Silent Star | First Spacecraft on Venus (1960) **** Kinoteka Film Festival 2019

April 5th, 2019
Author: Meredith Taylor

Dir. Kurt Maetzig; Cast: Yoko Tani, Oldrich Lukes, Ignacy Machowski, Julius Ongewe, Michael Postnikow, Kurt Rackelmann, Günter Simon, Hua-Ta Tang, Lucyna Winnicka; East Germany/Poland 1960, 93 min.

In many ways SILENT STAR is a cult classic oddity. East German director Kurt Maetzig had had his career put on hold due to his Jewish background. The Rabbit is Me (1965) was seen as too critical of the socialist East German leadership and was banned along with ten other films considered equally “subversive”. Classified as the “Rabbit Films” they were greeted with avid applause on their re-release in 1989, at the end of the Cold War. In 1954 Maetzig had also directed the lauded two-part biopic Ernst Thaelmann, about the German communist leader murdered in a concentration camp. He was eventually allowed to continue making films again, but some of the other directors were relegated to TV. Maetzig died in 2012, at the age of 101.

Many of the East German feature films were also considered rather tedious – people wanted to watch Hollywood blockbusters – although the mostly black-and-white political films did find an audience with intellectuals in the West. First Spacecraft, or The Silent Star, to give it the translated title of the US version, suffered the same fate. Popular in all Eastern block countries, particularly the GDR, were it was watched by over four million people, it was shunned in the West as a “populist melodrama in the Hollywood style”.

Set in the “future” of 1985, an artificial ‘spool’ is discovered in the Gobi-desert. Aeronautics Professor Hawling (Oldrich Lukes) deems it originated in Venus. And Professors Sikarna (Yoko Tani) and Dr. Tchen-Yu (Hua- Ta Tang) come to the conclusion that it’s a flight recorder. But failing to make contact with Venus, they decide to use the Soviet spaceship ‘Cosmostrator’ to fly to the planet and investigate. During the journey Sikarna attempts to translate the text. The rather cold-blooded message turns out to be a declaration of war: the inhabitants of Venus had been trying to colonise earth, and exterminate the human race. A model toy computer, rather like R2/D2 from Star Wars, then turns vicious, attacking German pilot Brinkmann (Simon); his spacecraft lands on Venus, finding no form of life, but a totally destroyed city in a huge crater. One of the scientists triggers the still-functioning computer, programmed to destroy Earth and mayhem ensues.

PDs Alfred Hirschmeier and L. Kunka must take most of the credit for this terrific Sci-fi adventure, along with  composer Andrzej Markowski and DoP Joachim Heisler. Obviously it looks dates in today’s eyes, but no more so that some other US Space outings of the era. But Stanislaw Lem, author of the novel on which co-writer Maetzig based his script, was not impressed, and claimed: “not even children would be frightened by this film”. AS


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