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The kid in Richard Linklater’s 'Apollo 10 ½' is named Stan – but the film is rooted in his own experiences

an animated still from the film shows a boy in an orange spacesuit and helmet floating upside down in a space module
Apollo 10 1/2: A Space Age Childhood - Milo Coy as Stan. Cr: Netflix © 2022
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Apollo 10 1/2: A Space Age Childhood - Milo Coy as Stan. Cr: Netflix © 2022

From Texas Standard:

Director Richard Linklater’s films have more than once been credited with capturing a time and place. Often, that place is in Texas.

1993’s “Dazed and Confused” reflects the wild and weird of Austin in the 70s while 1990’s “Slacker” bottles the ethos of the capital city before its latest boom(s).

In “Apollo 10 ½”, Linklater takes audiences further back – to his childhood in the Houston area in the 60s. Linklater says it wasn’t until adulthood that he began to realize what a special experience he’d had growing up. But he tells Texas Standard the specifics in the film are adjacent to but not exactly like his own.

Hear more from Linklater in the audio player above or read the transcript below.

This transcript has been edited lightly for clarity.

Texas Standard: Can you talk about what was unique about growing up, not just in Texas, but around Houston during the Apollo era?

Richard Linklater: You sort of take it for granted because it's just your life as you're living it. You don't have much say in it as a kid. But as the years went on and decades rolled by, I started thinking like, ‘You know, that was a pretty interesting time and place to be a kid, to be anywhere near NASA when we were walking on the Moon.’ I mean, because that accomplishment, you know, that's still stunning. And as a kid, we thought, ‘Oh, we'll be on Mars and we'll keep going.’ And then we realized, oh, that's the apex. We haven't. I mean, we will be here in the near future, but to this day no humans have been out of the Earth's orbit in 50 years. It's like, wow, this is the greatest thing humans have ever done, really. So it was just wild to think of it as a kid. It was so exciting, but I didn't really understand the science of it that much. So the movie is both. It's both a kid's perspective -- kind of a fantasy of the excitement of what it was to be like to be in Houston at that era – and then also, through the kid's fantasy, you get kind of an exacting recreation of the first moon landing. So the film kind of covers it from various angles, kid and adult.

You mentioned a lot of the film is based on your own experiences. Obviously, the kid’s name in the movie isn't Richard but how much of the film is autobiographical?

I had a neighbor named Stan, one of my best friends, so I just went with that. His name was Stanley but we called him Stan. I thought I would like that name because I liked him. You know, my dad didn't work at NASA, but a lot of friends' parents did. And I was just trying to tell a representative story. So it's not point by point autobiographical, but it largely is. I didn't go to the elementary school right next to NASA, but I went one like probably two away. So that kind of thing.

Can you talk about both the Texas specific but also the global appeal of this story?

The space race and the Apollo program moon landing really captured the entire world's imagination, obviously. But I just thought there was something special about being near it that still resonates with Texans and specifically Houston, people from the Houston area. Pride is big. You know, I think humans everywhere were proud that we quote unquote can do it. For the next decades, they would say they can put a man on the Moon, but they can't fix the leak in my air conditioning. It was all used in that way, you know, that was just the greatest achievement ever. So everyone was proud of it. It was just probably the last time the whole world was unified in something that was positive. But then Texans were proud because it was based here. There's a reason it's called the Johnson Space Center, LBJ had a lot to do with it. And then Houston, and you know that part of Houston, NASA. There is a lot to celebrate there.

Your films are often about time and memory. Do you remember what it was that first sparked that interest for you? 

I think if I have one to give to the world, it is a pretty exacting memory. If you see from my period films, they’re really kind of absorbed in the specificity. I think that's what films are, you're making very specific decisions. But I don't know, I think I have a lot of data in my head I'm trying to download, whether it's the TV shows or everything from an era. If I put my mind to it, I can kind of recall so much of it. I use that as my litmus. If I recall this, then it must be important on some level to me, even though it can be fairly trivial, I think it's kind of funny, too.

It’s interesting you say that because the film touches on the unreliability of memory. 

Well, Stan says outright, adult Stan, ‘I was a bit of a fabulist.’ He was making up stories to other kids. And I love that. That's where childhood ends. When you quit, you know how the real world works and you quit telling crazy stories and you quit believing things that just can't be true or aren't going to happen. The world gets narrower and narrower, the older and more you know. I like the idea of this kind of active imagination and fantasy life. I think that’s important, every kid should be comfortable enough to have that. That's a gift, you know? I don't know, memory is all, it's kind of all on the table. What's true to somebody isn't necessarily the objective truth. Everyone will have slightly different perceptions, even if they share them together. But you know, memories are pretty fascinating, of an individual and a cultural memory. The histories we choose to believe are often, we have different needs that take us away from the actual facts, quite often. We need myths, you know, they unify people. The myths unify people more than the facts.

Can you talk a little bit about the choice to animate this and the visual choices made throughout the movie?

We're definitely trying to take the viewer into a kind of a ‘60s scrapbook vibe. It's sort of a mashup of techniques used to make this period piece. You know, most animated films aren't period pieces and bring a kind of a cinematic quality to it. We have documentary footage. We've got all kinds of archives. It's about the ideas. What you want the textures to look like. It's not so much about the technology. If we were going for anything, we were going for more of a throwback look.