Saturday, February 7, 2015

Retro Saturday: Космический рейс

Click the arrow to watch the film. Video source: RusRetroFilms YouTube channel.

This week's Retro Saturday is a film about the first Soviet human spaceflight to the Moon in 1946.

No, President Kennedy didn't lose the Moon race by two decades.

Космический рейс (Cosmic Voyage) is a 1935 science fiction film by Mosfilm, Russia's oldest film studio. Russian astronautics theorist Konstantin Tsiolkovsky was an advisor to the film and given co-writing credit. He passed away in September 1935, just before the film was released in January 1936. Tsiolkovsky's works were an influence on Sergei Korolev and Wernher von Braun.

A promotional poster for Космический рейс. Image source: Wikipedia.

According to the Austin Film Society:

In 1932 Komsomol, the Communist youth organization in Stalin’s Soviet Union, insisted that filmmakers create works that would appeal to young people. Various subjects, including science fiction, were proposed. Director Vasili Zhuravlev asked screenwriter Aleksandr Filimonov, with whom he had worked before on THE BOMBIST (1932), to write a script about mankind’s first trip to the moon. Conversations ensued with legendary filmmaker Sergei Eisenstein, who had been relegated to an executive position at one of the Soviet film studios. The world famous Eisenstein was no longer allowed to make films after returning from America and Mexico. However, the proposed sci-fi film was approved and Zhuravlev and Filimonov set to work.

To insure scientific accuracy they visited with Constantin Tsiolkovski, a professor, scientist, and author. He became so excited by the possibility of seeing some of his scientific theories about space travel put into a film that he offered his services as a consultant. While understanding that the cinematic form and dramatic content would necessitate some bending of scientific probability, Tsiolkovski did insist that six elements must appear in the film:

  1. The rocket would be launched from a ramp rather than vertically because of its huge size
  2. Individual voyager’s cabins would fill with water during take off to ease the effects of extreme pressure on the human body
  3. Stars in space would not flicker once earth’s atmosphere was left behind
  4. Voyagers would experience weightlessness during the coasting phase of the flight
  5. The voyagers would be able to jump about the moon surface “like sparrows” on earth
  6. Return of the space cabin to earth would be accomplished by parachute once the earth’s atmosphere had been entered

The film runs 65 minutes. Although it's a silent film, this version has a rather bizarre synthesized music soundtrack. Mute the audio if you find it annoying. The captions are in Russian with no available English translation.

Космический рейс stands with Fritz Lang's Metropolis (1927) and Frau im Mond (Woman in the Moon) (1929), and H.G. Wells' Things to Come (1936), as the earliest examples of serious science fiction works. The effects for the era are state of the art.

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