Poster for the Soviet movie Aelita (1927), by ...
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Here is the full science fiction movie list.

The first of my science fiction watching project is a silent USSR film featuring life on Mars.  My friends and I enjoyed our ribald and goofy comments a lot more than the movie itself.

There were three distinct sections of the movie: Mars, Earth and the bag of sugar.

MARS

The scenes on Mars were the best by far. The geometric sets were striking.  Even Gor, the guardian of energy, had a triangle-shaped key ring.  I liked the diagonally sliding door as well.

Aelita’s headdresses were my favorite bit of costuming.  The headdress you see in most of the stills resembles a spiny sea creature, it’s even stranger when she moves.  One of her gowns encouraged me to think she had three breasts.  This would have been very alien of her, if it had been true.  Alas, it’s just an unnerving costume choice.

I learned that Martians know nothing of kisses because Aelita learns a lot when she spies on Earthling Los & his wife Natasha.  The alien woman learning about sex from humans is cliched but she’s intense about it which makes it funny.

It seems the queen’s maid Ihoshka knows more about these matters.  Ihoshka flirts with the soldiers in robotic uniforms at length during one scene and she quickly takes to an Earth man when the space ship arrives on Mars.

Stealthiness must mean something different on Mars.  Ihoshka skulks about the castle in the most obvious way.  She has a wretched outfit for sneaking, I admit.  Her gown is surrounded by caging wires. Nevertheless, no one can see her even when she’s standing in their direct line of sight.  Perhaps Martians have vision problems.

One scene was too funny to take seriously.  The bold Martian soldiers attack members of a rebellion with flashlights. I think they were meant to be lasers (?).  I was taken aback when a third of the Martian’s working population was “refrigerated” but I think it was about cryogenics.

EARTH

The protagonist and definite anti-hero of the film is an depressed engineer named Los.  He finds life fairly worthless, judging by his expression and body language.  One thing perks him up, a mysterious message of three words transmitted over the airwaves.  Los becomes convinced that it is a message from Mars. and begins his long quest to build a rocket ship to Mars.  He begins designing a rocket ship.  Things look pretty exciting until the main plot takes over.

THE BAG OF SUGAR

The main storyline is that of a misappropriated bag of sugar.

As this film portrays it, the USSR in the 1920s was a bad place to live.  The trains were disease carrying and overcrowded; and housing and food staples were limited. At one point, a character was bribing another with baked goods.  Their clothes were ugly and their shoes were rags.  Everything was dirty and everyone was cold.

The bag of sugar is stolen and the movie takes a generous portion of the running time to trace the hiding of the sugar, the eventual investigation, the subterfuge and various twists in the sugar plot.

I found that there were too many characters and got a little mixed up about which badly dressed character had what goal.  The good thing about Mars is that everyone was quite distinctive in appearance.

EARTH AGAIN

Despite his obsession with Mars, Los takes time out to deal with his domestic life. Los goes a lot bonkers with jealousy over his wife Natasha’s friendiless.  Los’ wife is entirely innocent but Los is channeling Othello and alternates between neglect and pettish anger with her.  The sugar, Mars and Earth plots collide in a supremely disturbing and wrong ending.

N. B.  Natasha wears the ugliest dress in cinematic history, just so you know.

SPOILERS

The MSSR (Martian Soviet Socialist Republics) was awesome for all of 2 minutes.

That Los sees Aelita the Queen and Natasha his wife as the same person is not that unusual.  But later Los returns to his home on Earth and shoots Natasha several times for her supposed infidelity.  Then he discovers she’s alive and unharmed by his shots at her.

And the mysterious message being a company logo?  Wow.  Coupled with the “it was all a dream”  trip to Mars – the denouement sucked.

LINKS

Jay Seaver’s review at efilmcritic.com

Carl Bennett at SilentEra.com gives an excellent review of Aelita.

His perfect description of the emotionally tortured Los:  “He copes with his problems by running off, with a mopey and withdrawn expression.”

I also agree with Bennet that Aelita’s headpieces are the highlight of the film.

James Newman gives much background on the filming of Aelita and a thorough review.  I especially liked his careful description of the set and costumes:

The Elders march with their hands clasped within large medallion-shaped devices that they wear on their chests. Wires that function like harpstrings encircle small pools and radiate to the high ceilings.

Kage Baker’s review at tor.com.

He too, was persuaded by Aelita’s costume that she had three breasts.

I love this quote, which I quite agree with:

Your heart goes out to her maidservant Ihoshka, obliged to wear these steel spider-leg bloomers in which she walks bowlegged so as to avoid puncturing a femoral artery and still maintains a cheerful and impish demeanor.


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