After prophesying the downfall of the Weimar Republic in his 1928 film Spies, perhaps there was nowhere left for Fritz Lang to go but the moon. Woman in the Moon is the great German director’s somewhat labored final silent, slave to a first hour of repetitive sub-Mabuse theatrics before an awe-inspiring rocket launch sequence that, according to some (including a Gravity’s Rainbow-era Thomas Pynchon), effectively invented the pre-launch countdown. From there it’s a sporadically interesting love triangle/espionage story among the stars, one that only realizes the soulful implications of the title with a superb final close-up of actress Gerda Maurus—Lang’s then-mistress viewed as a typically complex amalgam of mother, angel, and whore. This is not to devalue Lang’s visual accomplishments: his ragged, rocky moonscapes (credited to five art directors) update Méliès’s proscenium-bound fantasies into a more three-dimensionally expressionist playground, acting (pace Siegfried Kracauer) as psychological counterpoint to the characters’ individual murmurs of the heart. An unforgiving Nietzchean abyss, hidden in a gold-encrusted cave, appears to be the inspiration for a similar chasm in Explorers on the Moon, one of the Tintin adventures authored by the Belgian artist Hergé. Indeed, all of Lang’s outer space imagery brought back the sense of childlike wonder I experienced when encountering Hergé‘s comic panels for the first time. Lang appears similarly smitten with his fantasy world, charting his emotional connection to the material through the character of Gustav (Gustl Gstettenbaur), a young teenage stowaway obsessed with science fiction magazines. Mirroring the director’s own passions for fantasy literature, Gustav’s youthful optimism disproves the too-superficial reading of Lang as a monocled, perfectionist tyrant. Woman in the Moon—regardless of its minor status in the director’s oeuvre—shows Lang was also a kid at heart.
- Ufa Film Company
- 169 min
- Fritz Lang
- Thea von Harbou
- Willy Fritsch, Gerda Maurus, Klaus Pohl, Fritz Rasp, Gustav von Wangenheim
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