Posts Tagged ‘Scifi’

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

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

KINOTEKA FILM FESTIVAL 4-18 APRIL 2019

Out of Blue (2018) ****

Dir.: Carol Morley; Cast: Patricia Clarkson, Mamie Gummer. Toby Jones, Jonathan Majors, James Caan, Jackie Weaver; US/UK 2018, 110 min.

Carol Morley (Dreams of a Life) is a British auteur who brings so much more to her films that just the narrative. Her screen version of Martin Amis’ novel Night Train is a genre hybrid– noir in this case – and existentialism. Out of Blue is as enigmatic as its title and New Orleans is the shadowy setting where detective Mike Hoolihan (Patricia Clarkson) investigates the murder of astrophysicist Jennifer Rockwell (Gummer).

Rockwell is found dead in a planetarium where she’d given a speech the day before about Black Holes. Early clues lead to two main-suspects: Ian Strammi (Toby Jones) manager of the site, and Duncan Reynold (Majors), Rockwell’s lover and co-worker. But Hoolihan feels instinctively that the solution to the crime will lead her back into the past where Space will offer clues. A recovering alcoholic with a captivating cat (who steals many a scene) Mike nevertheless loses it completely when cornered by her own past, and performs a drunken semi-striptease on a bar table. Rockwell’s parents are also involved: Colonel Tom (Caan) – who may or may not be the suspect of a past murder spree – and her mother Miriam (Weaver), who has her own dark guilt complex, are not helping Hoolihan, neither are Rockwell’s twin brothers. When the tragedy unravels, more questions emerge, and even physical identities start to look questionable: as Jennifer says in her final lecture “our nose and our hands may not be from the same galaxy”.

The film’s main characters’ identities seem to emanate from a different past, and nothing fits any more. Out of Blue is very much Nicolas Roeg territory: his son Luc is also a producer. Morley’s narrative leads gradually leads us ‘out of this world’, where Rockwell felt much more at home than on this planet – never mind her rather dysfunctional family set-up. And Hoolihan herself is hiding behind her policeman’s (sic) mask, denying both gender and past. DoP Conrad W. Hall’s images play on tones of the colour blue: we race through the film like the night train of Martin Amis’ novel (on which it is loosely based): from the night sky to the cream receptacle found at the crime scene, and the murky metallic-grey of crimes past, everything leads to the indigo blue of cosmic Black Holes.

Morley is clearly interested in the who-done-it, but she also asks questions about human nature; and all her protagonists have something significant to hide. And she never lets them get away with it – the raison d’être of their life (or death) is always more important than the circumstances of the discoveries. To paraphrase the feature title: Blue is the new Noir. The director never gives in or compromises: the existential ‘why’ is her reason for filmmaking, the result may not be to everyone’s taste, but it satisfies an audience hungry for answers outside our immediate Universe. AS

IN ARTHOUSE CINEMAS FROM 29 MARCH 2019 

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