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Director: Fritz Lang
Cast: Klaus Pohl, Willy Fritsch, Gustav von Wangenheim, Gerda Maurus
Length: 163 min
Disks: 2 (1 BD, 1 DVD)
Label: Eureka – The Masters of Cinema Series
Release Date: 5th August, 2014
Video codec: MPEG-4 AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Audio: Music: LPCM 2.0
Subtitles: English (optional)
- The First Scientific Science-Fiction Film – a German documentary about Frau im Mond, made by Gabriele Jacobi [15:00]
- 40-PAGE BOOKLET with an analysis of the film by Michael E. Grost; a “casebook” on the film; and rare and archival imagery
Eureka, Masters of Cinema has released a new Dual Format edition of Fritz Lang’s Woman in the Moon (Frau im Mond – 1929). It goes without saying that director Fritz Lang is known for some of the world’s best films. Dubbed the “master of darkness” by the British Film Institute, Lang is renown as one of the German Expressionist movement’s best exports. While many German directors were fleeing Nazi Europe and its stranglehold on freedom of expression, these directors entered Hollywood with an eye towards the darker side of the human experience. Having made a name for himself during Germany’s tumultuous Weimar Republic era, Lang’s film work is full of angst and is known for its foreboding tones and characteristic intensity.
You would be hard-pressed to find major Hollywood films that are as visually dark as they are ethically murky and morally ambiguous as that of Lang’s oeuvre, consisting of such classic noir films as The Big Heat, Beyond a Reasonable Doubt, and The Thousand Eyes of Dr. Mabuse. Whereas many directors struggled with the transition from silent film to sound, Lang’s first “talkie” M solidified his reputation with American audiences as the filmmaker who singlehandedly ushered in the noir style of filmmaking.But it is the creative freedom and fantastical quality exhibited by Lang’s groundbreaking silent expressionist work that represents a very different kind of artistry, one free from the limitations of the human voice. With the 1927 dystopian sci-fi epic Metropolis, Lang became a visual and aesthetic architect. Carefully constructed scenery and lavish, manneristic style sets made Metropolis the most expensive silent movie ever produced. Two years later, Lang teamed up with his, then, wife Thea von Harbou to do something which has never been done before in cinematic history: to portray space exploration seriously. Newly restored by Eureka’s Masters of Cinema series, the result, Frau im Mond, is available on region B Blu-Ray for the first time ever in its “near-original length.”
Frau im Mond is a story that combines space travel, industrial espionage, and unrequited love. As the film is a melodrama in the traditional sense, Frau im Mond catches you in its love triangle, ultimately making that the impetus the action that follows. A young entrepreneurial man named Helius takes an interest in the work of Professor Mannfeldt who claims he has evidence that there is gold on the moon. Though often ridiculed, Helius believes in Mannfeldt’s work. Unfortunately, so do a gaggle of evil businessman led by an evil American known only as “The man who calls himself Walter Turner.” Meanwhile, Helius’s assistant Windegger proposes to Helius’s other assistant, Friede, who Helius secretly loves. After traveling to the moon with evil henchmen, grabbing some gold, and losing a few hangers-on, Helius is tested once he realized that everyone in his party might not be able to make it home.What makes Frau im Mond unique is that alongside a sense of loss and longing is a kind of triumph, particularly in the ending scene. For this reason, Frau im Mond feels like an aesthetic harkening back to the operatic elements in Lang’s Siegfried (Die Nibelungen: Siegfried). Though it was released in 1924, the film tells the very Wagnerian, and German, legend of Siegfried and his quest to rescue the princess Kremheld from dragons, dwarves, and other Teutonic heroes. While the poetic saga of Siegfried is fantastical visually, Lang’s talents stem from his ability to carry his audience through a very real emotional journey. Siegfried is tested many times, feeling genuine joy, rapture, rage, and tragedy. Frau im Mond does the same thing, but is not limited by a story with an “epic” or “legendary” cultural status. In other words, Lang and von Harbou were free to craft an emotional tale of their own, and not retell a historic one that audiences would measure theirs up against. This freedom allowed them to elevate science fiction from the very hokey place it held in pulp fiction.
After the huge success of Metropolis, Lang strived to construct a world that was fantastical in nature, but as true to ours as possible. Consulting with astrophysicists, Frau im Mond became the first film ever to demonstrate the multi-stage rocket and the famous “countdown to zero” to mass audiences. Although Lang’s visual dexterity is inhibited by his time, Frau im Mond feels very modern in certain respects and treats love with a sincerity rarely seen in silent filmmaking. This is because, despite Lang’s technical limitations, he was free to capture his audience and take them where he wanted them to go.
F. W. Murnau-Stiftung’s 2k restoration of the original camera neagtive for Frau im Mond looks absolutely stunning. The elements look to be in excellent shape, with only minor scratches, dirt, and specs. We are generally used to seeing silent films with plenty of print damage caused by the intervening decades, but this presentation of Frau im Mond is probably very close to how the film actually looked in cinemas on first release. The film grain is left completely intact. It provides a beautiful patina, and looks wholly natural. Contrast and image depth look perfect, with a rich gradation of tone. Rarely do films from this period come out looking this good. We are indeed privileged to have this important film, looking as good as this. While the original German intertitles remain, this restoration comes with a new English translation for the subtitles.
The LPCM 2.0 piano music track by Willy Schmidt-Gentner fits perfectly with the Expressionistic images, and sounds crystal clear, with plenty of amplitude, but not so much that it sounds unnatural in context with a silent film.
Eureka’s release of Frau im Mond isn’t exactly rich on extra features, but the one feature that’s here is certainly worthwhile. It’s a fifteen-minute documentary by filmmaker Gabriele Jacobi entitled, The First Scientific Science-Fiction Film: a German Documentary about Frau im Mond. This German context for the film feeds into the very “Germans being German” stereotype of near surgical precision and clinical seriousness in nearly every aspect of German life and culture. However, Jacobi’s claims are hard to argue, as Lang’s film exudes a seriousness that, when compared to even later cinematic portrayals of space travel (think 1960s giant bugs and little green men in gray spandex), is especially admirable considering the film was released in 1929. Also, a 40-page booklet is provided, that includes a critical analysis of the film’s cultural impact by Michael E. Grost, and helps complete the picture as to what makes Frau im Mond such an important contribution in German Expressionist cinema.
Like many of his films, Fritz Lang’s Frau im Mond stands the test of time. It holds up as not only a great silent movie, but also a sci-fi classic that revolutionized the genre. But just as the science in the film was true to life, so too was Lang able to traverse the emotional landscape as he had done with countless other films in his filmography. The difference here, however, is that Lang treats his subject matter with a level of class and civility that had not been seen before. For this reason—as well as for the superlative restoration job—this edition of Frau im Mond is a must for fans of silent film, German Expressionism, Fritz Lang, sci-fi, and pre-CGI laden classic filmmaking.