Rabbi Richard Brody doesn’t seem to like Gentile White People. He especially doesn’t like films that feature Gentile white people as the leading characters. We recently saw Brody take issue with the Unbearable Whiteness of John Krasinski’s horror film A Quiet Place (“The noise of A Quiet Place is the whitest since the release of Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri…) and the recent film Peppermint.
In his review of First Man, the new Neil Armstrong biopic by Damien Chazelle, more of the Rabbi’s hostility emerges. The film is a “right-wing fetish object… a film of deluded, cultish longing for an earlier era of American life, one defined not by conservative politics but, rather, by a narrow and regressive emotional perspective.”
Of the flag-planting kerfuffle:
When “First Man,” Damien Chazelle’s drama about Neil Armstrong’s mission to the moon, premièred at the Venice Film Festival, in August, it stirred up an absurd controversy among right-wing blowhards who hadn’t seen the film but nonetheless damned it on the basis of reviews stating that the movie doesn’t depict the iconic moment when Armstrong planted the American flag on the lunar surface. It’s true that the flag-planting isn’t dramatized, but the blowhards need not worry: “First Man” is worthy of enduring as a right-wing fetish object. It is a film of deluded, cultish longing for an earlier era of American life, one defined not by conservative politics but, rather, by a narrow and regressive emotional perspective that shapes and distorts the substance of the film.
Brody also dislikes the stoicism of Armstrong, especially when women and minorities were existing in other spaces and places in time. At a deeper level, he seems to dislike the creation of Gentile white ‘heroes’, both now and even then, at a time when the country was about 90% white and Christian. Hence, per the Rabbi, among the film’s many sins, the biggest appears to be that it doesn’t have enough screen time for BLM & #MeToo concerns:
Nothing in the film suggests that Neil is even aware of what’s going on in the world around him. Much of the action in the movie takes place in Jim Crow states where public facilities were segregated, but there’s no hint of this in the film; there’s no hint of where Neil stands on the pressing questions of the time. He has no black colleagues, no female colleagues; meanwhile, a female cosmonaut, Valentina Tereshkova, flew a space mission for the Soviet Union in 1963. What did he think?
How can one possibly make a Neil Armstrong biopic without exploring what he thought of an obscure female cosmonaut? What serious filmmaker would tackle the Apollo missions without addressing why NASA had so few blacks in 1969?
The Rabbi’s fangs really come out with the film’s unbearable Whiteness. He describes the movie as “whiter than a Fred-and-Ginger ballroom set” (the contempt and hostility in this guy’s tone is amazing).
There has been a most peculiar, and longstanding, animus against manned space exploration by the likes of the Rabbi and his ilk, as there was with Barry Obama. I would argue their types lack the Faustian soul of European Man; they’d rather be spending the money on wider welfare redistributionism & high speed rail boondoggles:
The one scene that embodies the sixties onscreen is, to my mind, among the most contemptible scenes in recent movies. It takes place midway through the action, when Congress begins to question the value of the space program. Neil is dispatched to represent NASA in a meeting at the White House, where senators fret about “taxpayer dollars,” and while there he is summoned to the phone and informed of the deaths of three astronauts in an Apollo test. The point is clear: that the astronauts are risking their lives while Congress is counting beans and playing politics.
But Chazelle takes that notion even further a few minutes later in the film, when, racked with unspeakable grief over the deaths of his colleagues, Neil drives off to be alone. “Half the country” may oppose the moon mission, but here Chazelle offers a peculiar, tendentious, and self-revealing cinematic interpretation of that phrase in the form of a montage. It shows Kurt Vonnegut, appearing in a black-and-white television clip, saying that the government would do better to spend the money on such things as making New York City “habitable.” There’s an archival clip of chanting protesters, featuring, prominently, a sign saying “¡Ayuda al Pueblo!” and footage, staged for the movie, of Leon Bridges performing Gil Scott-Heron’s 1970 song “Whitey on the Moon.”
Chazelle openly mocks people who thought that the moon money was spent foolishly—those pesky intellectuals, blacks, and Hispanics who go on TV or into the street demanding “gimme” while the likes of Neil and his exclusively white, male colleagues uncomplainingly put their lives on the line to accomplish historic things in the interest of “mankind.” In its explicit content, and by artful omission, “First Man” subscribes to the misbegotten political premise that America used to be greater—and that the liberating and equalizing activism of the sixties ignored, dismissed, and even undermined that greatness.