December 21, 2016

How to take your hands out of your pockets in the most exciting way.

That's "Woman in the Moon"/"Frau im Mond," a 1929 silent movie written and directed by Fritz Lang (who also made "Metropolis"):
Several prescient technical/operational features are presented during the film's 1920's launch sequence, which subsequently came into common operational use during America's postwar space race:

• the rocket ship Friede is fully built in a tall building and moved to the launch pad

• as launch approaches, the launch team counts down the seconds from ten to zero ("now" was used for zero), and Woman in the Moon is often cited as the first occurrence of the "countdown to zero" before a rocket launch.

•the rocket ship blasts off from a pool of water; water is commonly used today on launch pads to absorb and dissipate the extreme heat and damp the noise generated by the rocket exhaust

• in space, the rocket ejects its first stage and fires its second stage rocket, predicting the development of modern multistage orbital rockets
 • the crew recline on horizontal beds to cope with the G-forces experienced during lift-off and pre-orbital acceleration

• floor foot straps are used to restrain the crew during zero gravity (Velcro is used today).
So he didn't predict velco, eh? Well, then how prescient is it? Quite aside from prescience,* I was fascinated to just scroll randomly to the middle of a place in the film and — without the ability to read the German intertitle explaining what was going on — witnessed the most amazing Man Takes His Hands Out of His Pockets I have ever seen. Yes, rockets are awesome — but pockets? Make pockets awesome and I declare you a genius!


* Presciencepre-science. It ought to be a synonym for science fiction.


traditionalguy said...

Pickpocket hands. The smaller the better.

Quaestor said...

Pocket rocket.

Oops. Too earlier in the morning for that.

Quaestor said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Quaestor said...

One thing Lang (wow, I almost typed Kang*) didn't get right is the Moon itself. Lang used Willy Ley and Hermann Oberth as technical advisors on the film, but he must have stopped listening at some point.

Here's the Lady in the Moon enjoying a brisk cinema assignment without that pesky helmet, pressure suit, oxygen supply, etc.

*Spouse of Kodos.

John said...

That guy is doing something more than just having his hands in his pockets.

He looks like he is playing pocket pool or something.

John Henry

Sydney said...

Excellent movie. I recommend watching all of it, not just the pocket and rocket scenes. He conveyed a lot of anger with those pockets full of fists, don't you think?

David said...

At 31:21 he has Hitler driving someone's limo.

John Nowak said...

+Quaestor My understanding is that Lang believed that putting his actors in full body suits would have made it impossible to his (silent) actors to communicate anything to the audience. There's some pretty decent body acting in Star Wars and even the Friday the 13th series, but obviously this was years before that.

IIRC at the time it was seriously suggested that the far side of the moon might have significant atmosphere, especially at the bottom of craters. I don't know if "breathable" was seen as a possibility, but I understand why Lang felt compelled to drop the space suits after showing one guy wearing one.

Bob Boyd said...

NFL security guard doing his best to make his pocket awesome.

Brando said...

I like how in sci-fi movies and TV shows no matter what damage a spaceship takes, whatever machine is ensuring stable "Earth-like" gravity never gets affected. That, and how the ships all have windows when that just courts disaster and it'd make more sense to replace them with viewing screens.

Also, aren't regular guns more effective than laser blasters?

What are we talking about again?

Quaestor said...

John Nowak,

I am one of those people who isn't as impressed with Fritz Lang as people who took film appreciation as an undergrad elective are expected to be. I've seen most of his work, including the big three: Metropolis, Frau im Mond, and Seigfried and all of them left me to wonder what the hubbub was all about.

Granted Lang had a marvelous eye for the grand image, the vocative scene — the view of Metropolis itself with its vast impassive skyscrapers surrounded by aerial commerce and personal helicopters flitting about like bees around a hive. That says something profound. Metropolis is a hive, populated by a few idle drones and vast hordes of anonymous worker bees who are compelled to labor selflessly unto death, and even a queen. But that's about the sum of it. Plot-wise its a nonstarter. A few marvelous concepts united by stuff that makes little sense.

Then there's Siegfried. Considering how powerful and that kind of mythic fantasy can be (dozens of examples come to mind) Lang's effort is sub-parr if one ignores the Fafner effect. The first half hour is just absurd — a beefy guy in a glowers at some really hairy guys. It's Tarzan in a blond wig, but no Jane. Brunhild does finally show up, but she's not as sexy as she ought to be.

Fernandinande said...

in space, the rocket ejects its first stage and fires its second stage rocket, predicting the development of modern multistage orbital rockets

"An illustration and description in the 14th century Chinese Huolongjing by Jiao Yu shows the oldest known multistage rocket; this was the 'fire-dragon issuing from the water', used mostly by the Chinese navy. It was a two-stage rocket that had carrier or booster rockets that would eventually burn out, yet before they did they automatically ignited a number of smaller rocket arrows that were shot out of the front end of the missile, which was shaped like a dragon's head with an open mouth.
Another example of an early multistaged rocket is the Juhwa of Korean development. It was proposed by Choe Museon and developed by the Firearms Bureau during the 14th century."

mikee said...

Prescience cannot be a synonym for science fiction. SciFi posits that the science exists already, allowing the fictional action to occur.

Words mean things. Sometimes not what people think they mean. And I know this response won't decimate Althouse, not by even 10%, and nor will it devastate her even a little.

Unknown said...

This is great! The illustration of gravitational equipotentials is beautiful. The controls look silly, but if you look at them as a schematic it all makes sense. How they're measuring speed is fanciful (a gauge, but what's the reference? Doppler radar? I doubt it). Still, they fire the rockets until reaching 11 km/sec (correct!), and they have an accelerometer that shows a maximum of about four g's--reasonable--and it falls off to zero when they shut the rocket down.

buwaya puti said...

I dont know, there is a value in spectacle and imagination on its own. Lang had much better technical assistance and special effects than he did writers, but thats not unusual with silent films, as it was not always clear at the time that writers were as necessary for film as for the stage.

And I guess it depends on what you are expecting to get from the flick in the first place.

Anyway, I think the key man here was Willy Ley, nearly a forgotten figure these days, but I think without him as a publicist and popularizer much of what was done wouldnt have been. One of those non-scientists (he did study science and dabbled with amateur rockets) and non-engineers who nevertheless drove science and engineering.

He was a key figure in the German rocket fad of the 1920s, which is how people like Von Braun got into it.

The sheer volume of stuff he published is astonishing, and since he published so much in the US (he fled the Nazis early) he was a huge influence on US science fiction, on popular magazines, from the 1930s and thus on generations of US engineers.

No Willy Ley, no NASA, no Apollo, etc.

Rusty said...

To be honest. I'd much rather discuss the quality of workmanship in the Antikythera device.