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Gil Scott-Heron’s “Whitey on the Moon” plays a pivotal role in the film.
Ryan Gosling grimaces and grinds his teeth and suffers mostly silently as heroic Neil Armstrong in Oscar winner Damien Chazelle’s First Man, out Friday. The title is short for first man on the moon for those who weren’t around in 1969 when the dude took “one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”
Years - America - Job - Inclusivity - First
Or, well, some of it. Fifty years later America doesn’t do such an out-of-this-world job when it comes to racial inclusivity. First Man is a reminder of such inequality.
The early reception for Chazelle’s space epic since its premiere at the Telluride Film Festival last month has been superlative. Under the National Review headline “First Man is the movie of the Year,” my friend and former New York Post colleague Kyle Smith joined with the majority who found the biopic 82 percent fresh on Rotten Tomatoes. He crowed: “First Man is why we go to the movies.”
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To that I ask, “What do you mean we, white man?” as the punchline to the old Lone Ranger and Tonto joke goes.
In a moment of canny cultural curation (or is it appropriation?), Chazelle intercuts an extended video of the great Gil Scott-Heron singing his brilliant breakthrough song, “Whitey on the Moon.” Scott-Heron (who died at 62 in 2011) leapt from poetry and prose to the mass musical audience at 20 with a song written the same year Armstrong trod in space.
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It is, like the musician who was once considered “America’s greatest living blues singer,” satirical, rhythmic and right on, to quote the era’s lingo. Just take a whiff of the first stanza:
A rat done bit my sister Nell.
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Her face and arms began to swell.
(and Whitey’s on the moon).
It’s the beat that stays with you long after you’ve left...
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