Saturday, December 22, 2007

19th January 2007: Euro Space Junk double!

First Spaceship On Venus

East Germany/Poland 1960 colour

aka Der Schweigende Stern, Der Milczaca Gwiazda, Silent Star, Planet Of The Dead, Spaceship Venus Does Not Reply

Director Kurt Maetzig Writers Wolfgang Kohlhaase, G√ľnter Reisch, Kurt Maetzig

Cast Yoko Tani (Sumiko Omigura), Oldrich Lukes (Prof. Harringway), Ignacy Machowski (Professor Orloff), Julius Ongewe (Talua)

Presented in “Totalvision” is the 1959 East German/Polish co-production Der Schweigende Stern, or First Spaceship On Venus. Also known as Silent Star and Planet Of The Dead, First Spaceship... signals the start of the European invasion of space, or as far as cinema audiences were concerned. With the Space Race heating up in the late Fifties, a series of wonderfully atmospheric science fiction films started to emerge behind the Iron Curtain, not only from East Germany and Poland but also from Russia and Czechoslovakia. In a misguided sense of international co-operation, American producers (and even filmmakers like Francis Ford Coppola and Peter Bogdanovich) would re-edit, redub and reshoot parts of the movies... and then claim them as their own!

First Spaceship On Venus is based on the debut novel “The Astronauts” by Polish author Stanislaw Lem, who is better known for Russian director Andrej Tarkovsky’s version of his book Solaris (1962). Hence Spaceship’s “intelligent” approach to the story of a 1985 mission to Venus staffed by a multi-racial AND inter-gender crew which uncovers a Venusian plot to take over Earth. As any good American kid would know Commies are a greater menace than those darned Venusians, so the main hero is re-written by cheapie distributor Crown International from an East German scientist to a good clean-living and possibly Eisenhower-voting American. Nevertheless, the film predicts China and India to be future leaders in the space race - a conspiracy? And what else did those Commie no-goodniks know?

It is refreshing to see a film that was photographed, if not revoiced, outside the NASA propeganda machine. The incredible rocketship is more like a futuristic retro work of art, and Venus itself - blueish, misty, dimly-lit and pockmarked, like the inside of a smoker’s lung - is a sight to behold.

“In space no-one can hear you scream - in Polish!” Welcome to a Communist clairvoyant’s vision of 1985, First Spaceship On Venus.

Assignment: Outer Space

Italy 1960 colour

aka Space Men

Director “Anthony M. Dawson”/Antonio Margheriti Writers Ennio De Concini, Jack Wallace

Cast Rik Von Nutter (Ray Peterson), Gabriella Farinon (Lucy), David Montresor (George), Archie Savage (Al)

Assignment: Outer Space (1960) is the second feature film for Italian director Antonio Margheriti, or as he was known to international audiences “Anthony M. Dawson”, who made films in every possible genre and is best remembered for his horror films like Cannibal Apocalypse (1980), but virtually created the subgenre of “spaghetti sci fi”.

Assignment... kicked off Mergheriti’s series of seven science fiction films ending with Treasure Island In Outer Space in the late 80s. Unlike First Spaceship On Venus, this movie has no pretensions to be high art - instead it veers between space opera and soap opera, with our chiseled hero Ray (played by the unlikely-named Rik Von Nutter) trying simultaneously to save Earth from an out of control space station AND bag the beautiful Lucy (Gabriella Farinon). Watch out for shapes of things to come - a crew member has to disconnect the renegade space station’s electronic brain, a forerunner of Hal’s great “what are you doing, Dave?” moment in Kubrick’s 2001 A Space Odyssey (1968).

A favourite of late night TV in the 60s, Assignment: Outer Space seems to floats for a while in stasis - then the theremin-laden muzak kicks in with some cheesily effective spaceship models and stylish out of this world costumes, and all is forgiven. And let’s face it, how often do you see a punchup in zero gravity? You’ll see all this AND more in the spaghetti sci fi mini-masterpiece Assignment: Outer Space.

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