Al Reinert became the go-to guy for Hollywood space travel
Al Reinert, the former Houston Chronicle crime reporter who brought poetic images of space to audiences with the documentary film “For All Mankind,” and co-wrote the film “Apollo 13,” died due to complications of cancer on the early morning of New Year’s Eve in his home of Wimberley. He was 71.
He is survived by his wife, the actress Lisa Hart Carroll, who is best known for her role as Patsy in the film “Terms of Endearment.”
Reinert started off on the crime beat for the Chronicle, then covered NASA in the 1970s, when he discovered his fascination for space. “For All Mankind,” which he directed and produced in 1989, used archival footage to present a luminous, human view of NASA’s Apollo program.
“He spoke to the heart,” Carroll said Wednesday. “He had a sense of poetry in telling a story.”
The film’s combination of ambient music, imagery and raw emotion garnered Reinert a nomination for an Academy Award for Best Documentary in 1990.
While being interviewed in 2015 for a Houston Chronicle story, Reinert said he didn’t want “For All Mankind” to be a traditional documentary with talking heads.
“Tom Hanks told me it’s not a documentary,” he said. “He said it’s an art film. And in a way he’s right. I didn’t know any better at the time. I’d seen films with astronauts talking, and they just didn’t do anything for me.”
Reinert wanted to interview astronauts about a mission that wasn’t recent, so that they had time to reflect on their experiences.
“Think about a long drive,” he said. “You’re checking your speed, your gas, traffic, all these things around you. When you get back weeks later, then you really can process and articulate what you thought about the Grand Canyon.”
In 1996, Reinert was nominated for a second Oscar for co-penning the screenplay for “Apollo 13.” He wrote the film with William Broyles Jr., who he met while writing for Texas Monthly.
He also co-wrote the 2001 film “Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within,” did uncredited work with “Armageddon” and worked on an unproduced James Cameron film about Mars.
Carroll said Reinert “was a humble man,” but received fan letters from major filmmakers and writers expressing their gratitude for his contributions. She recalled a recent letter from film director Damien Chazelle telling Reinert that he had the entire crew of “First Man” — Chazelle’s 2018 film about Neil Armstrong — watch “For All Mankind” for inspiration.
Reinert kept his declining health to himself as he quietly chipped away at his latest project, a yet-to-be finished documentary about the International Space Station called “Above It All.”
A webpage for the film describes its subject as “the model for a hopeful human future.” Carroll said she hopes the film will one day be released.
Though his subjects have also included Michael Morton — a man wrongly jailed for nearly 25 years — and naturalist John James Audubon, Reinert had a special gift in telling stories about space.
“It took Al Reinert to show what happened emotionally, spiritually to these men and what it was like to leave this earth,” she said.
But despite his success, Reinert never fit into Hollywood culture, choosing instead to live in a small home in the woods in Texas.
“He didn’t dance to the normal beat,” said Carroll. “He was an oddball. He was a T-shirt and jeans guy. He lived like he wanted to live.”
The date for a service has yet to be determined.