Moonage Daydreams: Halldór Eldjárn and Hidden Figures - The Reykjavik Grapevine

Moonage Daydreams: Halldór Eldjárn and Hidden Figures

Published April 21, 2017

Photos by
20th Century Fox

For eons, mankind dreamed of going to the moon. And we did, but now the memory seems to be slipping back into some mythological past. Like Dark Age barbarians looking back on the Romans, there were things we could do once, but do no more.

Probably the first movie to address space age technology as the ancient past was the first ‘Star Trek’ film from 1979. A fictional Voyager 6, based on the real-life Voyagers 1 and 2 (which are, as we speak, heading farther and farther into where no man has gone before), is rediscovered by Kirk and his crew in the distant future. Today, it seems strange that man was able to walk on the moon with less computing power than the phone you may currently be reading this on. It’s stranger still that we haven’t gone back.

This sense of wonder informs ‘Poco Apollo’, Halldór Eldjárn’s instillation at Mengi. It features pictures of the moon and man, while computers create generative music that probably uses more computing power than the Apollo programme itself. It’s interesting to think that at the time of the moon landing, the Beatles were still together and the kids dug the Grateful Dead. Music has progressed more—or at least changed more—than lunar travel in the intervening half-century. The exhibit was one night only, but Halldór’s piece can still be accessed at pocoapollo.hdor.is.

Back to the Moon

It’s been a good long while since we had a movie about the space race. The last proper historical space film was 1995’s ‘Apollo 13’, which was about a near disaster. ‘The Right Stuff’, from 1983, remains the gold standard for aficionados, but the race for space has lately featured in action films such as ‘Transformers: Dark of the Moon’ and ‘Men in Black III’. So it’s something of a joy to have a new period film set in those glory days, when everything still seemed possible. Even if part of the point is to show that they weren’t all that glorious.

“It’s something of a joy to have a new period film set in the glory days when everything still seemed possible.”

There’s no need to go deeply into the racial and gender issues portrayed in ‘Hidden Figures’—the film amply makes its own points. Suffice to say that the word “computer” derives from women who did calculations for 19th century astronomers for little pay and even less credit. This is addressed in the film, where the girls are computers and the computers are just IBMs.

Mad Men in Space?

Everyone is where they need to be in ‘Hidden Figures’. Kevin Costner, who looks like he belongs in the 1960s, is there. Moonlight man is the hunk. Big Bang Theory guy is the annoying engineer and Kirsten Dunst the stuffy white girl. The three leads are (to most Icelanders) largely unknown.
But this isn’t quite Mad Men In Space. The music tells you exactly what you should be feeling, and it’s a remarkably feel-good film, given its dark undertone of segregation. From the beginning, one gets the sense that everything will be fine. And it usually is.

The characters are strongly sketched as either good or bad, with little room for nuance, but the setting is largely accurate. This is a side of the 1960s that it’s useful to be reminded of through our otherwise rose-tinted retro-glasses. But despite everything, this is a historical film that gives you hope for the future of our species. We did manage to advance, both technologically and morally, at least for a while. And that is something.

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