Tag Archives: space films

Frau im Mond

Frau im Mond
Frau im Mond

Format: Dual Format (DVD + Blu-ray)

Release date: 25 August 2014

Distributor: Eureka Entertainment

Director: Fritz Lang

Writers: Fritz Lang, Thea von Harbou

Based on the novel by: Thea von Harbou

Cast: Willy Fritsch, Gerda Maurus, Klaus Pohl

Alternative title: Woman in the Moon

Germany 1929

170 mins

‘For the human mind, there is no never – only a not yet.’

Frau im Mond was made in 1928, it was a busy year for some. Logie Baird demonstrates the colour TV, the Chrysler factory is in full swing and plans for a 70-storey Chrysler skyscraper in NYC are afoot, Morkrum & Kleinschmidt’s Teletype company is founded (one could regard Teletype as an antecedent of contemporary networked communications). The behemoth-like Graf Zeppelin is set to be released from its hangar, Robert Goddard launches liquid-fueled prototype rockets in New England, and the Nazi party command less than 2.6% of the vote in Weimar Germany. Capitalism is beginning to identify new frontiers.

Speed is key – mass manufacture of cars, fledgling networked communications, and an embryonic form of television are all vying for public attention and corporate dollars. Humankind is moving into new spaces, both real and virtual, at new speeds, which are frankly alarming. Calamity is not far away either. By 1929 things are set to take an irrevocable turn for the worst with the Wall Street Crash. This is the context in which Fritz Lang directed Frau im Mond and, truth be told, the context of its creation and its subsequent historical resonance is far more interesting than the film itself.

Cylindrical projectiles were terrifyingly cool and big business in 1928, public imaginations had been thoroughly captured (this was what has become known as sci-fi’s Golden Age). It was inevitable that someone somewhere would want to make a movie that capitalised on the zeitgeist. German film production company UFA decided to gamble. A company not interested in doing things by half-measures UFA went the whole hog staking their entire advertising budget on the movie and going to ridiculous lengths to create a convincing mise-en-scène. The nub of Frau im Mond‘s existence, however, lies on the fringes of German scientific research.

Professor Hermann Oberth was a school master and amateur physicist. Inspired by Robert Goddard’s research, Oberth set about devising his own rockets but progress was hampered by a lack of hard cash. Fritz Lang had become aware of Oberth’s book – Die Rakete zu den Planetenräumen (Rocket into Planetary Space, 1923) – a clarion call for advanced rocket research. Lang had the notion this might be perfect fodder for a movie and persuaded UFA to take an interest. They did. Oberth was hired as a technical advisor for the proposed movie with a deal sweetener that the studio would sponsor the development and launch of a rocket, which the execs at UFA presumably thought would make an excellent promotional stunt. And therein lies the central problem with Frau im Mond, it’s a movie centered around a gimmick and this saps the screenplay of any sustained magnetism.

A rather lengthy space opera, Frau im Mond doesn’t offer much in the way of directorial innovation beyond the prescient portrayal of a trip to the moon. To these eyes, Lang played his trump cards with the series of Dr Mabuse films, Spione, and for sheer, ‘Look we have lots of Deutschmarks and we’re spending them like wildfire’, cinematic spectacle, Metropolis. With Frau im Mond what critics tend to bang on about is the aforementioned scientific accuracy of the film, its 80% precise vision of a rocket launch and zero-G space travel. However, Lang’s clairvoyance seems to exist at the cost of the screenplay.

Based on a novel by Lang’s wife, Thea von Harbou (who also gets a credit as co-screenwriter), it is rather flaccid. A sub-Ryder Haggard, sub-Arthur Conan Doyle adventure yarn, Frau im Mond concerns the pursuit of lunar gold and the fate of those co-opted into acquiring it by a sinister Bilderberg-like sect from the military-industrial complex. The protagonists – a woman, Friede Velten,, four men, one mouse and a child – are led by Wolf Helius, a dynamic entrepreneur and space buff. They are inspired by the (of course) eccentric Professor Manfeldt’s prophecy that the moon contains gold. The Frau im Mond is not Freide, a feisty young woman in love with Helius but engaged to engineer Hans Windegger, it is in fact the name of the rocket ship.

The screenplay is porridge through and through, and by George it’s lumpy. Set design, photography and certain plot aspects are all from time to time stunningly modernist but the schnittsen is almost pre-modernist. Editorially the film has a certain density, reminiscent of Virginia Wolf or the syntax in a Victorian novel; sub-clause after sub-clause after sub-clause. That is not to say it is altogether uninteresting. Certainly the film is a fascinating historical artifact, a fine example of Weimar-era science fantasy, but as an entertainment it is rather fatiguing and dystrophic. The sluggish pace of the plot is especially ironic when one considers that the whole film is fundamentally concerned with the possibilities of rocket power and the acceleration of speed and, therefore, time.

Frau im Mond of course is not a talkie, yet strangely this silent film isn’t silent enough. ‘Authentic’ piano schmaltz has been chosen to accompany the movie, a sort of relentless Debussy-lite for the cloth-eared. This seems particularly anachronistic when one considers that at this time great modernist innovations were taking place in western classical music. The atonalism of Schoenberg, Webern or Berg – at once clinical and precise yet uncertain and oblique – would have made a perfect counterpoint to the concrete realities of earth and the lunar unheimlich depicted in Frau im Mond.

Ultimately, Frau im Mond has its charms but it is nowhere near as lunatic a prospect as one would like. Its legacy is frankly nuts, though. One of Hermann Oberth’s assistants, a seventeen-year-old male with a skull full of goofy teeth and space-age fantasies, was Wernher von Braun. During WW2 von Braun was responsible for the design of the V2 rocket. Curiously, each V2 would have a symbol depicting a cross-legged woman sitting on a sickle moon, a rocket between her legs. The symbol was known as ‘Frau im Mond’. Up to 20,000 slave labourers are alleged to have died at the Mittelwerk V2 rocket factory and in excess of 3,000 allied civilian and military personnel were killed by V2 weapons during the war. After 1945 von Braun escaped trial at Nuremberg due to the intervention of America’s science establishment. He was invited to contribute his expertise to the USA’s rocket science research and, of course, he is now known as the architect behind the Saturn and Apollo missions, the first man to get other humans onto the moon. Nasa’s immorality in engaging with a war criminal has been a perennial embarrassment for that organisation and it should not be forgotten but it should not be surprising. Watching Fritz Lang’s very expensive cinematic folly one is reminded of the futile crassness of putting humans into space. Thinking about the absurdity of what followed (the Cold War), two mad, venal Super Powers vying for the conquest of icy, dark nothingness and aiming for zero, Mutually Assured Destruction, Frau im Mond should have been a comedy not a thriller.

Philip Winter

Watch a clip:

Les Astronautes

As part of our exploration of ground-breaking Polish director Walerian Borowczyk, our comic strip review looks at the wonderful animation short Les Astronautes, made by Borowczyk in 1959 in collaboration with Chris Marker.

As part of Kinoteka, ‘Walerian Borowczyk: The Listening Eye’, an exhibition of preliminary studies for his animated shorts Les Jeux des Anges (1964), Le dictionnaire de Joachim (1965) and The Theatre of Mr and Mrs Kabal (1967) as well as his unique wooden sound sculptures is on at the ICA’s Fox Reading Room from 20 May – 6 July 2014.

Camera Obscura: The Walerian Borowczyk Collection is released by Arrow Academy on 8 September 2014. This unique limited edition box set (Dual Format DVD + Blu-ray) includes the short films, The Theatre of Mr and Mrs Kabal, Goto, l’île d’amour, Blanche, The Beast and Immoral Tales.

Les Astronautes
Comic Strip Review by Lord Hurk
More information on Lord Hurk can be found at www.lordhurk.com.



Format: Cinema

Release date: 8 November 2013

Distributor: Warner Bros.

Director: Alfonso Cuarón

Writers: Alfonso Cuarón, Joná Cuarón

Cast: Sandra Bullock, George Clooney

USA, UK 2013

90 mins

Remember Alien‘s classic poster tag line ‘In space no one can hear you scream’? It would have also been the perfect fit for Alfonso Cuarón’s Gravity which, arguably, is one of the most breathtakingly beautiful and mesmerising films out in cinemas this year. That is, if you are willing to suspend your disbelief at the door and take the film at face value. And most likely, you will. Because from the moment you’ve put your 3D glasses on, Gravity embraces you with its awe-aspiring CGI heart and soul. ’Life in space is impossible’, we are told, along with a summary of plain facts: 372 miles above Earth’s surface, there is no air pressure, no oxygen, and no atmosphere to carry sound. And it’s that very sense of fatal, lonely isolation that Gravity radiates, with an instantly disarming charm and cinematic virtuosity.

Though essentially a two-hander, with George Clooney as the well-versed astronaut Matt Kowalsky (Clooney being his usual smart, irresistibly charming self) and Sandra Bullock as the overly committed, new-to-space scientist Dr. Ryan Stone, who are caught in an accident while they are out in space repairing a satellite, this is really Bullock’s film. With their shuttle destroyed and all connection to Houston and soon to each other lost, she drifts through the scary, silent darkness of the universe, fighting her way from one space station to the next in the slowly dying hope that she might be able to return to Earth, all alone with her troubled soul on her mission to survive.


Taking the power of long, unbroken takes and seemingly limitless CGI imagery to a new dimension, Cuarón wisely alternates the settings between claustrophobic ship interiors and the boundless expanse of the cosmos, while never losing sight of the incredible beauty of Earth as seen from space, unashamedly putting it all in, from strikingly rendered scenes of sunrises to the northern lights from orbit. But while there is no denying that the film clearly underestimates audiences’ intelligence in terms of plot and character depth, everyone in for a unique cinematic ride against the backdrop of the abyss of outer space will have a fantastic time.

This review was first published as part of our LFF 2013 coverage.

Pamela Jahn

Watch the trailer for Gravity :

Things We’d Have Missed without Them

Astronomy Photographer of the Year 2011 Prize

2011, Royal Observatory Greenwich/Lonelyleap

Damian, Nicole, Ole. Three amateur photographers who pointed their lenses to the sky and captured things we’d have missed without them. They’re recent prize-winners of the Astronomy Photographer of the Year competition 2011 – run by Royal Observatory Greenwich – and each has such a different view of space that it makes you think again about what you see in the night sky.

Nicole: the blue hour

‘I like to take pictures, and then go home and show everyone what they’re missing.’ – Nicole

A teenage girl, with the grammar and trainers to match, Nicole is openly in awe when she stares at the sky. On a path through long grasses and scrubland to the foot of rock formations that seem to be from Mars, not Earth, Nicole’s film feels like a sequence from a teenage adventure.

The middle section of her story is filled with snapshot of trinkets and messages from friends, the kind of things you have buried in a shoebox under your bed or that your parents ‘keep safe’. All of this warmth and energy seems to transfer to Nicole’s prize-winning photograph of a sky filled with stars in motion, surrounding a single point in the middle of the night.

Her delight is less tempered and more exuberant than Ole and Damian’s, but all share this faraway look. This look seems to place their eyes somewhere in the stratosphere, darting about the stars for the shot that will transmit just a fraction of its beauty.

Ole: the quest for aurorae

‘This is an effect of our sun getting angry.’ – Ole

While the single shots of each photographer are impressive, only Ole’s gets extended treatment. He’s produced time-lapse footage of the aurorae above Norway’s snowy mountains, a sight that dominates the first 15 seconds of his short film and overhangs the narrative that follows.

Ole’s sky is, simply, unearthly. The shimmering wisps of green that flick across it are the stuff of fiction, or dreams. They’re the bits our ancestors have looked at, mad with ignorance, running scared to form religions and small gods in tribute. The aurorae are unreal.

But he got it. He trapped it in a camera lens and brought it back for the rest of us. Nicole has collected her stars in motion and Damian’s got the eye of Jupiter’s storm and all three of them appear in film to make these weird sights very very human just by being willing witnesses, documentarians for the rest of us.

That it takes just five and a half minutes to feel that sensation across three super-short films is testament to the filmmakers and to the selection of these three stargazers.

Damian: far from everyday life

‘Between the front of my telescope - where the light is collected - and the surface of Jupiter, it’s around four hundred million miles.’ – Damian

It’s clear instantly that Damian’s role in the proceedings is more relaxed. He sits in a back garden – his perhaps – with a comparatively huge telescope at his command, in relative comfort compared to Nicole’s joyous yomp in the dark and Ole’s landscape-defying trek into the Arctic Circle.

The camera is in awe of the set-up, lingering on the scope and twin screens that his beasty bit of kit is hooked up to. The film even pauses for a moment to dwell on the piping hot cuppa he puts to his lips, completing the cosy view of space that Damian enjoys.

But this technical complexity is implied by shots of his darting eyes and nimble fingertips, poised to capture space. This is precision engineering. Damian is awaiting an alignment in the sky that happens only once, for three brief minutes, in the entire history of everything.

‘It’s an amazing place… to observe.’ – Damian

Damian and Ole both spend time by the water, that other vast and unexplored landscape. There’s a line in a Los Campesinos! track that extols the virtues of sitting by the sea, as it’s ‘a good place to think about the future’. Space too is inextricably linked to The Future.

Beside the sea the men look up, and in America’s heartland Nicole looks up too. But none of them are escaping from where they’re shooting. Nicole’s photo is warmer for its interplay with the terrain below, Ole’s more unnatural. Only Damian’s photograph seems divorced from the Earth below, but his short film roots him so firmly to pots of tea and garden sheds that you want to put him on a poster for the UK tourist board.

Where each of them looks up is linked to who they are and how they see the sky.

‘It’s telling you how small you are in this endless universe.’ – Ole

Close shots, static cameras, angles that force faces into unusual parts of the frame; there’s a shared aesthetic to these films that helps to unite the journey into space these three very different people are undertaking.

And there’s so much sky. Lonelyleap’s filmmakers have made films about wonderful, interesting humans while offering as much space to the air above as the frames permit. They do an incredible job of matching that backdrop to the face of the person looking up at it.

And they are all looking up. Three photographers, separated by oceans, security checkpoints and passport control. All three of them are looking into the night sky and seeing such different perspectives on everything out there that your view of terra firma seems to shift with them. Space is vast, but Earth is pretty big too.

Matthew Sheret