Today we kick off DV’s Lunar Week. This week we’ll be watching the sky and go for movies that were inspired by that disc in the sky. Because this week – you may have heard about this – it’s 40 years since the first men walked on the moon.
Or did they? Even in 2009 some voices still say the landing on the moon was a fake. That the entire hoax was filmed in a Hollywood studio. From Armstrong’s first words (surely no man in his right mind would say “One small step for man…”) to the waving flag (flags can’t wave on the moon), to some it’s crystal clear evidence we never went to the moon.
In 2002 a documentary maker Willem Karel discovered the shocking truth behind it all. The moon footage we’ve seen it so many times now is indeed faked. Moreover, director Stanley Kubrick had something to do with it.
Kubrick is of course the director of the movie 2001 – A Space Odyssey. He was the verge of shooting the final scenes of his movie when NASA were preparing for their own gigantic space odyssey. President Nixon and a couple of advisors had come to the conclusion that there was one gigantic problem with the trip to the Moon. Without evidence people may not believe it had happened. So, in order to be able to silence everyone, they made sure there would be evidence. A delegation was sent to Kubrick and asked the director if his film studio could be used for the weekend, so that they would shoot a fake moon landing there. Kubrick was chosen because he had been given the rare opportunity to shoot in the Pentagon for his film Dr. Strangelove – or how I learned to stop worrying and love the bomb and everyone hoped Kubrick would return the favour. The director was a bit reluctant but gave in after a while. As a thanks for his silence the director would get another wonderful opportunity: when shooting Barry Lyndon, Kubrick was able to borrow a NASA Zeiss lens, the only sort of lens strong enough to film his movie on a set without artificial lights (the only light on set came from candles).
Karel discovered this fact when he was preparing a documentary on Kubrick. While browsing the director’s archives, he found a Top Secret map which put Karel on the path to his discoveries. The astronauts had gone to the Moon but the footage couldn’t be used and so, the NASA had shown the fake footage instead. Thanks to the sealed lips of everyone involved (from President Nixon and Assistant to the President Donald Rumsfeld to Kubrick and the small camera crew), the American government could keep this a secret. Kubrick and the government never revealed it, but the camera crew never even got the chance. The small group of people involved in the hoax found their ‘accidental’ death shortly after the real moon landing.
After a long while Karel managed to dig up the truth. The documentary maker interviewed several witnesses, including Kubrick’s widow, Donald Rumsfeld, former White House secretary Eve Kendall and astronaut Buzz Aldrin. Step by step the truth was revealed, more than 30 years after Armstrong and Aldrin had set foot on the moon. Not every witness was willing to speak about the events of 1969, but it helped Karel to finish his puzzle.
How did the American government manage to pull this off? Well, they didn’t. Opération Lune (English title: Dark Side of the Moon) is a fake documentary. Willem Karel has made several real documentaries, but here he (and producing tv channel ARTE) pulled your leg. Opération Lune had only one goal: to test how gullible viewers are. Just because it’s presented as a truth, lots of people will believe it. To make Opération Lune as credible as possible, Karel mixed truth and fiction. He used genuine footage and mixed it with scenes he directed. Kubrick’s widow was in on the hoax: she would gladly help Karel out, stating Kubrick himself would’ve loved the idea too (she has often complained people never noticed Kubrick’s sense of humour). Some roles (like the former secretary) were fictional and were played by actors. The footage with people like Donald Rumsfeld was taken out of context from other interviews. If you stick to the film until the end credits, you’ll see how they were asked for their permission.
And even then Opération Lune is incredibly subtle: it doesn’t blatantly confess it’s a hoax, it just shows you people like Rumsfeld okaying the project and one of the actors showing and talking about the film’s script. A final clue: the credits show some people as themselves and some with the mention of the name of their characters. Characters that always had something to do with cinema: Eve Kendall and George Kaplan are names from North by Northwest, Jack Torrance is the main character from The Shining etc. etc.
Some parts of the documentary are so wacky it’s amazing people saw and believed it. Weirdly enough it works: once people believe what they see is real they’ll believe extra bits of information of the hoax, no matter how ludicrous they are. Contrary to what some believe, this film never says the moon landing was a hoax: it said the footage we saw was faked because the real footage couldn’t be used.
People with media training may be able to see it’s a hoax by the way some of the interviews are presented, but it cannot be denied that Opération Lune is one of the cleverest hoax documentaries out there and a genuine lesson that checking up on stories is a good idea.
Don’t always believe what you read, kids. Not even here on DV!
P.S. The slightly shorter English version is available on Google Video. Here‘s the link.