Orphan Songs, Part 5:
Row Us Over The Tide
Banjos, Stars, and Creative Commons

1969 and the Moon Landing
Part 1: M*A*S*H

Apollo 11


The first major Hollywood movie to use "the f-word" was Robert Altman's M*A*S*H. It was hard enough to get this past the studio, but the word was spoken by a gung-ho, frat-boyish soldier, whose buddies were smoking marijuana on the sidelines. Released during the depths of the Vietnam War, it was not exactly the kind of depiction of Our Troops people were used to seeing on-screen. It is said, though, that many state-side soldiers found a way to go AWOL from their bases for a few hours to see the film.

While editing M*A*S*H after filming was complete, Altman was disappointed in the results. He thought something was missing, and eventually decided the film needed a kind of Greek chorus — a detached voice that could comment on the action. So, he sent a camera crew back out to film many dozens of shots of a loudspeaker on a pole, and then he dubbed the 4077's camp announcements over this footage. It was just what he was looking for.

One of those shots of the loudspeaker has a gibbous moon in the background. According to the DVD's "special features," that shot was taken the night Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin made the first moon landing. There are people up there on that moon, behind the camp's loudspeaker in the movie M*A*S*H.

I wan't really there in 1969, so it's not easy to imagine the impact M*A*S*H must have had on its first audiences (the more familiar TV series doesn't help). What it must have meant for that moon landing to drop into the middle of 1969 is even harder to reconstruct. After all, when is it ever possible to grasp the mood of an entire nation in any year — much less America in 1969?

John Prine said recently, "If you want the big picture, you need a really small frame." That shot of the 4077's loundspeaker with Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin in the background sometimes rests in my mind for a long time, like a shrine for contemplation or like some kind of worry stone.

Part 2