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Hidden Figures [Feb. 24th, 2017|10:33 pm]

Another movie: at this rate I'm going to have to make a suitable icon! We have worked out that if there is a five o' clock showing on Wednesday, we can go to the pictures and then get something to eat at the Elm Tree before the pub quiz, and this arrangement suits us very well. It also means that if there is a film we are interested in seeing we can say OK, let's do that on Wednesday, instead of meaning to see it sometine and then forgetting about it. Win all round. Plus, the more we go to the cinema, the greater the chance we will be tempted by seeing a trailer (though on the whole I'm as likely to be deterred by the trailer as attracted). Anyway, we had seen the trailer for Hidden Figures, and thought it looked promising.

Am I missing something about that title? (Also the title of the book on which the movie is based.) It's a fair indication of what the film is about: the women (figures) whose mathematical work (figures) is little known, deliberately overlooked (hidden). I can't help feeling that it's a pre-existing phrase, but one I don't recognise? Am I being dim, or just too demanding? THat's my only niggle. And I'll tell you what, forget La La Land, this is a feelgood movie. Three Black women triumph because they are intelligent and determined: with mathematics and space rockets. What's not to like?

Like Denial, this is a piece of comparatively recent history, and like Denial, it struggles to create dramatic tension despite the likelihood that its audience already knows how things turn out. Will John Glenn survive, or will the capsule burn up on reentry? What do you think? On the other hand, I was sceptical about the last minute hitch when the computer figures don't match up, and Glenn says he's ready to take off providing "the girl" checks the figures - and this turns out really to have happened (though not, NASA points out, quite at the last minute).

Anyway, you can't make assumptions about what people know and don't know. It is our habit to watch the credits through to the bitter end, by which time we are not infequently alone in the cinema with - well, I still think of him as 'the projectionist'. He's not that young, but he was shocked by the depiction of a segregated America: "But this was in the sixties!" Well, yes. And he's right to be shocked, because it is truly shocking. But I did know about segregation as something that happened, and that people were fighting to end.

The thing that struck me as a surprise (of sorts) was the extent to which anti-Russian feeling outweighed any pleasure or excitement in the Soviet space programme. Of course I knew that this was the 'space race', that the American space programme was in competition with the Russians, and I knew, too, that 'duck and cover' air raid drills must have had some success in making people genuinely frightened. But could the scientists who were directly involved with trying to put a man into space have seen that it was possible and thought that this was entirely bad news? Have thought 'they've done it and we haven't' without thinking 'but we will - if they can, we can'? Perhaps. Perhaps I'm being naïve, and this is just the result of being brought up left wing, that I remember how thrilling it was to hear the news of Gagarin's flight?

This was the one sour note in the film for me. Oh, there were plenty of moments where people acted meanly or without considering what their actions meant to others, but this was the only one where I felt that something was wrong and the film didn't see it as wrong. Elsewhere, one of the things I liked was that it was made very clear how far a rotten system was perpetuated by people who thought they were doing right by the protagonists, but could and should have been doing more. This is made explicit in the character of Mrs Mitchell, the (white) supervisor, who consistently fails to support Dorothy Vaughan in her quest for promotion. When she finally adresses her as 'Mrs Vaughan', it would be easy to dismiss the change as too little, too late. But Hidden Figures sets this tiny triumph in the context of the genuine, historic triumphs of NASA's unsung number crunchers, which removes the sting.