Saturday, January 16, 2016

Fritz Lang's 'Woman in the Moon' (1929)
on Sunday, Jan. 17 at Aeronaut Brewery

A poster for the original release of 'Woman in the Moon.'

What if J.D. Salinger had written a sequel to 'The Catcher in the Rye?'

And what if it was discovered among his papers after his death here in New Hampshire a few years ago, and was now in bookstores?

Wouldn't that just be flat-out amazing?

I imagine the excitement of discovery would be similar to what I felt when I first encountered Fritz Lang's 'Woman in the Moon' (1929).

Even non-silent-film-fanatics are familiar with 'Metropolis' (1927), Lang's jaw-dropping futuristic silent film epic.

But very few people have heard of 'Woman in the Moon,' a space travel fantasy that Lang made afterwards on an equally grand scale.

Why is 'Woman in the Moon' not better known?

Reasons include its release at very tail end of the silent era, when all people wanted were talkies, causing the 'Woman in the Moon' to tank at the box office.

And after that, Mr. Hitler came to power. He had some very specific ideas for all the German rocketry technology on display in 'Woman in the Moon,' and so suppressed the film, making it very difficult to see.

Later, heavily edited "highlight" editions of the film appeared. These cut-down versions lack coherence, to put it kindly, further causing 'Woman in the Moon' to be regarded as something of a misfire.

Fritz Lang (right) on the set of 'Woman in the Moon.'

And there things stood until about 10 years ago, when a fully restored version of 'Woman in the Moon' was finally compiled from the best surviving material and restored to its original length of nearly three hours.

What the restoration allowed us to see is a film rich with characters, humor, and a story line that pulls viewers along until a series of epic confrontations.

Also, the film accurately depicts realistic moon travel a full four decades before the Apollo program was underway.

Seeing it for the first time, I was thunderstruck. Although not strictly a sequel to 'Metropolis,' it plays like a continuation of the earlier film's vision, imagination, and audacity.

Discover what this feels like by attending our screening of 'Woman in the Moon' at the Aeronaut Brewery in Somerville, Mass. on Sunday, Jan. 17 at 7 p.m.

More information about the film is in the press release below.

And if you come, you'll be ready just in case a 'Catcher' sequel does turn up in J.D.'s papers.

* * *

Exploring the lunar surface in 'Woman in the Moon.'

Contact Jeff Rapsis • (603) 236-9237 •

Silent sci-fi adventure film on Sunday, Jan. 17
at Aeronaut Brewery in Somerville, Mass.

'Woman in the Moon,' Fritz Lang's pioneer space drama about mankind's first lunar voyage, to be screened with live musical accompaniment

SOMERVILLE, Mass.—A sci-fi adventure hailed as the first feature film to depict realistic space travel will be screened in January at the Aeronaut Brewery.

'Woman in the Moon' (1929), directed by German filmmaker Fritz Lang ('Metropolis,' 1927), will be screened with live music on Sunday, Jan. 17 at 7 p.m. at the Aeronaut Brewery, 14 Tyler St. (near Union Square), Somerville, Mass.

The screening is open to the public and is part of the Aeronaut's commitment to showcase local music, art, and performance. Admission is an optional $10 donation per person to be collected during the screening.

The rarely seen full-length version of 'Woman in the Moon' follows an intrepid band of space pioneers as they attempt mankind's first voyage to the lunar surface, where they hope to find large deposits of gold.

The film, made with German rocket experts as technical advisers, anticipated many of the techniques used by NASA for the Apollo moon launch program 40 years later. For example, a multi-stage rocket is employed to escape Earth's gravity, and a separate capsule is used to reach the lunar surface.

The film is also noted for introducing the idea of a dramatic "countdown" prior to launch, which later became standard procedure in actual space flight. Critics regard the film's extended launch sequence as a masterpiece of editing and dramatic tension.

But 'Woman in the Moon,' with its melodramatic plot, also stands as the forerunner of many sci-fi soap opera elements that quickly became clichés: the brilliant but misunderstood professor; a love triangle involving a female scientist and her two male crewmates; a plucky young boy who yearns to join the expedition; fistfights and gunfire and treachery on the lunar surface.

The cast of 'Woman in the Moon' views their destination prior to landing.

Added to the mix is a vision of the moon (created entirely on a massive studio set in Berlin, Germany) that features a breathable atmosphere, giant sand dunes, distant mountain peaks, and bubbling mud pits.

"This is a great and at-times bizarre film, one that must be seen to be believed," said Jeff Rapsis, a New Hampshire-based silent film accompanist who will create live music for the Aeronaut's screening. "It's as entertaining as any spy-thriller. And as a past vision of a future that didn't quite come to be, it really gets you thinking of time and how we perceive it."

Rapsis, a resident of Bedford, N.H., will improvise live musical accompaniment during the screening, using a digital synthesizer to recreate the sound of a full orchestra and other more exotic textures.

'Woman in the Moon,' a full-length feature than runs more than 2½ hours, should not be confused with the much earlier film 'A Trip to Moon,' a primitive "trick" short movie made by French filmmaker George Méliès in 1902 and famous for the image of a space capsule hitting the eye of an imaginary moon man.

"Unlike the Méliès film, there's nothing primitive about 'Woman in the Moon,' " Rapsis said. "It's silent film story-telling at the peak of its eloquence, with lively performances, imaginative camera angles, and superb photography."

In 'Woman in the Moon,' large amounts of beach sand were used to create the lunar surface inside a studio.

Director Fritz Lang, responsible for the groundbreaking sci-fi epic 'Metropolis' (1927), planned 'Woman in the Moon' as another step in his quest to stretch cinema's visual, story-telling, and imaginative capabilities.

Bad timing is one reason that 'Woman in the Moon' (titled 'Frau im Mond' in German) is not as well known today as 'Metropolis,' its legendary predecessor. Lang completed 'Woman in the Moon' just as the silent film era was coming to a close.

As one of the last silent films of German cinema, 'Woman in the Moon' was unable to compete with new talking pictures then in theaters, making it a box office flop at its premiere in October, 1929.

However, German rocket scientist Hermann Oberth worked as an adviser on the movie, and it developed cult status among the rocket scientists in Wernher von Braun's circle starting in the 1930s. During World War II, the first successfully launched V-2 rocket at the German rocket facility in Peenemünde had the "Woman in the Moon" logo painted on its base.

During the war, the Nazis tried to recall and destroy all prints of 'Woman in the Moon' due to its detailed depiction of state-of-the-art rocket propulsion technology; in later years, this served to make the film even more hard to find. For many years, the film was available only in cut-down 16mm versions that ran as short as one hour.

But pristine and complete 35mm copies of 'Woman in the Moon' did survive in several European archives. Today, restored prints are amazingly clear and sharp, Rapsis said.

" 'Woman in the Moon' is technically one of the best-looking silent films I've ever seen," he said. "If you think all silent films are grainy and scratchy-looking, 'Woman in the Moon' will change your mind. It's like an Ansel Adams photograph come to life."

"Although 'Woman in the Moon' is available for home viewing, this is a motion picture that should be experienced as intended: on the big screen, with live music, and with an audience," Rapsis said. "There's nothing like it."

‘Woman in the Moon’ will be shown with live music on Sunday, Jan. 17 at 7 p.m. at the Aeronaut Brewery, 14 Tyler St. (near Union Square), Somerville, Mass. Admission is an optional $10 donation per person. For more info, visit or call (617) 987-4236; for more info on the music, visit For more info on the music, visit

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