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Podcast logo of black retro UFO on a red background with the text Every Single Sci-Fi Film Ever*. *Almost.

4. Aelita: The 100 Year Old Queen of Mars

As with all episodes of this podcast there are spoilers ahead!

You can watch Aelita Queen of Mars (1924) here.

 

Description
Lenin, the leader of the Russian revolution and the new soviet Russia declared “The cinema is for us the most important of the arts”. He recognised the power of film to reach a wide range of audiences and its potential as propaganda. The country was struggling as was its film industry which was nationalised in 1919. 

In the first half of the 20th century Russia has been through a world war, a revolution and a civil war which ended in 1923.

Some months later the words “Anta Odeli Uta” started appearing in the press and distributed leaflets. The words are from Aelita Queen of Mars which was Soviet Russia’s first big film. A film they hired acclaimed pre-revolutionary film director Yakov Protozanov to make. This film was intended to make a big impact, to be popular and be a beacon of the new emerging soviet Russia. Although the film was a commercial success, communist critics were harsh in their verdict.

The film has a mishmash of themes which make confusing viewing. Part communist propaganda (oppressed Martian workers rise up against a cruel king), part romantic drama (jealousy and obsession), part social commentary (a corrupt government official and a bumbling policeman) amongst many other things.

Luckily we have two heavyweight scholars to help us rein in the confusion.

The experts
Denise Youngblood is Professor of History Emerita at the University of Vermont.  She is a specialist on the history of Russian and Soviet cinema from 1908 to the present. She has written extensively on the subject, including seven books and numerous articles and film reviews. She has a PhD from Stanford and was one of only three Americans who studied Soviet film history at VGIK (the Soviet state film institute in Moscow) during Soviet times.

Rachel Morley is Associate Professor at UCL's School of Slavonic & East European Studies where she is also co-chair of Russian Cinema Research Group. She has published widely and presented papers on Russian film.

Chapters
00:00 Introduction to show and guests
02:43 The pre-revolutionary master returns
07:01 Where is the communist propaganda?
13:00 Anta Odeli Uta and the critics Vs fans
18:34 Is the protagonist meant to be unlikable?
23:12 Women: past, present and future
28:34 The working class
32:17 A vision of the future: costumes and set design
35:22 Russian sci-fi after Aelita: Stalin Vs Khrushchev
38:38 Aelita: a warning to Soviet filmmakers
40:53 Did Aelita inspire Fritz Lang’s Metropolis?
43:12 Protozanov’s future
44:27 Stalin’s restrictions on the film industry
48:02 Conclusion

The shownotes​

• The YouTube channel @MarsWantsMovies can be found here.

• You can find more of Yakov Protazanov’s films on his IMDB listing here

• There is more information about the Mezhrabpom film studio with a brief mention of Moisei Aleinikov in this article.

• Battleship Potemkin by Sergei Eisenstein was released in December 1925. It was written with intention to be propaganda. It is received high critical acclaim and still features on lists of the greatest films of all time.

• Eisenstein’s IMDB page is here and Lev Kuleshov’s here. The Kuleshov Effect is named after the director. This is the way in which editing can be used to evoke different meaning in viewers. The simple example of this is here.

This article has more information about Constructivism in soviet cinema. And you can find a striking collection of Constructivist film posters here.

• Nikolai Tseretelli is the actor who plays the leading man Los. His birth name was Said Mir Khudoyar Khan (no relation!) and according to his IMDB biography he was the grandson of the Emir of Bukhara.

• Aelita is played by Yuliya Solntseva who went on to direct the film Chronical of Flaming Years in 1961. The film, about Soviet Russia in World War II, made Solntseva the first female director to win the Best Director Award at Cannes film festival.

• A short overview of the New Economic Policy (NEP) is here.

• You can learn more about Aleksandra Ekster here.

• The post-graduate student Rachel refers to is Eleanor Rees and her book titled Designing Russian Cinema was published in January 2023.

• There is a brief biography of Isaac Rabinovich here.

• An overview of the Russian newspaper Pravda is here.

• Pavel Klushantsev’s1957 film Road to the Stars was thought to have been an influence on Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey.

• IMDB page for Teens in the Universe here.

Alexander Nevsky is the film rumoured to have the missing reel due to fear of Stalin.

NEXT EPISODE!
Fritz Lang’s Metropolis is next! It is considered by many to be one of the greatest films of the silent era. You can watch it here  at the internet archive or here on YouTube. Or you can check here for UK or here for US options. DVDs of the film are also available.

 

There are many versions of the film due to edited versions, lost footage and restored versions. There is also a 1984 Giorgio Moroder version with an 80s soundtrack!

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