(6/10) Move over Aelita! This 1910 short film about a scientist and a girl from Mars getting married on the moon is Italy’s first science fiction film. It is derivative of George Méliès’ A Trip to the Moon, but a fun little adventure.
An Interplanetary Marriage (Un matrimonio interplanetario) 1910, Italy. Written & directed by Enrico Novelli (aka Yambo). Starring: Enrico Novelli. Produced for Latium Films. IMDb score: 5.2. Tomatometer: N/A. Metacritic: N/A.
The astronomer Aldovin watches the distant planet Mars. The image shows a mountainous landscape. It is a painting. The image pans. Slowly. Very slowly. The landscape isn’t very interesting. It has mountains and trees and some big mushrooms . But the director Yambo apparently wants us to see it very slowly. So not to miss it. Slowly. And finally he cuts! Only to replace it with yet another painting of the landscape. Slowly. Until we finally see a Martian city. And within a Martian house we see a fellow astronomer, Fur, and his daughter Yara, and she’s looking back. And there is love at first stight. The astronomer runs off to the telegraph office to send a telegram to Mars (yes indeed), telling Yara that she is very fine and that he would like to marry her. But Fur, the astronomer, wants to taken things slow. No marriage before a year, and to marry his daughter, he must prove himself by meeting them halfway on the moon.
But this is not what hätä looks like: Aldovin spends the year working on a space projectile, and the day of the wedding he climbs into a spherical space ship along with a marriage conductor (not a priest, apparently). The sphere gets hoisted with a huge crane and inserted into a gigantic cannon, which shoots the wedding party into space. On Mars, Yara and Fur step into their own space ship, which shoots into space from a launching pad shaped like a ski jump ramp. The marriage commences, and the Aldovin and the Yara take a stroll in a moon cave, where they are almost attacked by moon zombies and insectoids. Then a group of dancing girls appear. The end?
Yes, this is yet another ripoff of Georges Méliés’ 1902 film A Trip to the Moon (review). The film clocks in at just under 13 minutes, and is made closer to the French féerie style than its American counterpart A Trip to the Mars by the Edison Company, released the same year. It is perhaps most notable for being Italy’s first science fiction film, and was written and directed by Yambo – real name Enrico Novelli – who is best known as an author of children’s’ books and as one of the fathers of modern Italian science fiction. The film is in no way badly directed, and even features some quite elaborate animation, a novelty at the time. The miniature sets are well made and even functional, the matte paintings so-so. What makes it special, though, is that – despite the fact that the aliens are still clad in Renaissance clothing (something Méliès started and it apparently stuck) – it is the first film to depict inhabitants of another planet as being a civilisation on par with ours, if not even more developed.
Enrico Novelli isn’t especially well known outside Italy, but he was an extremely popular author, under the nome de plume Yambo, of children’s books and fantastic stories at the turn of the century. Born in 1876 Novelli started out as a journalist and illustrator, but started publishing stories at the end of the 19th century. He got his breakthrough in 1902 with the creation of his most famous character, Ciufettino, unruly boy with a wild tuft or hair, who in the first book goes through a Pinocchio-like adventure, learning to respect his elders and take responsibility for his life. In a later novel, Ciufettino alla guerra (Ciufettino goes to war), released in 1916, he became a vessel for Novelli’s pro-war nationalist sentiments during WWI. However, much of Novelli’s earlier works was inspired by the fantastic voyages of Jules Verne, and he wrote a number of books between 1890 and 1912 of adventurous voyages and travels to the stars and the planets. Best known is probably the 1906 book Gli esploratori dell’infinito (Explorers of the infinite), in which two journalists hitch a ride on a comet and explore the solar system, and meet with Martians.
Born into a noble family, Enrico Novelli was the son of renowned Shakespearian actor Ermete Novelli, who also appeared in a number of films, in roles like King Lear and Shylock, the merchant of Venice. Enrico Novelli also started experimenting with film in the early 20th century, and wrote and directed over a dozen of films. He is best known for An Interplanetary Marriage, since it is probably the first Italian science fiction film.
The movie came rather late, at a time when this kind of theatrical fairy-tale film was starting to go out of fashion, and being replaced by more realistically filmed epics, ironically driven by the Italian film industry. Disregarding this, the film is well made, even if the paintings of the Martian landscapes leave some more the be wished for. However the miniature work is impressive, I especially like the work done with the crane and the cannon. There’s also some cool animation: the telegram moving through space is represented by letters flying past the camera, reminiscent of the way Edwin S. Porter had animated his title cards a few years earlier. The film was released internationally, and it is clear it was made for an international audience: the telegraph office has signs in four different languages.
Technically the film certainly holds up well against the French films being made in the same time. The miniature work is splendid, even if the background paintings aren’t quite as good. The camera work is rather mundane, still stuck in the stage-based style favoured by Méliès, but it’s still a pretty fun little film, probably the first example of an interplanetary romance.
An Interplanetary Marriage (Un matrimonio interplanetario). Silent short. 1910, Italy. Written, directed by Enrico Novelli (aka Yambo). Starring: Enrico Novelli. Produced for Latium Films.