Dark Side of the Moon (film)

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Dark side of the moon
Directed by William Karel
Produced by Arte France / Point du Jour
Narrated by Philippe Faure (French) / Andrew Solomon (English)
Starring Buzz Aldrin, Christiane Kubrick, Henry Kissinger, Donald Rumsfeld, Vernon Walters, etc.
Cinematography Stéphane Saporito, A.S.C.
Editing by Tal Zana
Distributed by Point du Jour International
Release dates 16th October 2002, France
Running time 52 mn
Country France
Language French / English

Dark Side of the Moon is a French mockumentary by director William Karel which originally aired on Arte in 2002 with the title Opération Lune. The basic premise for the film is the theory that the television footage from the Apollo 11 Moon landing was faked and actually recorded in a studio by the CIA with help from director Stanley Kubrick. It features some surprising guest appearances, most notably by Donald Rumsfeld, Dr. Henry Kissinger, Alexander Haig, Vernon Walters, Buzz Aldrin and Stanley Kubrick's widow, Christiane Kubrick.

The official presentation of the film says: "Filmmaker William KAREL pursues his reflection on the relation of the United States with image, cinema and their capacity to produce "show". What other story can lend itself to such a examination but the space conquest, a war of image and show more than anything else. What if it was just a huge hoax initiated by the two great powers? Between lies and truths, this film mixes actual facts and others, completely trumped-up. Playing with irony and lie, its purpose is to entertain and raise the question of the use of archive, which can be made to tell whatever you want".[1]

Production[edit]

William Karel had just completed "Hollywood", a film based on lie, when he and the Documentary Unit of Arte had the idea of making a mockumentary, to play with the serious tonality of Arte but also for pleasure, and to make a funny film based on the idea that one must not believe everything that you are told, that witnesses can lie, archives can be tricked, any subject can be twisted by misleading subtitling or dubbing. They looked for a topic that would be universal and historical but not sensitive like a war. Hence the choice of the moon landing, which had for more than 30 years been a topic of debate regarding the reality of these images. They found it was a fairly funny topic.[2]

The film uses three main types of elements:[2][3]

  • Other "witnesses" are played by actors to make the connections between the sentences pronounced by "real witnesses" and make a credible story. Among many giveaways (mainly in the second half) that the entire film is a hoax in jest, these "staging" witnesses are named after characters in Kubrick and Hitchcock films, such as an Astronaut named "David Bowman" (2001: A Space Odyssey), a film producer named "Jack Torrance" (the Shining) or Nixon's secretary called "Eve Kendall" (North by Northwest).

Other elements appearing in the second half are "borrowed" from various documentaries that are mentioned in the end credits. These are the only parts of the film in which deceptive subtitling is used. The photo showing a portrait of Kubrick on the lunar soil is the only image in which special effect was used.[3]

The arguments regarding the impossibility to operate a camera on the moon were found in websites.[3]

Plot summary[edit]

The first part tells in an apparently neutral way the inception of the NASA lunar programme, emphasizing the issues related to its funding and the necessary public support to the programme. NASA regards Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey as the prototype of the show that the space programme needs to be in order to gain this support, leading them to pimp up the spacesuits and vessels and even to hire 700 Hollywood technicians, making all of Hollywood stop working on other projects. But the outcome of Apollo 11 is disappointing: although the landing is successful, Neil Armstrong makes a fool of himself and not a single shot of the moonwalk is usable.

The incapability of shooting images on the moon had been anticipated by Richard Nixon and his staff who had decided to fake the pictures on the moon, using the set of 2001 that was still available in London. Kubrick had first refused, then accepted and finally directed the fake footage himself, appalled by the lack of skills of the CIA crew. KGB soon realized that "the whole thing was a hoax", that Apollo 11 had indeed landed but it was physically impossible to make pictures in the lunar environment. Besides, they had found a photo showing a portrait of Kubrick lying on the false lunar soil in the studio.

After the success of the fake footage, Nixon gets scared that the truth might be discovered, and in a drunken state asks CIA colonel George Kaplan to dispose of the whole film crew. The next morning he tries to cancel the order, but it's too late: meanwhile Kaplan has gone mad, sent his killers and disappeared. The death squad goes to Vietnam where the film crew has sought refuge, but is immediately caught by the villagers: despite perfect accent and disguise, their commanding officer was black. Nixon decides to pull out the big guns and sends 150,000 men and a half of the 6th fleet to find and kill the four members of the crew. They fail. CIA takes over and assassinates them all but one, who takes shelter in a yeshiva in Brooklyn where he dies ten years later. Only Kubrick is spared.

Five years after Apollo 11, Kubrick calls NASA to borrow the top-secret wide-aperture Zeiss lens he needs to make Barry Lyndon. As a results, Nixon's successor decides to get rid of him as the last witness of the conspiracy. Informed of the threat to his life, Kubrick locks himself up in his home and never leaves it until his death.

As a conclusion, General Vernon Walters accepts to reveal the secret of Kubrick's demise, but unexpectedly dies the next evening: he has accepted to break the CIA rule of silence and anonymity.

It is finally revealed that this is a mockumentary as the end credits roll over a montage of blooper reels, with the main participants laughing over the absurdity of their lines or questioning if particular ones would give the joke away too soon. Besides being a comedic documentary, it is also an exercise in Jean Baudrillard's theories of hyperreality.

Giveaways[edit]

In addition to the increasingly incredible claims made as the film progresses, several factual errors of note are introduced by the narrator, perhaps intended as clues for the viewer:

  • John F. Kennedy’s “We choose to go to the moon” speech was in 1962, not 1961 as was claimed.
  • Luna 9 landed on the moon in February 1966, but the narrator states it was in January.
  • The narrator states that Apollo 11 was launched on July 17, 1969, when in fact it was launched the day before on July 16.
  • Korolev died following surgery to remove a polyp from his intestines, not from a tonsillectomy as is claimed.
  • Lyndon Johnson is said to have been the Governor of Texas – an office he never held.
  • Likewise, Richard Nixon is erroneously stated as having once been the Governor of California.
  • The narrator implies the Cape was selected in part due to the George Bush family influence in Florida, yet no Bush had any connection with Florida until 1980 when Jeb Bush moved his family there. The Cape, however, had become the new missile test facility by 1950.
  • The premiere of "2001: A Space Odyssey" was in April 1968 and Richard Nixon was inaugurated as president in January 1969, so the latter could not possibly take advantage of the filming of "2001" as the narrator says.

Several of the fictitious interviewees, such as Dave Bowman, Jack Torrance, and Dimitri Muffley are named after characters from movies directed by Kubrick. There are also references to films by Alfred Hitchcock, as both Eve Kendall and George Kaplan are character names in North by Northwest, and Ambrose Chapel is a location in the 1956 remake of The Man Who Knew Too Much. The fictitious characters used in the interview are listed in the credits along with the names of the actors portraying them. For example, the rabbi is listed as W. A. Koenigsberg (W. A. indicating “Woody Allen,” as Koenigsberg is Woody Allen’s birth name) and the character is played by Binem Oreg.

The soundtrack also includes the song "The American Dream" from Wag the Dog by Barry Levinson, a fiction feature about a secretly government-commissioned Hollywood production of a fake war. At one point, footage featuring the military boarding a plane is underscored by the "right, left, right, left" of Gunnery Sergeant Hartman (R. Lee Ermey) from Kubrick's own film, Full Metal Jacket.

The most obvious giveaway appears in the closing credits with blooper reels showing the characters, real and fictitious alike, laughing over their lines or over their inability to remember them. But there is a final trick here, a "hoax within the hoax": the real characters are shown joking, giving the false impression that they are voluntarily part of the hoax.[2] In fact at least one of these "jokes" - Kissinger saying that he would do it all over again - appears in Les hommes de la Maison Blanche [4] where he turns out to be actually talking quite seriously about the war in Vietnam.

Characters[edit]

Actual "witnesses"[edit]

Fictitious witnesses[edit]

  • Jack Torrance is a fictional character in Kubrick’s The Shining—not a Hollywood Producer and is played by David Winger.
  • David Bowman is a fictional character in Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, not a real astronaut and is played by Tad Brown.
  • Maria Vargas (lead character in The Barefoot Contessa) is played by Jacquelyn Toman who is not Buzz Aldrin’s sister.
  • Eve Kendall is a fictional character in Alfred Hitchcock’s North by Northwest and was not Nixon’s secretary (that woman's name was Rose Marie Woods) and is played by Barbara Rogers.
  • Dimitri Muffley is a play on the names from Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove (Soviet Premier Dimitri Kisov and American President Merkin Muffley) and is not a “former KGB agent.” He is played by Bernard Kirschoff.
  • Ambrose Chapel is the name of a place in Hitchcock’s The Man Who Knew Too Much, not an “ex-CIA agent” who is played by John Rogers.
  • George Kaplan (mentioned by narrator) is a fictional character within a fictional character in the Hitchcock film, North By Northwest.
  • W. A. Koenigsberg (W. A. is for “Woody Allen,” as Koenigsberg is Woody Allen’s true name) The character is played by Binem Oreg.

Reception[edit]

Arte aired the film for the first time on 16 October 2002, and a second time on 1 April 2004, followed by a debate. At the press screening before the first airing, some people who had missed the beginning left the screening room infuriated.[3]

About ten television channels worldwide aired the film on 1 April 2004, and Channel 4 aired it in September the same year.[3] Australian broadcaster SBS television aired the film on April 1 as an April fools' joke, and again on 17 November 2008 as part of Kubrick week. It was aired again on 27 July 2009.

Dark side of the moon and moon landing conspiracy theories[edit]

When the film was shown to a group of sociology students studying conspiracy theories, many mistakenly believed that this was a sincere and serious film.[6] Furthermore, moon-landing hoax advocate Wayne Green cited the film as evidence for his views, apparently believing the out of context footage of Nixon staff was really about a moon landing hoax.[7] Extracts ranging from a few minutes[8] to the whole film stripped of the credits and key sequences[9] have been posted on YouTube by conspiracy theorists as "proof" that, either the images on the moon are fake, or the moon landing itself never happened. Karel himself received e-mails congratulating him for "exposing the moon landing hoax", which amused him.[3]

Prizes and distinctions[edit]

  • Adolf-Grimme-Preis (Germany / 2002) for best script & director [10]
  • 'GO FIGURE!' Festival, Montreal, 2003: Best film on science and society, award for "Excellence in TV or Film"
  • 7 d'Or, 2003: Mention in the "Best director" and "Best documentary" categories

Influences[edit]

William Karel indicated that he found inspiration in Orson Welles' radio broadcast The War of the Worlds, Capricorn One, and the docudramas by Peter Watkins.[3] He refers to Dark side of the moon as a "documenteur", a French portmanteau word meaning "liar documentary", after the title of a film made by Agnès Varda in 1980-1981.[2]

The Zeiss 1:0.7 / 50 mm lens story[edit]

The starting point of the film is the alleged loan of a unique, secret lens by NASA to Kubrick. The truly rare, but not unique and definitely not secret, Carl Zeiss Planar 50mm f/0.7 lens was designed by Zeiss in 1966,[11] on special request for NASA for the Apollo program,[12] and a batch of ten were made. The cinematographer of Barry Lyndon, John Alcott, said that Kubrick bought three left over lenses from this batch,[13] and had them extensively modified to make them usable on his 35 mm movie camera.[12] Six other lenses of the batch had been sold to NASA, and the tenth one is at the German Movie Museum in Frankfurt.[14][15] There is no evidence that NASA ever lent one of their own lenses to Kubrick.

See also[edit]

Literature[edit]

  • Taylor, Henry M. (2007): More than a Hoax. William Karel's Critical Mockumentary Dark Side of the Moon. In: Post Script, 26:3, p. 88–101.

References[edit]

External links[edit]