By Stephanie Zacharek
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Charles Taylor
By Melissa Anderson
By Inkoo Kang
By Amy Nicholson
By Sam Weisberg
This is why we have retro houses to unleash, amid the handful of multiplex-squatting gargantua Hollywood overmanufactures for summer, the secret cinemas of the global past. Few high-powered legacies are as alien to us as the rarely screened fantasy cinema of the Soviet kingdom, with its ambitious-but-chintzy visual trickery and folkloric-yet-ideological stories. The only films made during the czars' pre-revolutionary era belong to, famously, Ladislaw Starewicz, meticulous stop-motion animations that primarily employ the husks of dead insects. After that, it's all politburo- approved pulp, beginning with A Spectre Haunts Europe (1922), a Crimean adaptation of Poe with a title borrowed from Marx, and Aelita, Queen of Mars (1924), the world's first space-travel melodrama (and anti-Martian-royalism screed) that's remembered most fondly as an orgasm of Suprematist set and costume design. It was so popular it immediately garnered a cartoon satire, Interplanetary Revolution (1924), but it was another dozen years before the culture ministers approved another sci-fi saga, Cosmic Voyage (1936), and got for their troubles a moon-trip adventure motivated by individualism.
Of course, Andrei Tarkovsky's Solaris (1972) and Stalker (1979) are included, as is the infamous Venus-voyage Planet of Storms (1961), which, bought by Roger Corman, was re-edited and augmented twice, by newbies Curtis Harrington and Peter Bogdanovich. The rarer freak is The Amphibian Man (1961), a dizzy morph from a Creature From the Black Lagoon template to a forecast of Edward Scissorhands, all shot in rich tropical greens (seemingly in Cuba, but possibly in a well-faked Crimea) and fueled by mad-scientist ideas of a class-free "underwater republic." Dreams of alternate societies also plague To the Stars by Hard Ways (1981), as emotionally edgy scientists attempt to figure out the nature and origin of a serene "40%" humanoid woman (the otherworldly Yelena Metyolkina) rescued from a derelict spacecraft; we'll see the 2001 re-edited "new version," which is a polished 20 minutes shorter than the original.
Timur Bekmambetov's Night Watch(2004) is a knee-jerk inclusion, too, but thank goodness that growling crowd-pleaser is followed by Alexei Fedorchenko's First on the Moon (2005), a recent New Directors/New Films hit that posits, in wistful mock-doc fashion, the secret Soviet lunar landing of 1938, complete with heroic cosmonaut and an archival love of retro-futurism.
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