Woman in the Moon (1929)
Director: Fritz Lang
Writer: Fritz Lang and Thea von Harbou
Cinematographer: Curt Courant
by Jon Cvack
You can’t help thinking of Interstellar or 2001: A Space Odyssey while watching Woman in the Moon, as while differing in narrative, Nolan and Kubrick offered just as much insight and research into their stories as Lang provided over 90 years ago.
To name a few: first and foremost, it offered the first spaceship launch countdown in history which became a staple of any Spaceship Movie and the classic technique NASA adopted specifically from this film (you can read about the influence here). Racing through the other tropes - we have the oxygen that’s running out (Apollo 13), forcing one person to stay and leave the others behind, decided through a game of straws (Armageddon); the rolling out of the spaceship from the warehouse to the launch pad (Apollo 13); the Crazed Scientist who designs and studies the spaceship (Independence Day); the Devious Cormorant, who we never entirely trust (think Joe Pantoliano as Cypher from The Matrix); and while not necessarily a trope, the display of gravity and the characters learning to deal with it via montage or quick scene bursts as often seen in any Space Film (such as 2001 or Destination Moon).
The Kino Copy of the film looked so good that you would think it could have been a silent companion piece to The Artist. While some scenes were extensive, feeling double what they needed to be, other times you saw the power of patience, in which a moment of tension or indecision was enhanced by the slower pace, focused on each character just a bit longer than we’re used to, making for a different moviegoing experience altogether.
Now to be honest, I don’t think I could have enjoyed the film without having chopped it up into manageable pieces (I did it in 56 minute thirds, with three of Mogwai’s movie score albums playing - Zidane, Les Revenants, and Atomic, and wow, even though I’ve done this before, it was a fantastic companion, completely modernizing the movie going experience; my recommendation for anyone who’s struggling to enjoy silent films. It doesn’t just help the slower moments, it actually makes for a phenomenal movie going experience if properly matched).
With only a handful good Lang films left, looking back at what the guy accomplished and the ways he pushed genre is incredible; later progressing to Film Noir, making films such as Scarlet Street, Clash by Night, and Woman in the Window - not just finding his entrance into the drama, but also developing one of the greatest styles to ever progress from the silent era. He's arguably one of the most incredible and underrated directors who’s ever lived in terms of advancing the craft forward. To think he’s mostly known for a single film (Metropolis) is a grave injustice that I think could be remedied when people start making YouTube videos putting his best scores to really good instrumental music. Imagine a world where instrumental bands covered these types of artists, playing in an orchestra pit while the movie plays?
Woman and the Moon wasn’t at all “work” in the traditional sense of what it takes to watch a three hour silent movie.* This is one the few times I saw the era as equal to any other in film; in which the language and craft were operating at their peak levels, competitive with the greatest cinema has to offer. There’s an excitement in watching movies like this, discovering who actually pioneered some of the most common tropes being used today; to realize that you’re at the very bottom of what began all of cinema. Fritz Lang was the father of much of it.
*Making this comment reminds me of when I tried explaining to my cinema professor that watching a German Silent film is not the easiest thing for the general public to do. To which he rolled his eyes. I understand that silent movies are "enjoyable" for some, but even the most ardent cinephiles I know rarely express their enjoyment of the period; it's more an appreciation.
BELOW: All other criticism aside, this was a pretty good scene
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