“Strange Lands” at Lincoln Center: An International Sci-Fi YouTube Playlist

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08/22/2014 11:20 AM |

The title of the series “Strange Lands: International Sci-Fi,” beginning tonight at The Film Society of Lincoln Center, has a rather obvious double meaning: visions of the world beyond the stars, from the world beyond our borders. (The series was programmed by Nicolas Rapold, who is, of course, the L’s senior film critic.)

This is especially the case given that all but three titles in the eleven-film series come from Eastern Bloc countries, and all come from the Cold War era—they are, then, the products of the ultimate alternate universe. Looking for clips for this playlist, I was somewhat surprised, though I shouldn’t have been, by how many fan-made trailers I was able to find for Kin-dza-dza!, a late Soviet comedy about two classic bickering, bumbling types stranded in a ramshackle world far, far away:

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There is the potential, in the socialist-sci-fi genre, for both state-sponsored utopianism, and sneaky allegory; the Czech film The End of August at the Hotel Ozone (from 1967, the year before the Prague Spring), offers a dark vision of the sort of humanity likely to survive a nuclear war:

The title of “Strange Lands” also has a triple meaning, as Eric Hynes has pointed out in the Times: these are also the visions of another time, from whence, perhaps, comes the series’ not-inconsiderable camp factor. The past is a foreign country and they do things differently there, after all, including imagine the future. Particularly one of my favorite Pop Art films, The 10th Victim, and its monochromatic, plasticine, proudly commercialized sex-sells dystopia:

The series depicts many different epochs of technology—via both the stories depicted in the film and, as the linked-to “General Purpose Robot” clip above indicates, the means available to the filmmakers.

Indeed, it seems as though the definition of “science” in this science fiction series is quite capacious. It encompasses everything from space exploration, to 20th century medicine (via the adaptation of Stanislaw Lem’s early novel Hospital of the Transfiguration), to the proto-cinematic 19th century technology—and hand-made animation—of Karel Zeman’s The Fabulous World of Jules Verne:

Arguably the greatest science-fiction film of all-time is, of course, a Soviet filmmaker’s Brezhnev-era adaptation of a Polish novel. Stanislaw Lem is represented in this series via the recent-historical novel mentioned above; other literary adaptations abound. The Strugatsky brothers, who wrote Stalker, Hard to Be a God and Dead Mountaineer’s Hotel, are here via Sokurov’s Days of Eclipse; there are also the Westerners Verne and Robert Sheckley (The 10th Victim), and South American Adolfo Bioy Casares (the Italian film of Morel’s Invention). And the myth of the Golem is handled in the Polish film of the same name, and given a surrealist, Solidarity-era dystopian update:

The series is programed as nightly double features, with two films each from the represented countries (plus Ulrike Ottinger’s Freak Orlando, which is a double feature, at least, in and of itself). In tribute to the juxtapository goodtimes promised thereby, we close with two very different East German films of the 1970s, In the Dust of the Stars and Eolomea, and their pleasurably mistmatched strains of soundstage earnestness and lens-flared, lounge-y trippiness. Here’s Dust of the Stars:

… and Eolomea