"Aelita, Queen of Mars" (1924)

Produced by Mezhrabpom-Rus
Directed by Yakov Protazanov,
Premiered September 30, 1924, at the Ars Cinema in Moscow with a special musical score composed by Valentin Kruchinin.
Based upon Alexei Tolstoi's novel
Production began in February, 1923, and took over a year to complete. 22,000 meters of film was shot to produce the 2,841 meter movie (approximately 6,000 feet).

Cast Valentina Kuinzhi, Nikolai Tsereteli , Konstantin Eggert, Yulia Solntseva, Ikushka, Yuri Zavadsky, Igor Ilinsky, and Nikolai Batalov.

The story

The story takes place in December, 1921, amid the chaos bequeathed by the Civil War and the start of the NEP (New Economic Policy). "An engineer who works in the half-starving Moscow designs a spacecraft and flies to Mars with a soldier friend. The scene shifts back and forth from Earth to Mars. There are two feminine characters - Natasha, the beautiful daughter of the Earth, and Aelita, the queen of Mars. The soldier, a good Bolshevik, starts a revolution among the slaves of the planet's ruler, Queen Aelita.

A big budget science fiction spectacle with enormous futuristic sets and radical costumes, this film is said to have influenced Fritz Lang's "Metropolis."

Contemporary reviews

Here are a few of the reviews that appeared in the Soviet press upon the film's release:

Pravda: " The theme of the picture and Tolstoi's novel, for all its ideological questionableness, has great literary worth. The authors of the scenario, wishing to correct the ideological side, describe the whole trip to Mars as a dream of the engineer, Los. But it is unclear where he goes to sleep or where and when he wakes up. It is as if he woke up after attempting to kill his wife, but then where do the scenes on Mars come from? . . . The rising of the Martian workers has the stamp of the "monumental " foreign films striving to convey quantity rather than quality."

Ivestiya: "The mountain has produced a mouse. "

Kino-gazeta: "An extraordinary phenomenon . . . it would have been preferable not to depart from Tolstoi."

Proletarskoe kino claimed that "Aelita" had cost too much.

Kinonedelya attacked "Aelita's" scriptwriters as individuals alien to the working class and advised that the Party keep
bourgeois specialists like Protazana under close watch.

Novyi Lef opposed old-fashioned entertainment pictures such as these ("Aelita")

Critics Khrisanf Khersonskii and Boris Gusman charged "Aelita" with being a Western picture made for the foreign viewer.

A great success

The first showing of the film was preceded by an advertising campaign in Pravda and in Kinogazeta. In the former, a cryptic message appeared regularly from September 19 1924: ' ANTA...ODE LI...UTA..." while the latter explained: "The signals are being received constantly by radio stations around the world-ANTA ... ODELI ...UTA ... - have at last been deciphered! What do they mean? You will find out on 30 September at the Ars Cinema." On this occasion, the cinema facade was decorated with giant figures of Aelita and Tuskub, the princess and king of Mars, surrounded by illuminated columns and geometric shapes approximating the film's Martian decor and animated by flashing lights. Demand for tickets was unprecedented, which kept the touts busy, and huge crowds apparently prevented the director, Protazanov himself, from attending the premiere.

The film was a great succesa, Many babies were named Aelita. One of the first Soviet set designers, Sergei Kozlovsky, began working in films in 1913, and he worked on the biggest Soviet productions such as "Mother," "End Of St. Petersburg," "Aelita" and many others.

Mezhrabpom-Rus Corporation was a creation of the New Economic Policy (NEP). It resulted from capital given by the Berlin-based Workers' International Relief (Wir) to the existing Rus studio. Rus itself had been reformed as an experimental collective on the basis of the pre-Revolutionary production company.

Director and author

Yakov Protazanov was called "the old man" because he was from pre-revolutionary cinema and a mere 40 years old. Called the Russian Griffith and a director since 1911, he had left Russia during the Revolution in 1917 and made films in Germany for UFA and in France for Gaumont. He was called back by the Rus Collective to produce films.

Alexei Tolstoi, the author of the book upon which the film was based, also had gone into exile and had voluntarily returned to the Soviet Union as Protazanov, a "repentant emigre." Very little of the book was used in making the film, and Tolstoi, along with many critics, was disappointed in the results.

In 1925, an international exhibition of decorative arts was held in Paris, and Protazanov was given an award for "Aelita."

Information sources: Kino by Jay Leyda, Inside The Film Factory by Richard Taylor and Ian Christie, Movies For The Masses by Denise J. Youngblood and The Illustrated History Of Soviet Cinema by Neya Zorkaya.

copyright 2001 by John DeBartolo. All rights reserved.

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