Woman in the Moon (Fritz Lang / Germany, 1929):
(Frau im Mond)

Space travel has its Orphic side, the lyrical title points up beyond the Jules Verne realm (cf. Antonioni's Identificazione di una Donna). The starving artist is a scientist, the ruined astronomer (Klaus Pohl) has a three-legged chair and a cumbersome manuscript ("Hypothetical Accounts of the Gold Content in the Mountains of the Moon"), the journey is from the scrawls on his wall to the dunes in the sky. Technology "into the hands of businessmen and not into those of dreamers and idealists," so figures the capitalist cabal represented by the Chicago trickster (Fritz Rasp) with a greasy cowlick under his top hat—disguises, poisoned bouquets, explosions are all part of the plan to hijack the rocket's maiden voyage. The engineer (Willy Fritsch) meanwhile has his own drama, namely a triangle with his colleague (Gerda Maurus) and her increasingly alarmed fiancé (Gustav von Wangenheim). Off toward the stars: "'Never' is inadmissible to the human spirit. At best, it is 'not yet'." Méliès' great discovery of the camera's iris as telescope is gladly received by Fritz Lang, the fateful clock this time around is a countdown to launch. The Earth as seen from space is an ethereal orb haloed by light, the moon on the other hand is a crater-cracked mass rotating rapidly toward the lenses, the crew cowers while the professor waves with maniacal delight. The beauty of weightlessness gets a boost from Oskar Fischinger animation, the young stowaway's comic-books (panels fill the screen à la Resnais) suddenly remind the heroine of how close wonder and terror can be. Sandy expanses and bubbling sludge and torch-swallowing crevasses for the lunar terrain, and yet there's life and love confronting the barrenness at the close. (The hopeful image also concludes Die Tausend Augen des Dr. Mabuse.) An agoraphobic dream-film, richly attuned to human detail amidst dwarfing machines—De Palma's Mission to Mars is perhaps a close analog, another ruthless auteur's surprising cosmic poem. With Gustl Gstettenbaur, Karl Platen, and Margarete Kupfer. In black and white.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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