The Satellite Sky


                        Documentary filmmaker Robert Stone delivered a brilliant performance in his 1987 film Radio Bikini, his debut that chronicled Operation Crossroads,involving a pair of atomic tests on the Marshall Islands. One of the most vital features of this film was it’s minimal use of narration. About 98% of the film is told solely through archival footage of the period. Apparently inspired by the cold war era sociopolitical atmosphere Stone elected to make his follow up about the next logical step following the advent of the atomic age-the beginning of the exploration of outer space and the ensuing “space race” that followed between the United States and the Soviet union.

                          Stone begins the film with an Atlas ICBM test in Florida that ends in a typically enormous explosion,over which is played Ferrante & Teicher’s 50’s pop hit “Sleepwalk”. The story than follows into the USSR’s launch of the first human made satellite Sputnik  into Earth orbit. Of course immediately the satellite is thought to have massive military implications. We see images of engineers,local Floridonians and even a representative from the Chrysler corporation all discussing the the development of ICBM’s and therefore the linkage between the space race and the nuclear arms race.  Many many attempts at an American satellite fail until 1958 when Explorer 1 is successfully launched and America reveals it’s first Astronaut core,the Mercury 7,to the world.

                          As astronaut Allen Shepard debates who will be the first man in space,a soviet cosmonaut named Yuri Gagarin takes  that mantle. Not long after Shepard becomes the first American in space,though the soviets point out it was not an orbital light as theirs ways. By that time President Kennedy has already committed America to land a man on the moon and return him safely to Earth by decades end. This results in another frantic race to hurry forward the Mercury program-culminating in John Glenn’s first American orbital flight. Glenn returns a national hero and his hometown family and friends even make a miniature documentary before the film cuts to footage of the first moon landings several years later.

                           This film is somewhat different from Stone’s debut as it contains no outside narration whatsoever. The entire story is told through archival footage.  By juxtaposing footage of television shows,astronaut training footage and perhaps most significantly footage from the Soviet Union’s cosmonaut training program (probably obtained through much difficulty as this film was made just before the end of the cold war) with old American and Russian science fiction films and random human conversations this film has the affect of making the viewer feel as if they’re genuinely participating in these events. My own favorite part is,during a TV show discussing the USSR’s  Sputnik 5’s ability to jam US television signals Stone jump cuts via static to a Soviet export commercial for a brand of cigarettes named Laika,named after the Soviet dog who was a passenger on Sputnik 2. Again Robert Stone ably expressed the absurdity,humor and wonderment of the space race in this film perhaps more potently than most documentaries on the subject.


Capitalism: A Love Story

Capitalism-A Love Story

                         Moore begins his film very much in his typical fashion-linking his subject matter to the framework of history.  He visually compares America in the immediate post GW Bush era as similar to the Roman empire as it was about to fall: a paper thin level of surface sheen disguising an ailing socio-political construct. Of course after this we are treated to a time line that traces the post war economic boom following the second world war all the way up to the election of Ronald Reagan. It illustrates that that administration instituted a system by which American finances would be distributed from within enormous corporations. This resulted in a syndrome of trickle down economics that slowly declined throughout the 1990’s up to the present. And being a Michael Moore film,his ideal example of this is the infamous mass closing of and layoffs at the GM auto plants,and anything connected to them,in his native city of Flint. And from there Moore is off to the races.

                        Michael Moore is as always asked to leave just about any building he and his film crew approach as he pursues his investigation. Basically the world has become a ghetto,where people all over the country are being evicted from their homes after buying into all sorts of big bank based sub-primes and all manner of corrupt loans. While the news media is insisting that the economy is growing,the evidence is mounting all around Moore of the CEO’s of most major corporations are taking extended vacations and personal raises with the money that had provided his generation with a steady and secure middle glass. He introduces us to a juvenile jail where young people are imprisoned,often for below misdemeanor offenses,for a profit.  We also see the value of the dead placed over that of the living with the detestably named “dead peasant” insurance policies of corporations such as Wal-Mart. Amid the ever growing double talk as Moore tries in vein to understand modern financial codes,everything culminates in that massive 2008 Wall Street Bank collapse.

                       While the White House debates a government bailout during that years high stakes presidential election,Michael Moore takes us to the mid west where an industrial robot manufacturing plant and a bread distributor are making new economic strides with a democratic cooperate system,whereby the workers own the plants and all have a say in the economic distribution  As Obama is elected amid conservative backlash of his politics as being “socialist”,Moore talks to a member of the cabinet about how America has basically redefined the barriers between democracy and socialism to the point where they are made out to be one and the same. Moore ends the film by illustrating the looming anti-corporate  and pro Union attitude beginning to return to the average American working class individual.  In the end,Moore evokes a comparison to how FDR stood up for the auto plant strikers in his native Flint with Obama’s pro labor stance and sense of financial fairness.

                        Since I’m sure Michael Moore is more than aware of the irony of using the capitalist system in order to decry it by making this film,the pros and cons of this film are very personal. In his typical fashion he showcases both the everyday working American and there hopes and dreams to service with bankers and corporate CEO’s who,somewhere along the line,seem to have lost some of their heart and soul. One wonderful point he makes here is taking to the minister who married him and his wife,who along with other religious figures presented here,agree capitalism has in fact become unchristian and ungodly by their standards. This shows that,in truth,money has become a god to be worshiped  by a number of people. His narration and approach to the people he is trying to interview is calm and reasonable. Typically he never seems to raise his voice.  This makes his outlook even more accessible to those who may come into this with a skeptical eye.

                          The only quality about this film is one I’ve noticed is very typical of Michael Moore. And that is that he tends to equate the many societal ills that his films look to remedy under the banner of the closing of the GM plants in his native Flint, Michigan. Fact is,he covered that topic with remarkable thoroughness in his debut film Roger & Me and doesn’t really need to dwell on that theme as much as he does. Of course I could probably make the same remark on any Michael Moore film.  All and all,releasing this film during a time when American’s were taking back their democracy and were finally beginning to receive information in the media affirming the corruption surrounding them was a definite masterstroke.  It was also gratifying that this film ended with a great deal of optimism and hope in the future. And perhaps most importantly that our economic past and present are invariably tied together in helping to determine it’s own future.