Friday, 12 July 2013

"A Trip To The Planets" ~ 1920's Silent Doc

A Trip To The Planets ~ 1920's Silent Doc;

This is an odd little film. I haven't been able to find any info about it at all, including who made it, or were, or when. Judging by the look it probably dates to the mid twenties at the latest. The rest is a guess though.

The film is a straight forward exploration of the solar system as it was known in the twenties, that is before Neptune and Pluto were discovered. There are quick explanations of the planets and moons, there is also a quick rundown of the Zodiac. What makes the film standout are the cutaways to a fantasy spaceship as it journeys through the universe, along with a stunning shot of a futuristic city that is obviously inspired by Fritz Lang's 1927 classic "Metropolis". The city has all the skyscrapers, domes and elevated trains as flashy as any seen in any bigger budget film for the next twenty years. The spaceship cabin looks more like the cabin of a Zeppelin. This makes me assume the film was made after films like Lang's "Metropolis" (1927) and "The Woman In The Moon" (1929) and the Russian film "Aelita, Queen Of Mars" (1924). The spaceship and space city footage are alone worth seeing for any sci-fi fan. In these sequences the film has some of the look of classic Futurist Expressionism but not obviously it's themes.

In fact these shots seem so out of place in such a bare bones educational doc that I wonder if they were in fact lifted from another sci-fi movie, or movies, that have since been lost and forgotten. It is actually quite possible that this film was edited together in such a fashion by taking a few scenes from an earlier sci-fi film and splicing in the basic footage of the planets which do appear to have been filmed separately. For further evidence of this note the differences in the title cards between the straight forward exploration of the planets and the more mystical visit through the Zodiac. This film might have been assembled using footage from different countries, the fantasy footage may have indeed come from a forgotten European film (it does look European) while the other footage is probably American since the planets are obviously labeled in English. The footage of the cockpit/bridge actually bears a strong resemblance to an illustration from an obscure 1911 German sci-fi novel called "Wunderwelton" by F.W. Maler with illustrations by D. Herrfurth. Unfortunately this book is so obscure (at least in English) that I can't find anymore info about it aside from a brief mention in a book on Sci-Fi so I don't know how popular it was in 1920's Germany and Austria.

In the silent film days these sort of editing jobs were not that difficult since the lack of sound and the episodic nature of silent film story telling made it possible to to completely rearrange a film into a completely different plot. Given the rather lackadaisical attitude towards copyright in those days, especially international, there was little to stop an unscrupulous American distributors from taking some European footage and making a new film. In fact "Metropolis" was seriously re-edited for it's American release, not only shortening it but also removing some characters and subplots that some Americans might object to. Other characters were seriously changed, including the mad scientist who creates the female robot, to make him less evil. This also explains why some films of the era exist with wildly varied running times for different copies of the same title including DW Griffith's "Birth Of A Nation" and "Intolerance".

One wonders what the audience for this film was. It's obviously not designed for theatrical release but I don't know what kind of venue there would have been for such a doc.

A TRIP TO THE PLANETS;


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