Friday, May 4, 2007

Woman in the Moon

Frau im Mond; silent science-fiction, Germany, 1929; D: Fritz Lang, S: Willy Fritsch, Gerda Maurus, Gustav von Wangenheim, Klaus Pohl, Fritz Rasp, Gustl Gstettenbaur

Germany. Helius goes to visit his friend, the old professor Manfeldt, but is surprised to see him living in poor circumstances and in a shabby apartment. Namely, Manfeldt was isolated from every scientist when he started claiming that water and gold could be found on the Moon. But they are planing a flight to the moon to prove they were right. It is planed that they will be joined by the engineer Windegger and his girlfriend Friede, whom Helius is secretly in love with. But their plans for building a rocket get stolen from Turner, who presses them to take him with him to find gold for the rich investors or he will destroy them. Forced to do so, they agree. The rocket launches and soon arrives to the Moon, together with a kid who secretly entered into it. They discover the Moon has atmosphere, but Manfeldt goes crazy and falls from a cliff, while Turner starts shooting at the crew, which kills him. Since the rocket is damaged and has limited air supplies, Helius decides to stay on the Moon. The rocket leaves, and he discovers Friede also stayed together with him.

"Woman in the Moon", the last silent film from director Fritz Lang and one of the first ever that showed the imaginary landing on the Moon, is a forgotten and overstretched achievement, but a one that once again proved his incredible, revolutionary imagination and talent. The whole film is a naive fantasy and ode to dreams without boundaries, thus it inevitably came to a few false conclusions considering the space traveling, but at the same time it was also right on some aspects. The first quarter of the film is rather monotone, stiff, since it showed the average lives of professor Mandeldt and his followers Helius, Friede and Windegger, where the romantic triangle between the latter three characters seems unnecessary. Still, with time the story slowly starts to captivate the viewer with nice little details - for instance, while urgently waiting for Windegger to answer the call, Helius is impatiently waiting at his phone and cutting the leaves of a plant with scissors (!) - and a better rhythm, where the subplot about the evil tycoons who steal the plans in order to force the crew to bring gold for them from the Moon thus planing a Moon monopole actually gives a spark of reality and intrigue. In fact, the whole sequence that shows tycoons watching photographs and films of the test rocket that crashed on the Moon is simply fabulous.

The second part of the film is more intriguing, showing the journey to the moon. Lang's imaginary details there are amusingly false - for instance, the rocket was actually placed in a tank with water before she launched into space. While flying with a speed of 11.200 meters per second, the crew lies down on beds. The zero gravity shows up only for a few minutes when the rocket was already half way between the Earth and the Moon. The gravity and the air on the Moon are the same as on the Earth, etc. All those details were proven to be wrong, but it's nice to see how people back in 1929 imagined how it would be. It's always fascinating to watch special effects shots in old silent films, and some shots here are really a sight to behold, like the rubber Moon seen rotating while the Earth is setting on the horizon. Sadly, despite all those virtues, the story suffers from plot holes, too long running time (2,5 hours) and one of the most bizarre open endings of all time, which in the end make the film look as if it was only good, when in fact it's actually very good.


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