The top three albums by Brain Eno are, in this order, Ambient 1: Music for Airports (1978), Discreet Music (1975), and Apollo: Atmospheres and Soundtracks (1983). Two of the three most beautiful tracks on Apollo, "Always Returning" and "An Ending (Ascent)," dominate the soundtrack of the 1989 documentary For All Mankind, which was initially called Apollo and concerns the space mission that took two humans to the moon.
Those who, like me, know Eno's albums even better than the back of their hand, will be surprised that the 80-minute documentary, directed by Al Reinert, does not follow Apollo's very clear track list. For example, one expected the album's penultimate track, the majestically ethereal "Always Returning," to score the Apollo mission's return to Earth.
You can easily picture it: The astronauts have been in zero gravity for most of the mission's eight days. They have traveled nearly 500,000 miles, and they are about to reenter the only home humans will ever experience. It is so blue. The green of its photosynthesizing life forms is visible. There are swirling stretches of bright white clouds. This is where "Always Returning" belongs.
But the song is played all over the place and without much consideration to the mood it captures. It's "Always Returning" when Apollo 11 leaves Earth, "Always Returning" when the spacecraft is traveling through black empty space, and "Always Returning" when the astronauts are on the moon. Why wasn't Eno's song sequence used? His album's program tells a much better and vastly more beautiful story. What was the director thinking? Why scramble "Stars" with "An Ending (Ascent)," a track that can be fairly described as the cathedral of the 1980s?
All that said, For All Mankind is still worth watching because it is as close as we will ever get to the amazing film that's depicted on Apollo: Atmospheres and Soundtracks.