August 9, 2011

Aelita, Queen of Mars - Fashion in Film

This is one of my favorite films of all time:

It was directed by Yakov Protazanov in 1924, and was one of (in not the) first science fiction films ever made. Even by today's standards it's amazing! It is set in 1921 at the beginning of NEP, the Soviet Union's New Economic Policy (which spawned quite a bit of literature, film, and propaganda - it's all very fascinating and you should look it up). Los, an engineer on Earth, sees Aelita in his dreams and falls in love with her, building a spaceship to find her. Aelita, daughter of the ruler of the red planet, has long been watching Los from Mars through a fancy telescope thingy. When Los reaches Mars, he and Aelita become prisoners of Tuskub, Aelita's father, after showing their affection. They are held captive along with the entire working forces of the planet, who are seen by Tuskub as scum. Aelita leads a revolution of the Mars working class before Los realizes... well, I won't give it all away! Now you have to see it. Long story short, the film creates a great comparison between the life of the slaves on Mars and the people of the new Soviet Russia.

BUT, the absolute best aspects of the film are the sets and costumes, built and crafted by Frau Alexandra Exter and Herr Isaac Rabinovich. This was a time period where film was a new medium, and set designers came mostly from working on theater productions. For the first time builders could use as much space as they wanted, without the limitations of the stage. The sets have a huge, grand scale to them, and the shapes and lines were something never seen by audiences of theater or film alike. At the same time, they retain a clear theatrical element.

The costumes look like something you would expect to see coming down the catwalk at Gareth Pugh's next fall/winter runway show. I was astounded to see how the designers pictured the futuristic civilization of Mars. Even today the clothing would be seen as fresh, futuristic, and other-worldly. I can totally see Daphne Guinness rocking this number:

The black and white colors of the clothing symbolize, to me at least, the strong contrast between the aristocrats of high society and the working class, a contrast which at the time of NEP was being destroyed. This was also a time of heavy industrialization in Russia, which is echoed in the hard, metallic, sharp-edged pieces of the costumes.

Oh, and by the way, this was a silent film. It's quite interesting to think about how advanced the technology concepts, and how hard it must have been to convey them, before sound was even introduced into movies. Here's a clip (not original sound track):

Long live the Queen!

PS - Am I the only one who wants to throw an AELITA, QUEEN OF MARS themed party??

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