Saturday, February 22, 2014

Retro Saturday: The John Glenn Story

Click the arrow to watch “The John Glenn Story” on YouTube. Video source: Air Force Space & Missile Museum.

This week's Retro Saturday feature is The John Glenn Story, a 30-minute 1963 documentary about the first American to orbit the Earth 52 years ago this week on February 20, 1962.

I'll be blunt.

This is a propaganda film.

Narrated by Jack Webb of Dragnet fame, it's “sponsored” by NASA and several other federal agencies. The film is introduced by no less than the President of the United States, John F. Kennedy. It ends with America the Beautiful, classic scenes of Americana, and the mandatory U.S. flag flapping in the breeze.

Glenn's family members and friends are interviewed, but clearly they're reciting prepared lines.

Consider the era.

On May 25, 1961, Kennedy proposed the Moon program to create global prestige for the U.S. in its Cold War with the Soviet Union.

Two years later, Kennedy would confide that he feared some would think “putting a man on the moon really is a stunt and it isn’t worth that many billions.”

By then, Kennedy's thinking may have evolved to view Apollo as “a basic need to use technology for total national power” to quote NASA Administrator James Webb in their September 18, 1963 meeting.

Two days later, at the United Nations, Kennedy proposed that the U.S. and USSR combine their space efforts — an offer the Soviets declined.

So in this context, The John Glenn Story seeks to instill pride and patriotism in the American audience.

Propaganda films have always been a fascinating filmmaking genre for me. Wikipedia has a good page on the subject. Among the more classic examples are the 1935 Nazi film Triumph of the Will and the 1942 American film Why We Fight: Prelude to War by Frank Capra.

And if you don't care about politics ... watch it for all the historical footage.

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