Last weekend, I spent another lovely evening at Hackney Picturehouse. I actually went slightly early and did my homework for my creative writing course, which consisted of ‘observing’ people in a crowded place. It really is a great place to people-watch…but then I end up people-watching all the time (it’s just a nicer way of saying I’m nosey really, isn’t it?)
Yakov Protazanov’s Aelita was first released in 1924, and is set in 1921. It was apparently the first science-fiction film to come out of the Soviet Union, but to be honest, the ‘sci-fi’ bit of it isn’t the main story.
A strange radio transmission is being received across the world, and one of the recipients is an engineer called Los. Newly-married to Natasha, the message intrigues Los and he starts day-dreaming of its origin.
We cut to his dreams, which are of the woman of the title – Aelita, Queen of Mars. Although Aelita is supposedly the Queen, she doesn’t really seem to have much power – that is down to the Elders. One of the inventors has built a special ‘viewing machine’, which he shows to Aelita, and she becomes obsessed with Earth, and especially one man – Los himself.
Meanwhile, Los & Natasha have been told that they have to take in a lodger, Elrich. Unknown to them, Elrich is married, and his wife is currently working on Los’ colleague, conning him out of his money. Elrich too is abusing his position and stealing from the State (the political messaging in the film is unmistakable throughout!). However, Los becomes fixated on his misguided suspicion that Natasha is having an affair with Elrich, and this in turn pushes him into day-dreaming more about Aelita.
This film is absolutely bloody bonkers!
I could see echoes of Dr Caligari in it, especially in the Mars-based sets, and I could also see shere it probably influenced some of the scenes that came a few years later in Metropolis. Some of the Mars costumes were truly odd – one girl had trousers that looked like bird cages, and there was a large amount of perspex in the costumes of the Elders – some great perspex hair and beards (see above).
However, there were a lot of scenes where me and my mate looked at each other and just said “WTF??” — I think the total surrealism of it all added to its appeal though, as I have been thinking back over it a lot over the past week.
As for the live score, Minima were once again fantastic – atmospheric, haunting, spot-on! I especially liked the dog bark that one of them managed (was it the cellist??)
I have already booked tickets for me and my mates to their double-bill at the Prince Charles Cinema next month – Dr Caligari again but also Nosferatu, which I have never seen 🙂