Festivals-a-Go-Go — Cold War Sci-Fi on the Big Screen

January 20, 2012 | By | Add a Comment

Swinging to the Politico-Trippy-Headiness of Cold War Wow!

In perusing the TIFF Bell Lightbox’s latest catalogue, alongside retrospectives of Turkish filmmaker Yilmaz Guney and French filmmaker Robert Bresson (starting next week), some may have noticed a splashy section devoted to sci-fi films produced during the Cold War era in Eastern Europe, when Soviet and Soviet-style regimes were in power, and the mandate of the Party was mirrored in government-approved films.

The attraction to these films isn’t tied down to one reason. They’re artifacts of dead regimes, perhaps politicized representations of man’s place in the cosmos, subversive efforts by filmmakers to explore themes and critiques in B-movie scenarios, or outright escapism with trippy visuals, set designs, shiny spacesuits and bulbous helmets, and music that’s either dead serious, cerebral, or wacked-out.

The best-known director among the 17 represented films – spanning the former USSR, East Germany, the former Czechoslovakia, Poland, and Estonia – is Andrei Tarkovky, via Solaris and Stalker, and while these two films may receive the lion’s share of attention, there’s a whole slew of works by directors few have ever seen, or seen on DVD.

Screening from January thru March, the movies that make up Attack the Bloc: Cold War Science Fiction from Behind the Iron Curtain are largely anchored around Fridays, which tends to be TIFF’s cult film slot, and I think that’s a programming error in the sense that it restricts the wackier, B-movie efforts for the Friday crowd, and deliberately redirects the more intellectual, genre-transgressions to Sundays.

I get the logic, but given a lot of effort went into curating this series and the overall rarity of the prints, these movies ought to get repeat showings over the next 2-3 months, unless it’s a case of limited print availability.

Some of the films have been / are available on DVD in and around planet Earth, but if you’ve seen even one of the B-level films, you’ll know that part of their success and cult status is due to the audience experience, and the uniqueness of their look and effects – different film stocks, colour schemes, and effects created without the aid of Consolidated Film Industries (or any Hollywood-based firm, unless the film’s American release was handled by Roger Corman).

I’ll have film reviews of key works in the coming weeks, but to help you to plan your Cold War expedition, I’ve tallied the films below, and noted what’s unique, their screening dates and home video availability (exclusive Russian releases excepted).

Those unable to catch films can do further sleuthing at the various Amazon sites (see links to KQEK.com’s Amazon store, as we’re an associate), or try and swap shifts / call in sick / play dead to catch a rare screening of something heady, trippy, or downright nutty in one of the TBL’s big screen / big sound cinemas.

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Adolescents in the Universe (1974)

Dead Mountaineer’s Hotel (1979) — formerly available from Rusico on DVD. Amazon U.S.A.

Eolomea (1972) — released in the U.S. by First Run Features individually and as part of a boxed DEFA Sci-Fi set, but the German DVD reportedly sports an anamorphic transfer. Amazon Canada / U.S.A.

Ferat Vampire (1982) — from the director of 2010’s Habermann, Juraj Herz’s blood-fueled racecar shocker has been released in the Czech Republic on DVD with English subs.

Golem (1980) — 1980 Polish version with wooden planks coming out of a guy’s mouth. Why wouldn’t you be curious?

Great Space Voyage, The (1974)

Ikarie XB-1 (1963) — available on German all–region DVD. Amazon U.S.A.

I Killed Einstein, Gentlemen (1970)

In the Dust of the Stars / Im Staub der Sterne (1976) — released in the U.S. by First Run Features individually and as part of a boxed DEFA Sci-Fi set, but the German DVD reportedly sports an anamorphic transfer. Amazon Canada / U.S.A.

Moscow-Cassiopeia (1973)

Planet of Storms / Planeta Bur (1962) — published in the TBL guidebook as screening Friday March 23 at 9pm, but not listed on the website. Available on Russian DVD, German DVD. Also released in U.S. by Roger Corman (see? I told you he’d come up) as Voyage to the Prehistoric Planet (1965) with new footage by Curtis Harrington. Footage later recycled by Peter Bogdanovich in Voyage to the Planet of Prehistoric Women (1968), of which both craptastic titles are available via Archive.org on as separate DVDs. Amazon Canada / U.S.A.

Silent Star, The (1960) — released in the U.S. by First Run Features individually and as part of a boxed DEFA Sci-Fi set, but the German DVD reportedly sports an anamorphic transfer. Recut and rleased in the U.S. in 1962 as First Spaceship on Venus. Amazon Canada / U.S.A.

Solaris (1972) — Andrei Tarkovsky’s iconoclastic sci-fi epic gets three screening dates, but is also available on Blu & DVD via Criterion. Amazon Canada / U.S.A.

Stalker (1979) — Tarkovsky’s second epic is similarly available on 3 distinct dates, and is available via KINO / Mongrel Media. Amazon Canada / U.S.A.

Test Pilot Pirxa (1979) — available on YouTube with wonky subtitles, so why bother?

To the Stars by Hard Ways (1982) — released on DVD by Rusico. Amazon U.S.A.

Who Wants to Kill Jessie? (1966) — released on DVD in the U.S. by Facets. Amazon Canada / U.S.A.

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Mark R. Hasan, Editor
KQEK.com ( Main Site / Mobile Site )

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