Monday, January 26, 2009

Lunar New Year

Today marks the start of the lunar new year in those Asian cultures that use a lunar calendar. In China, the Year of the Rat has ended, and we are now in the Year of the Ox. Good luck finding a movie having to do anything with oxen. The best I could think of was that somebody would have put the story of Paul Bunyan and his blue ox Babe on film; indeed, Disney put out an animated two-reeler on the legend of Paul Bunyan in the late 1950s. (Obviously, it's easier to animate an ox rather than to train one, especially if you need one that's blue.)

There are lots of Hollywood movies set in Asia, but not too many of them make a big point of celebrating the lunar new year. Besides, TCM showed all the good Hollywood Asian movies last June in the "Asian Images in Film" series.

So, we're left with movies about the moon. I'd love to recommend Joseph Cotten in From The Earth to the Moon, but it's never been released to DVD. I suppose it's unsurprising, as it was one of the last movies made at RKO. With RKO going out of the movie production business, we're left with pretty lousy production values and special effects -- or, should we say, a lack of special effects.

Just as interesting, however, is Georges Méliès' 1902 short A Trip to the Moon. The title accurately states what this movie is about, and for something made over 100 years ago, it's quite inventive. Sure, it's unrealistic, but nobody had any idea then what rocketry, space travel, or the moon would be like. It's also available on several compilations of very early cinema, which contain lots of fascinating early movies, both fiction and documentary.

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