Early SF film and politics

Two classics of silent era SF, Fritz Lang and Thea von Harbou’s Metropolis, and Alexei Tolstoy’s Aelita (1922) adapted for the screen by Yakov Protazanov in 1924, represent the impact of political movements on scientific development and visions of human futures. Metropolis has been endlessly interpreted and reinterpreted as representing, at various times, Bolshevik or Fascist agendas. By contrast, Tolstoy’s novel and its film adaptation have received little critical attention. Those who have interpreted it (for instance, recently, Anindita Banerjee in a brief analysis in We Modern People: Science Fiction and the Making of Russian Modernity, (2012)), see it as representing, usually unproblematically, Bolshevik agendas in the new Soviet State. Nonetheless, even if Aelita is the lesser film, the plot is perhaps as complex as the one in Metropolis.

Watch Metropolis:

“Whatever ambiguity had been felt in the 20s about Metropolis, [Siegfried] Kracauer’s interpretation from 1947 carried the day. It was as if his reading allowed one to relive, indeed to participate in the very birth of Nazi ideology and its aesthetic in an apparently most unsuspected guise. But was the film unwittingly prophetic, anticipatory or actively collusive?”

– Thomas Elsaesser, Metropolis (BFI, 2000)

Watch Aelita:

“The boom in science fiction in the 1920s reflected the importance of technological advance to the Bolshevik agenda. Leland Fetzer claims that science fiction began weakly in Russia in the nineteenth century because of slow societal response to science, but much catching up was done in 1900-1917, and Alexei Tolstoy’s Aelita can as easily be seen as the last work of the turn of the century period as much as it is the first of the new period of the 1920s. It combines both a decadent world motif with a technological breakthrough motif. The idea of Russians going to Mars to annex it to the Soviet Union probably looked like a good gambit for a novel made to order for an exile’s return.”

– Peter G. Christensen “Women as Princesses or Comrades: Ambivalence in Yakov Protazanov’s “Aelita” (1924)” (New Zealand Slavonic Journal , 2000, 107-122)

Lisa K. Broad provides a concise summary of Aelita: http://sensesofcinema.com/2010/cteq/aelita-queen-of-mars/


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