Richard Williams

The death was announced last week of one of my cinema heroes, Richard Williams.

Williams was born in Canada but lived and worked nearly all his life in the UK. He used to have his headquarters in Soho Square in London. Am not sure if it is still there.

You will know Mr Williams’ work. He has produced some very famous animation over the years, including Who Framed Roger Rabbit? and credits for many feature films, including some Pink Panthers and The Charge of the Light Brigade.

I have seen Mr W several times at the NFT in conversation about his work. The last time wa maybe a year or so ago. He was there to show his big project, an animated full length film variously called The Thief, The Thief and the Cobbler, The Princess and the Cobbler…

This is/was a kind of Arabian Nights type story, and has one of the most longwinded and troubled production histories of any film. You can read all about it here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Thief_and_the_Cobbler

The chances of a final, definitive version appearing seem slight.

Space odyssey

Just also putting things into context, the Moon was reached for the first time at the very end of 1968 (by humans) and the landing was 1969.

One of the great science fiction films of all time, possibly one of the great films of all time, was released the year before ie before we had even landed on the Moon. I speak of 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Now, you can look back on this film and highlight mistakes (the colour of the Earth seems a bit pale, for example, and the walking on the Moon seems wrong – a bunny hop seems more approriate), but we know director Kubrick was a stickler for detail and believeability.

I am never sure what the title has to do with anything. It is not clear what part of the film, if any, takes place in 2001. The only indication of a time is one caption, for 18 months later. I have always suspected that the date was chosen not as part of a realistic prediction of where space exploration would be, but simply as the first year of a new millennium, a fresh start to history.

Space travel is nowhere near that depiction in the film. Easy shuttle flights to a space station, bases on the Moon, suspended animation and missions to Jupiter are just as far off now as they were then, disappointingly.

Excitement

It was a truly exciting time. They went to the Moon in peace for all mankind. Everyone around the world watched it if they could.

We look back now after 50 years of technological progress, and find we couldn’t do it now. We don’t have the expertise, plain and simple. Despite iPhones, the Internet, Lady Gaga and heart transplants, no suitable technology is there.

In those days, it was a time for optimism. It’s hard to believe, given the way the USA is these days under the current President.

So, let’s give a big credit to the many science/space films there are, especially In The Shadow Of The Moon, which is astronauts talking about their experiences, and Apollo 11.

I saw this at the IMAX in London just recently. In 90 minutes or so, with no talking heads, no commentary, a few graphics and some appropriate music, it captures that optimism.

Most of the footage from space has been seen before (there is relatively little of it around of course, but it all looks as good as it can be), but the shots of the crowds at take off and of the control rooms is just great. Even though you know what happens, it’s hard not to get totally involved in it all. At my screening, there was a huge round of appluase at the end.

Don’t miss it. The bigger screen, the better.

My interest in space lead me to joing the British Interplanetary Society. I was a member and a fellow for 30 odd years.

First Man

I want to write a review of a film that has yet to come out. OK then, a preview…

I am a child of the 1960s really. I was into The Beatles, I had granny glasses and a fringed jacket and could tell you anything about the space race. I remember when man first landed on the Moon. It was middle of the night in the UK and I was not allowed to watch it live, one of the greatest events in the history of humanity, spoilt by my parents under threat of punishment.

There are many shameful things about this world. One is that people do not remember the names of the astronauts who walked on the Moon. Another is that we no longer have the technology to get us there, this 50 years after the main event. Of course, as soon as Apollo 11/Eagle landed, people began to complain it was too expensive, a waste of money. Money that could be spent on wars. Three missions were cancelled. Scientific enquiry counts for nothing.

Neil Armstrong was the first man to walk on our satellite. As such, he must go down as one of the most famous men in history. But let’s not forget the courage, skill and achievements of the others who went to the Moon though.

Why was Armstrong chosen? I think, for two reasons, one his incredible skill, the other, his ability to cope under pressure. During the flight and afterwards. For the rest of his life he was bugged by people wanting to meet him, ask questions, have a little piece of his life. In the end, for Armstrong, it got too much. He hated it, and became a recluse. By the time the excellent documentary In The Shadow Of The Moon was made, he refused to participate. He wanted a quiet life. And, of course, in 2012 he died.

There have been feature films about space, especially Apollo 13. There have been documentaries. Now there is a new one coming up, First Man.

Trailers indicate it is to be released in IMAX.

It centres on Armstrong. Presumably the climax will be the trip to the Moon.

Watching space footage on a big screen is as close as most of us will ever get. I hope their cgi footage is correct, and watchable.

I am worried. These types of ‘biography’ take liberties with the facts, for no reason. I am hoping Mr Armstrong will not be portrayed as some kind of swashbuckling space pioneer, just a guy doing his job exceptionally well. If they alter the facts to keep it ‘interesting’, that will be depressing.