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A pair of space oddities from East Germany’s DEFA studio land on the shelves
this week, and, together, they bring into focus the other space race — the one
to represent the universe’s outer limits in ever more dazzling displays of special-effects
technology and moviemaking craft. The Soviets may have got the jump on us with
Sputnik, but Kurt Maetzig’s The Silent Star (1960), based on the
novel by Stanislaw Lem (who also wrote Solaris), leans heavily on MGM’s
Forbidden Planet (1956) for the design of its crusty planetary landscapes
and fantastic alien technology, as well as its electronic musical score. Still,
the communists could be magnanimous: After discovering a strange artifact in the
Gobi Desert, East German scientists allow an American physicist to bum a ride
to Venus on their Soviet-built rocket, whose entire crew is remarkably multinational
and multiethnic. As a dashing East German cosmonaut puts it, “We are not only
internationalists in politics.” The dialogue throughout proves as stiff and campy
as in the movie’s jargon-laden Hollywood counterpart. Venus itself is all mist,
colored lights and lava-lamp superimpositions until the smoke clears to reveal
one of the most bizarre and bewildering visions of an alien structure ever filmed.
For its part, Herman Zschoche’s Eolomea (1972) seems like a step back.
Its sets and miniatures could have been recycled from Thunderbirds, while
its story struggles for (but never achieves) the conceptual gravity of Tarkovsky’s
Solaris, released the same year. Still, director Zschoche does his best,
chopping up the story of a deep-space explorer’s obsession with a distant mysterious
star with psychedelic flashes of slit-scan images (à la 2001) and liquid
light projections.

Other recommended new releases: Boudu: Saved From Drowning (DVD); The
Films of Charles & Ray Eames, Vols. 1-6
(DVD); The Flowers of St.
Francis
(DVD); The Killing of Sister George (DVD). VHS-DVD:
The Adventures of Ociee Nash, The Ring Two, The Roach Approach. DVD: After
Sex; Arthur Ashe: Citizen of the World; Battlefield Britain; Bliss; Boobah: Big
Windows; Boy Meets World: Season Three; Caillou: Caillou’s Family Fun; Clear the
Skies; Codename: Kids Next Door (File 2/Vol. 2); Cybercase: Ecohaven CSE; Disney’s
Little Einsteins: Our Big Huge Adventure; Emergency: Season 1; Four Friends; Futurama:
Monster Robot Maniac Fun Collection; Gladiator, Extended Edition; Hara Kiri (Seppuku);
Homeland Security; Home of the Brave; Hood of the Living Dead; Hot Wheels Acceleracers,
Vol. 2: The Speed of Silence; I Love You, Don’t Touch Me; Kung Fu: The Complete
Third Season; Lackawanna Blues; Life as We Know It: The Complete Series; A Lot
Like Love; New Jack City: Special Edition; O.C.: The Complete Second Season; One
Adam 12: Season 1; Party Nerds Toga Bash: Assault of the Party Nerds, Heavy Petting
Detective; Red Tent; La Petite Lili; Shakespeare’s Women & Claire Bloom; Six Feet
Under: The Complete Fourth Season; The Transporter: Special Delivery Edition;
The Truman Show: Special Collector’s Edition; Vincent & Theo; Without You I’m
Nothing; Witness: Special Collector’s Edition; A World Apart.

LA Weekly