My Moon Landing Movie

story © Michael Betancourt, July 20, 2014 all rights reserved.


Since today is the 45th anniversary of the Apollo 11 Moon landing, here is my Moon Landing movie:

Contact Light is made from 19th and 20th century depictions of the Moon, Georges Méliès’ famous fantasy film from 1902, and the reality of Apollo 11 in 1969. The title comes from Buzz Aldrin saying, “Contact light. A very smooth touchdown.” heard at the end of my movie.

Earlier descriptions of ‘heavens and earth’ provide a visionary subtext to scientific exploration. Culture is a layering, where new ideas and interpretations form “sedimentary layers” over earlier ones, contradicting them in the process: new meanings for old symbols. The Moon provides a readymade source of imagery and symbolic forms for intersections that temper the meaning of the present, giving it a complexity and ambiguity specific to the collision of mythic and scientific forms.

This archival “remix” employs a range of historical sources, and combines the ghostly music bleeding through in Reception/Transmission with plasma wave sounds and historical audio from Apollo 11. Jules Verne’s’ predictions in his novels From the Earth to the Moon (1865) and Around the Moon (1870) anticipate the real Apollo program (locating the launch facility in Florida, the time it takes to get to the Moon, that the Moon is barren, lifeless), yet Méliès overlays his film journey with fantasy, even dressing the astronomers in wizard costumes more appropriate for magicians than scientists. The ‘face of the moon’ shot from ‘Le Voyage dans la Lune’ provided a coherent summary of these fantastic elements, one that would be instantly recognized: these recognitions of real document and historical fantasy were required for its association of fantasy::reality.

Selecting footage for the movie focused on evoking both historical fantasy and documentary footage. Footage of the Apollo missions was limited to immediately recognizable shots; the flare of the rocket engine provided a perfect bridge to Méliès’ shot. Central to these visuals is the use of static imagery: (1) a picture of ‘lovers in the moon’ from an 1890s metamorphic postcard—this optical illusion was this movie’s inspiration. (2) A three minute sequence of digitized film containing scratches and punch holes that contrast with the glitched and digital character of the materials (carefully positioned to overlap with the Moon, linking it to these ‘errors’), and (3) material from NASA/JPL’s archives (a contemporary satellite image of the Earth; footage from Apollo 11, the first mission to land there in 1969, and Apollo 17, the last, in 1972). The scientific footage was seamlessly combined with (4) a single shot in ‘Le Voyage dans la Lune,’ Méliès’ iconic film from 1902: his capsule hitting the ‘face of the moon’ in the eye.


Sight Unseen has organized a program of movies called"To the Moon" that includes Contact Light screening on October 8, 2014 at the Station North Ynot Lot!

Copyright © Michael Betancourt  July 20, 2014  all rights reserved.

All images, copyrights, and trademarks are owned by their respective owners: any presence here is for purposes of commentary only.