Where does art end and cinema start? Enjoy our new contemporary film series as guest curators blur the lines between art and cinema.
War of the Worlds: Science Fiction across the Iron Curtain
This month as part of our Screening Program, we welcome Daniel Fairfax as our July film curator. Daniel Fairfax is an Australian arts writer, critic, doctoral candidate in film at Yale University and editor at Senses of Cinema.
Sat 2 July, 2pm
Free, Drop in
Level 2, Veolia Lecture Theatre
Battle beyond the sun
Director- Mikhail Karzhukov
Running Time- 1 hr 17 mins
Russian with English subtitle
About the film
In 1959, the Soviet Union was unequivocally winning the Space Race: Sputnik had launched in 1957, while preparations were underway for Yuri Gagarin’s successful mission in 1961. As part of a broader cultural renaissance after the death of Stalin in 1953, the late 1950s also saw the USSR charging ahead in the cinematic space race: whereas Hollywood had relegated space-themed films to low-grade B-movie status, Soviet studios used the genre for a number of big-budget prestige productions, with the resulting films attracting Eastern bloc audiences in their millions.
Perhaps the best of these offerings is Nebo Zovyot (literally The Sky Beckons, but released as Battle Beyond the Sun), produced by the Ukrainian SSR’s Dovzhenko Film Studios and directed by Mikhail Karzhukov and Aleksandr Kozyr. Echoing the real-life battle between the superpowers for cosmic supremacy, the Soviet film charts a race to Mars in the not-too distant future, a project whose symbolic importance for the Communist Party is unmistakable. Headed for the red planet, the spaceship Homeland has its voyage disrupted by a rival US mission, Typhoon, suffering from mechanical failure. In tune with Khruschev’s notion of “peaceful coxistence”, the crew of the Homeland rescue their American adversaries – only to discover that their fuel is barely sufficient to reach a nearby asteroid. Rather than set foot on Mars, the cosmonauts have to content themselves with watching Earth’s neighbour dawn above them.
Uniquely, the film also received distribution in the United States, with its ground-breaking special effects attracting the interest of independent movie mogul Roger Corman. For the film’s English-language adaptation, Corman hired a young Francis Ford Coppola to shoot new sequences – including a didactic prologue and some incongruous monster scenes – and removed all references to the Soviet Union, with the action transplanted to a post-apocalyptic future (1997), where the Earth is divided into “North Hemis” and “South Hemis”. In both versions, however, the humanist faith in the benefits of technological progress – which prevailed on both sides of the Iron Curtain – is vividly on display.
Image: Film promotional poster