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The man on the Moon: 6 works of art to celebrate the lunar landing

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Published on Jul 20, 2019

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July 20, 1969: exactly 50 years ago man set foot on the Moon, our only natural satellite, for the first time in history. “That's one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind“ (“One small step for man, a giant leap for mankind“) is one of the phrases the most famous of the last century, and was pronounced by both the american astronaut Neil Armstrong as soon as his feet touched the lunar soil.

At the distance of 50 years to the day, however, there are still doubts about the actual moon landing of Armstrong and Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin, arrived on board of Apollo 11 in the vicinity of the Sea of Tranquility on 20 July 1969. Whether you are celebrating this momentous event knowing that it happened really, or whether you are firmly convinced that the moon landing was all staged, directed by Stanley Kubrick, there are a wealth of references to the Moon in all the media, so collect them all would be a colossal undertaking. For this reason, I have selected 5 works of art, ranging from movies to paintings, and which have in some way something to do with the Moon, even if only symbolically, reserving also a small surprise in the final. Have a good trip, astronauts!

Ron Howard directed this intense docudrama in 1995, based on Lost Moon: The Perilous Voyage of Apollo 13, the book published only a year before and written by the astronauts Jim Lovell and Jeffrey Kluger: the story is focused on the lunar mission aborted 1970 in which Lovell and his fellow crew were forced to improvise to be able to return to Earth safely after an explosion on board.

The protagonists of the film are Tom Hanks (Jim Lovell), Kevin Bacon (Jack Swigert) and Bill Paxton (Fred, Third)), which are subjected to the training of the astronauts prior to filming; in addition, many of the scenes in zero gravity were filmed on board an aircraft to the simulation of low severity ironically called the “Vomit Comet” or “comet vomit”. Robert Frost, instructor and flight controller for NASA, once cited Apollo 13 as the film is more accurate on the space.

“They have done their research and were attentive to the details. I spent a lot of time in the old Apollo FCR and they built a copy of extraordinary,“ wrote Frost in response to a question on Quora in December 2015. “Many of the dialogues were taken directly from the recordings of the mission, even if the now-famous phrase, ‘Houston, we have a problem’ was actually pronounced like: ‘Okay, Houston, we have a problem here'”.

Planetes (Katakana: プラネテス, pronounced: “Puranetesu”) is the first manga series written and illustrated by Makoto Yukimura, author, later, of the acclaimed Vinland Saga (here is my review of the first 3 episodes of the anime, distributed in Italy by the streaming platform, online payment, Amazon Prime Video). The title of the work is the transcription into Katakana of the ancient Greek term Πλανήτης, translated as “planet” or “wandering”; the story takes place between the 2075 and 2080 and is about a team of collectors of debris whose task is to prevent such debris collide with space stations, satellites and spaceships in transit in the vicinity of the Earth, while our Moon was built a base from which human beings would like to give beginning to the process of colonization of Mars and other planets in our Solar System.

One of the characteristic features of this work is the research on the part of Yukimura by the realism of its transposition, which can be seen, for example, in the absence of sound in the open space and in the health problems of the astronauts who spend a long time there, in an environment without gravity or reduced gravity compared to Earth, such as osteoporosis, cancer and radiation poisoning.

To give his creation a scientific basis is valid, Yukimura is even made use of the collaboration with the Japanese Space Agency JAXA, not to mention the presence in the DVD of the animation series comes from the manga Planetes to interviews with two NASA scientists.

In the work there are also many references to other works of fiction, like the movies of Stanley Kubrick's 1968 2001: a Space Odyssey, the tv series of the 2001 Star Trek: Enterprise and the series of japanese animation, born in 1979 Gundam.

All of this is finally accompanied by a maniacal care for the details, especially of the mecha, and the technological means that are shown in the work and care that the author has also used in his second work, Vinland Saga, before writing which Yukimura has documented the lives and traditions of the Vikings for well over a year.

You can find the complete series of 26 episodes of Planetes on the platform of online streaming and FREE VVVVID.

In 1992, the american band of alternative rock R. E. M. she released her album Automatic for the People, in which is included the single " Man on the Moon. The song is a heartfelt tribute to Andy Kaufman, a performer and american comedian whose biography is also based on the eponymous film of 1999 directed by Miloš Forman, in which Kaufman is played by Jim Carrey and featured on the soundtrack of which the song of R. E. M., the film picks up the title:

The text of the Man on the Moon, is full of quotations and references to the career, the life and death of Kaufman, so mysterious, to lead us to reflect on other topics considered ambiguous as landing on the moon: Kaufman died of lung cancer in 1984, but because he had a tendency to take everything very seriously there is anyone who actually believes Andy Kaufman is not dead (he said himself that one day he staged his death to reappear to the surprise after 20 years), but has assumed a new identity: that of Jim Carrey. But since the first television appearance of Carrey, dating back to 1983, only a year before the death of Kaufman, this bizarre theory has been disproved.

This film, 2018 directed by Damien Chazelle, is based on the book by James R. Hansen, First man – The first man – The authorized biography of Neil Armstrong; the protagonist of the film is Ryan Gosling in the role of Armstrong in a dramatization of the events of his life, including of course his historic visit on the lunar surface.

For the realization of this work has been required the help of NASA, as well as of the family Armstrong in such a manner as to ensure that in the film, were represented as accurately as possible the actual events, both from the technical point of view and from the more purely personal. Also some historians of NASA were consulted for the drafting of the screenplay, and were used some real equipment to NASA not only for shooting, but also to help the sound engineers to re-create minute details like the sound of a zipper on a space suit Apollo.

The realism in the film was also achieved thanks to a careful contextualization in the time in which the events took place, a time in which one mistakenly believes that a little’ all supported the space program, but in which, in reality, the popular support for the space program has never been over 50% during the Apollo program, except the week in which it actually landed on the moon.

De sterrennacht is a painting of 1889, made by the Dutch painter Vincent Van Gogh and is currently preserved and exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York, where I had the immense joy of being able to see with my own eyes live. In this work, one so famous, is the French town of Saint-Rémy-de-Provence is shown in a suggestive vision of the night.

The choice of this location is due to the fact that Van Gogh was there as a patient of the clinic for alienated mental located in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, in which the tormented artist had chosen to become a hospital following the self-mutilation of his left ear resulting to the tragic end of the friendship with his friend and fellow painter Paul Gauguin.

During his stay in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, Vincent Van Gogh painted a great many works, among which " the Starry Night, is believed to have been made by the Dutch artist a little before the rising of the Sun.

What makes it unique and so fascinating, even today, this painting is the short circuit between the realistic representation of what you actually saw that night, Van Gogh is looking out his window, and the way in which he chose to represent that vision: thanks to his particular painting technique, which consists in a succession of swirling brush strokes were incredibly dense color, the artist invests a simple landscape of the whole of the immense emotional charge that pervades his soul, and communicating so to those who admire the Starry sky, his fears and his infinite sense of unease.

One of the details that stands out most is the Moon in the top right corner of the painting, represented as a sickle, yellow-orange and surrounded by an aura of yellowish colour that stands out in a particular way in a work in which prevail the cool colors, especially the blue in its various shades, and black, while the sense of unease is manifested primarily in the stars that seem to rotate in whirls and dangerously in a sky that is always in the making.

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