When I volunteered to review this documentary, I assumed based on the title that it was about the origins of the NASA Space Program, which I thought would be interesting, although probably fairly standard. Turns out this documentary is actually about a pair of musicians who call themselves N.A.S.A., which stands for “North America South America” and strive to bring together artists and musical genres that wouldn’t normally be paired. The hour long documentary follows the duo as they produce their “Spirit of Apollo” album, featuring a variety of talents including Cee-lo Green, Tom Waits, M.I.A., George Clinton, and Method Man. We see N.A.S.A. front man Sam Spiegel (aka Squeak E. Clean) traveling all over the country, and to a couple of foreign countries, to meet with artists in various studios so they can record their part of various songs. Spiegel may then travel to another studio to meet with another artist so they can record something for the track and put it all together later. The end result is really interesting. I’m not personally into hip-hop and rap, but the sheer wealth of talent assembled for this project and being able to hear some of the end result has made me want to buy a copy of the album myself.
If you’re at all into hip-hop or rap, you will enjoy this documentary. In fact, I’m not really a fan of either, and I still got into it because of what Spiegel and his partner DJ Zegon are trying to do with their music. Spiegel also co-directs the film, and I feel like I can see his influence because the documentary’s structure moves very similarly to a piece of hip-hop. As the song moves from rhyme to rhyme, and idea to idea, the film jumps quickly from setting to setting. Mostly we’re in recording studios, but it’s also fun to jump to the NASA Space Center Museum and have Spiegel discuss how the ideas of the Space Program have influenced what he’s trying to do with his music.
I think that a big reason that this documentary is so good at drawing in an audience that is maybe unfamiliar or uninterested in its subject matter is that there’s something universally compelling about watching people (real or fictional) who genuinely love what they do. During the film I realized that I was thinking about Spiegel and the various artists assembled here in terms of the cast of characters found in an Aaron Sorkin show (The West Wing, The Newsroom). Sorkin does a lot of things better than any other writer working in Television and one of them is writing characters who legitimately love their job. Maybe it’s odd to compare N.A.S.A. to Sorkin, but given the musicians’ mission statement of bringing together mismatched ideas and aesthetics, I’m sure they would welcome the comparison.
As each segment of the film finishes, we get to see some of the final music video for each song. N.A.S.A. utilizes a variety of animation styles in these videos, which makes sense given the songs they’re animating. They’re beautiful to watch and the documentary itself incorporates some of these animation elements at various points. For example, at one point they stop to ask someone for directions who doesn’t want to be on camera, so the filmmakers superimposed a cartoon character over him. It’s not overdone; just a nice element to the film.
No special features on the DVD as far as I know. I only received a screener with the film burned onto it.
Available now on DVD from Filmbuff.