Old Gods

Here’s the statue of Moloch in CABIRIA, big old god to whom human sacrifices are rendered.

Joe May obviously admired Giovanni Pastrone’s film, and also Griffith’s INTOLERANCE which was influenced by its gigantism and its mobile camera. For years, cinematographers referred to “Cabiria shots,” meaning any camera move designed to show off the dimensions of a big set. May copied the sets but didn’t pick up on the tracking shots until years later.

MISTRESS OF THE WORLD is May’s super-epic adventure film. Eight episodes, each something like three hours long, I think. In episode three, the heroes journey to the lost African city of Ophir, as you do, and discover the benighted natives worshipping Baal. Although May built super-colossal sets for his super-epic, his Baal is fairly tiny compared to Moloch.

All I’ve been able to see of the possible day-long saga is a few shots excerpted in Brownlow & Winterbottom’s Cinema Europe documentary. I would like to experience the whole thing, which apparently contains revenge, white slavery, science fiction rays, media satire, exotic travel, and tits.

Fritz Lang worked on MISTRESS as an assistant director.

And here’s Moloch again, for the machine age, in Lang’s METROPOLIS. But the way the workers shuffle robotically into his maw is directly lifted from the May film. Although, since it’s a crowd scene, Lang could have been the one who thought of having the extras move that way, in which case he’s only SELF-plagiarising.

I feel like METROPOLIS, which HG Wells thought a “foolish film,” may have also influenced George Pal’s film of Wells’ THE TIME MACHINE, where the Eloi are hypnotised by a mechanical siren song into walking robotically to their dooms beneath the statue of a sphinx. Tastefully, Pal avoids making his Morlock Moloch a copy of Lang’s. The sphinx DOES appear in Wells book, but Pal and screenwriter David Duncan seem to have developed the really good idea, never spelt out, that the air raid siren that makes everybody go below during WWII and WWIII, seen earlier in the time traveller’s travels, has become a race memory, evoking a Pavlovian response in the poor Eloi. And maybe the whole thing was developed subconsciously from the euphony of the names Moloch and Morlock? And it leads to a really brilliant notion, that of an air raid siren functioning like a mythical one.

6 Responses to “Old Gods”

  1. David Ehrenstein Says:

  2. Oh yeah, for sure another one influenced, probably from the Lang by way of Wizard of Oz. The flame-columns bursts accompanying the Great and Powerful Wizard maybe come straight from Moloch, so that Oz himself could be a Langian descendant.

  3. An episode from the original Star Trek featured a fun-sized Moloch and buffer but sillier Eloi:

    https://memory-alpha.fandom.com/wiki/Vaal

  4. Moloch becomes Baal becomes Moloch becomes… Vaal?

  5. David Ehrenstein Says:

    becomes “The Big Giant Head” on “Third Rock From he Sun” who was played in one episode by (wait for it) William Shatner.

  6. Of course, beautiful! And Shatner does indeed have a big giant head, as surviving Star Trek cast can testify.

    Oz is probably the starting point for that particular big head idea, by way of the Invaders from Mars snowglobe inhabitant, and a few other large-domed aliens of the Mars Attacks! school.

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