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The Woman in the Moon (1929)

July 10, 2014

I pride myself in making the effort to watch all kinds of films but I must admit there are a few factors out there that can occasionally give me trouble. The first is length. I watch a lot of movies on Netflix that I have little to no background on. When a movie is well over two hours, I will likely bump it down the list. The closer it gets to three hours, the more I will have to think about just how badly I want to watch it.

Two other common obstacles I encounter are those that come with watching foreign and silent films. Lumping these together hardly seems fair, but with both sets of films, I am not hearing my native language spoken. Sometimes, this is a barrier to entry, but it generally fades away when I start watching. Invariably, I always watch what I want to watch, despite any of these perceived obstacles. I just think it’s healthy to admit they exist.


“Woman in the Moon” A Film By Fritz Lang

I recently viewed The Woman in the Moon, a silent-era German film from 1929. At 169 minutes (according to Netflix), it checks all of these boxes with great relish. One benefit of watching a foreign silent film, is that the language barrier effectively doesn’t exist. As there is no spoken dialogue, all lines are shown on cards (a.k.a. “interstitials”), conveniently translated.

The Woman in the Moon is an interesting film. Not quite so interesting in terms of content, as it’s wildly outdated, (even by sci-fi standards), but in terms of history. Directed by the master Expressionist filmmaker Fritz Lang, Woman was bookended by Metropolis (a science fiction favorite) and M, Lang’s two most enduring masterworks.

The influence of Woman is difficult to gauge as I had never heard it mentioned prior to watching it. Is seems like a stretch to say it has anywhere near the reach of Metropolis or M, but I was able to come up with a few nuggets after some cursory research (a.k.a Wikipedia). The Woman in the Moon lays a claim to being the first film to ever portray a countdown to a rocket launch with numbers descending from 10 to 1. Interesting. It also appears to have been a popular film in the 1940s among rocket scientists working on the V-2. On top of that, it warranted a mention in Thomas Pynchon’s incomparable novel, Gravity’s Rainbow. Very interesting.

In terms of film, I noticed quite a few apparent influencers on modern films. The film has a slow Earthbound build leading up to the important space mission which reminded me quite a bit of how I felt watching Andrei Tarkovsky’s Solaris (the 1972 version… by the way, stop reading and go see Solaris right now if you haven’t yet).

There is a boardroom scene near the beginning of Woman that is almost identical visually to the boardroom scene from Aliens (1986). Towards the end of the film, there is a scene where characters draw straws which closely resembles the scene at the end of Armageddon (1998). Puerile as Michael Bay’s films can be, he has shown, in several instances, to have a keen sense of film history. There are other sets and imagery that recall a number of other films over the intervening years. Again, it was jarring to see all of these things in an 85-year-old film that I had heard virtually nothing about before seeing it.

In case you find yourself wondering what the film is actually about. It is about a venture to the Moon in search of gold. The science is goofy in some spots and sound in others. The scientists expect to find water, vegetation and gold among other things, and yet they manage to accurately calculate the necessary escape velocity needed to travel from Earth to the Moon. The story is slight but has a lot of the classic staples; romance, treachery and a pint-sized stowaway. It’s perfectly enjoyable, provided you can clear all of the hurdles I mentioned above; length; German-made; silent-era.

Speaking of the film’s length, by my count, this is the second longest science fiction film I’ve ever seen. The lengthiest would be 2012’s Cloud Atlas (172 minutes), which probably isn’t adequately categorized as science fiction. Even excluding extended and director’s cuts, it’s difficult to come up with a definitive list of the longest sci-fis ever due to the sheer volume of international films out there. As for American movies, the general consensus seems to be that The Postman (1997) is the longest at 177 minutes, and yet it runs only eight minutes longer than The Woman in the Moon. I wonder when a widely-released science fiction film will break the three hour barrier…

  1. Thanks. Pleased to have discovered your blog. I’ll investigate further. Regards from Thom at the immortal jukebox (plugged in now).

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