellent
Resolution: Medium (720×416)
Sound quality: Excellent
Best file format: Cinepack (1.5 G)