Sixty years ago the space race between the Soviet Union and the United States was just gearing up. The scientists and laboratories were in place, funding was prioritized and test programs commenced. The psychological and propaganda advantages to establishing a foothold in space seemed evident to all.
Here are a pair of films from the mid-'50s that show us a glimpse of both the Russian and American conception of space flight. Both are marvelously designed, and their glossiness and production value bear testimony to the importance of winning the war of images. These films represent the absolute state of the art of both visual information display and the science of persuasion.
First is the Soviet contribution: part two of Pavel Klushantsev's ROAD TO THE STARS, which influenced Stanley Kubrick's 2001 in several important ways, including the ring-like design of the space station. The exterior shots of spacecraft spinning and drifting also call to mind Kubrick's waltzes of gleaming space vehicles.
Second is an American film produced, appropriately enough, by Walt Disney. It features an explanation of a plan for moon orbit explained by rocket pioneer Wernher von Braun, a brilliant scientist who had previously developed missiles for Nazi Germany. Again, an extraordinarily well-made film, with glossy paintings made by Disney's peerless art department. As in ROAD TO THE STARS, there is much here that contributed to the look and feel of 2001. We can almost hear Kubrick's sly, denigrating laugh as von Braun shows us the living compartments with their appeal to space suburbanites.