Woman in the Moon (1929) Frau im Mond

© 2012 William Ahearn

This is Fritz Lang’s last silent film and the film no one wants to talk about. Considered one of the first “serious” science fiction films about space travel, Lang used two of the most prestigious rocketry experts to work as technical support: Hermann Oberth and Willie Ley. Both would end up in the United States with Oberth stopping off first to work at Peenemünde on V-2 rockets for the Nazis.

In Fritz Lang, Robert A Armour mentions the film all of twice and both times in passing. Tom Gunning in The Films of Fritz Lang mentions the film in passing several times and is “resolved to come to grips with it” and then agrees with Eisner before citing Kracauer and noting that the rocket launch is “the sequence that most anticipates ‘Triumph of the Will’” and – based on the last gesture of the film – that outer space becomes Lang’s “ultimate nightmare: a world made of emptiness and separation where no-one can hear you scream, ‘Oh, mother, I am lost.’” That would be clever if it had anything at all to do with Lang’s film. It doesn’t. It’s an utterly gratuitous and empty reference.

McGilligan in Fritz Lang: The Nature of the Beast sees the last gesture of the film as “one of the most personal, tender, and vulnerable moments Fritz Lang ever allowed himself on film” and lauds the technical achievement while writing that the “human drama was lost among the fancy effects and technical rigmarole.”

Lotte Eisner breezes by the film in The Haunted Screen lingering only long enough to praise Lang’s technical abilities and to complain about the acting and Thea von Harbou’s sentimentality. It is in Eisner’s writing about the film in Fritz Lang that is the key to how this film is avoided by critics. She begins by saying what the film isn’t, namely it’s not a “modernist” rehash of Voyage dans la Lune, and pointing out that Lang’s primary interest was in the rocket launch sequence (to distance him from the plot). She also mentions how scenes with leather-clad men intent on stealing the plans for the rocket had been cut from the original negative by an “Eastern European” archive on the “assumption” that these characters were Eastern European spies. (The scene is in the version that I saw and I haven’t any other information about what may have been cut from this film.)

Eisner also mentions a proposed subplot: “Originally, it was intended that the mad professor should find the gold statuary of a pre-terrestrial culture on the moon; and the rock to which he clings ecstatically still shows some traces of a figurative form. In this cave, too, the professor was to have seen a free-floating crystal ball, representing our earth and created many thousands of years ago by the first human beings from Atlantis.” Lang decided instead to appeal to the “realistic temperament” of the German audience, according to Eisner. Too bad, as the idea is similar to Stanley Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey” with the mysterious monolith.

 

 

 

 

Frederick Ott in The Films of Fritz Lang has the most interesting spin and that concerns the ending that is at odds with the other critics. At the end of the film, two people – a man and a woman – are left behind and most reviewers assume that they will die and that is the tragedy and that is their fate. Ott remarks that: “We know that the lunar couple, left with ample provisions, will be rescued by a future expedition.”

That raises a serious question about Lang’s intentions and – once again – there is an utter lack of struggle against this tragic fate of the characters, if their imminent death is what is in store for them. They both go willingly and in the place of the crewman who was supposed to be left behind.

The real problem with “Woman in the Moon” isn’t so much von Harbou’s story as the fact that there still isn’t a narrative for space travel. One film that always gets compared to “Metropolis” and “Woman in the Moon” is Yakov Protazanov’s “Aelita,” made in 1924 about the queen of Mars and a proletariat revolution. Some critics consider the constructivist sets and décor as inspiration for Lang’s “expressionist” style in “Metropolis” and yet what really links the films is a simplistic-minded plot in the midst of some very cool design work. What strikes me as interesting in all of this is that there wouldn’t be a serious non-documentary science fiction film until “2001: A Space Odyssey” in 1968. If Lang had remade this film in Hollywood, the female would be a scientist decked out in a pointy bra and high heels and being dragged off to a cave by a space monster. There is no question that “Woman In The Moon” has Langian styles and themes that appear in his other films. That may be; yet it’s not enough to save this film from itself.

One would think that so soon after “Metropolis” that Lang and von Harbou would want to avoid another film that balances cutting edge technical effects and a weak romantic story and it raises the question – once again – about who is calling the shots in this partnership. Lang made numerous other mistakes on this film such as insisting to UFA that he would not add sound effects claiming that it would disrupt the internal rhythm of the film. Along with other missteps and demands, this would be the end of the production company Fritz Lang-Films when UFA pulled out of the distribution deal.

Produced and directed by Fritz Lang for Fritz Lang-Film. Written by Thea von Harbou (novel Frau im Mond), Fritz Lang screenplay and Hermann Oberth (scientific material). Original Music by Jon Mirsalis and Willy Schmidt-Gentner. Cinematography by Curt Courant. Oskar Fischinger. Konstantin Irmen-Tschet and Otto Kanturek. Art Direction by Emil Hasler, Otto Hunte, Karl Vollbrecht.                  

Starring Klaus Pohl, Willy Fritsch, Gustav von Wangenheim and Gerda Maurus, among others.

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