An unexpected highlight of this year’s Bo’ness Hippodrome Festival of Silent Cinema was WUNDER DER SCHOPFUNG, a sort of science fiction documentary made in Germany in 1925. Using extensive reconstructions of historical advances in astronomy to chart mankind’s developing understanding of the universe, and to depict a hypothetical voyage to the limits of the galaxy, it stands comparison with Benjamin Christensen’s HAXAN, which likewise is an entirely staged but essentially truthful documentary. Where HAXAN is a horror movie documentary, WDS is a sci-fi one.
It uses what was a science fiction premise — manned space flight — to illustrate mostly factual science, as it was understood at the time. Director Hanns Walter Kornblum’s only other movie is DER GRUNDLAGEN DER EINSTEINSCHEN RELATIVITATS-THEORIE (1922). At last, the film of the theory!
The screening was spookily accompanied by electronic duo Herschel 36, and introduced by the astronomer royal, John C, Brown, who happens be the dad of one half of Herschel 36. He was able to give us chapter and verse on the science in the film, some of which is accurate, some of which was accurate in 1925, and a little of which gives way altogether to whimsy, as an excuse for some surreal visuals. I enjoyed the intro and programme notes enormously but think perhaps the prof was too stern — though the film contains some strange howlers, such as asserting that gravity stays switched on until we leave the solar system — 1925 audiences as well as 2015 audiences can tell when their collective leg is being pulled, and would largely be able to disregard the bursts of absurdism in the film, enjoying them for what they transparently are: Germans mucking about with special effects. We’ve all seen INDEPENDENCE DAY, after all.