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Tag Archive: Michael Collins


Review by C.J. Bunce

When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.

— From The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance

It isn’t enough to tell us what a man did.  You’ve got to tell us who he was.

— From Citizen Kane

The battle between these two ideas becomes the screenwriter’s dilemma, particularly for a historical drama recounting actual documented events.  First, there are stories of famous people and events that touch so many that the details become less important than the mythology.  Whether peppered with embellishment and puffery, it’s what the multitudes think of as the hero.  Next, there is the desire to use the archival record to fill in all the details you know, to get as much of the story as technically accurate as possible.  For these movies, the detail often distorts the impact of the story or event, minimizing what makes the actions of a man or woman or event so historic or triumphant.  And that’s the struggle evident in First Man: The Annotated Screenplay, a new book that includes the consolidated draft script of the new film chronicling astronaut Neil Armstrong’s life leading up to the Apollo 11 moon landing in July 1969.

The beauty of the book is the full disclosure of the thoughts of two people, the screenwriter Josh Singer (The Post, The Fifth Estate, Fringe), and James R. Hansen, the historian and author of the only biography of Neil Armstrong authorized by Armstrong, First Man: the Life of Neil Armstrong.  Fans of NASA, of the history of spaceflight, science and technology will appreciate so many scenes that include verbatim text from the actual events.  For researchers and enthusiasts alike, Singer and Hansen include numerous reference citations showing the source of these scenes.  Yet even the bulk of these were edited for time and the needs of telling Singer’s story.  As revealed by both Singer and Hansen, the embellishments filling in the story between these sequences are many, so many that no scene seems to exclude artistic license by Singer–license that Singer freely acknowledges and defends as sincerely as someone defending a finely researched graduate thesis.  The scenes may be well-researched, educated, and heavily vetted speculation, but they aren’t reality.

Is it relevant, and does the final script reflect something of the aura missing from the space race and Moonshot that neither the director (born in 1985) nor the screen writer (born in 1972) were yet alive to witness?  Does the difference come down to the creative visions behind these movies, and established space race classics: bestselling author Tom Wolfe’s The Right Stuff that became the box office and critical hit The Right Stuff (directed by Philip Kaufman, who wrote Raiders of the Lost Ark), and the first-hand account by Jim Lovell in his book Lost Moon: The Perilous Voyage of Apollo 13, that became the box office and critical hit Apollo 13 (directed by popular filmmaker Ron Howard)?

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Emmy nominee and Golden Globe winner in 2017 and a Golden Globe nominee again this year for best actress in a television series, all for The Crown, Claire Foy is quickly becoming an actor to keep an eye out for.  Her career continues on an upward trajectory this Fall when she stars in two big screen movie releases.  Both of these films saw their first trailers arrive this weekend.  One is a historical biopic and the other a crime story, both adaptations of bestselling books.

Coming first is director Damien Chazelle’s First Man from Universal Pictures, a film about astronaut Neil Armstrong starring Ryan Gosling (Blade Runner 2049, The Nice Guys), with Foy co-starring as Armstrong’s wife Janet, based on a book by James R. Hansen.  The film also stars Corey Stoll (Ant-Man) as Buzz Aldrin, Lukas Haas (Witness, The Revenant) as Mike Collins, Jason Clarke (Terminator Genisys, Winchester) as Ed White, Ethan Embry (That Thing You Do!, Batman Beyond) as Pete Conrad, Kyle Chandler (Super 8, Argo) as Deke Slayton, and Ciaran Hinds (The Sum of All Fears, Munich, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2) in an undisclosed role.

Next will be director Fede Alvarez’s The Girl in the Spider’s Web from Sony Pictures.  This is a sequel to the film adaptations of Stieg Larsson’s novel The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.  Foy takes on the role of Millennium series star Lisbeth Salander, formerly played in the Swedish film by Noomi Rapace and later the American production by Rooney Mara.  This is the first story in the dark and violent series not written by Larsson–David Lagercrantz was tapped to pen the novel this film is based upon.  The film co-stars Sylvia Hoeks (Blade Runner 2049).

Here is Claire Foy in new trailers for First Man and The Girl in the Spider’s Web:

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Apollo 13 and President Nixon

Ask anyone who was alive in 1969 what their most vivid memory of a world event was and they’ll likely come up with word of President Kennedy’s assassination or the Apollo 11 moon landing.  To go back in time and replay the mission events that led up to Michael Collins dropping Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin on the lunar surface would be nothing but exciting.  This weekend we remember that moon mission that did not result in a lunar landing, Apollo 13, a mission that has been called NASA’s “most successful failure” for the achievement of NASA scientists and three other astronauts:  Jack Swigert, Fred Haise, and Jim Lovell.

Forty-five years ago the world waited to find out whether these astronauts would make it back to Earth, as chronicled in documentaries like the History Channel’s Man, Moment, Machine: Apollo 13 – Triumph on the Dark Side of the Moon and Ron Howard’s modern classic blockbuster Apollo 13, starring Tom Hanks, Bill Paxton, and Kevin Bacon.  But what if Apollo 11 had encountered a similar fate?

In the summer of 1969 the Nixon administration contemplated that outcome.  If something, anything happened to the astronauts on Apollo 11, how would America respond to such a disaster?  Nixon speechwriter William Safire wrote a speech for Nixon to be broadcast if Apollo 11 didn’t make it back–specifically if astronauts Armstrong and Aldrin were somehow stranded on the Moon.

Apollo 11 mission control

To promote a news series on famous letters on the BBC, actor Benedict Cumberbatch read Nixon’s speech–a “what if?” that we’re fortunate never was actually read by the President.  Here’s Cumberbatch (affecting an American accent) performing the reading:

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