On a Sunday afternoon in 1976 my life changed forever when I accidentally saw a British-German science fiction TV show about
a planet where men were slaves to hot blonde imperialistic women --not hot in the Penthouse sense but an I Claudius
BBC 70s sense. As an easily spooked nine year-old looking for more arguments why he should be excused from all responsibility,
it became my favorite show.
I never even learned its name at the time and I saw only that episode, BUT I was huge
into being dominated by hot older women--babysitters would lead me around on a leash, or let me ride them on horseback (in
1976 such things were merely the yield of a permissively sexual middle class and not something to be burned out of a boy via
therapy and ridicule)--and though my S&M proclivities faded on their own as I reached high school I still remember that day
in 1976-- Dan Fogelberg's "Sometimes When We Touch" played round the clock on the radio, it was a Sunday afternoon and my
mom had just driven us home from the Mall, and the mournful over-the-top manful emotionality of Fogelberg's song became ensnared
in the images from a show I've only recently learned is called Star Maidens!
What happened to these brave new sensual, unabashedly submissive men of 1976? Where are the shows that reverse gender and
let women wield the phallic batons?
Now, thirty very odd years later, the internet helped me track it down. It turns out the show holds up quite well, in a retro-futurist
semi-deadpan British-German camp kind of way. It's full of imaginative mattes and special effects, mod fashions, and a very
refreshing disrespect for men and their blustering, presumptuous ways. The story is set in motion when a pair of men seeking
refuge from a lifetime of household drudgery hotwire a spaceship to take them away from their home planet of Medusa to Earth,
where, rumor has it, men run wild and free. Hot on their trail are their 'owners,' Octavia and Fulvia. When the ladies land
on earth to get their men, the awesome gender sparring begins.
Fulvia and Octavia are contemptuous of the male scientists
who greet their arrival, preferring to address to their female assistant, and Fulvia gets irked when a men dares answer instead.
"I'll take your word for it, as a woman," Octavia finally says. When the main scientist asks about Medusa's society, Octavia
snaps, "About our civilization I can tell you one thing - we do not suffer the pomposity of foolish little men. That is why
were are more advanced than you."
Their men meanwhile are carefree, their big Germanic bodies loose and easy like children's, laughing and snorting, shuddering
and running from the dreaded women like truant schoolkids. When they hide out in an old castle, Octavia wants to tear it down:
We can't break down the gate, it's an ancient monument
O: As far as I'm concerned, your whole planet is an ancient monument!"
O: They're coming back.
F: Of course! They can't survive without women to protect them!
Holly, an imdb user, notes:
Scenes are awkward, characters inconsistent, and plot-holes abound, but a groovy synth lounge soundtrack keeps things rolling
along. Feminists attempt to seize power on Earth with stolen Medusa weapons, Fulvia and Adam roleplay a trial suburban marriage,
while Liz and Rudi investigate the ecological collapse of planet Medusa. Where is all this going? Is it satire or space opera?
Who cares! Sit back and indulge in this strange artifact from a time when the sexual revolution threatened to go too far.
What a crazy, highly advanced show this was. Now that I'm watching it again, on a friend's DV-R, I find that, in light of
its subversive gender power switch, its unavailability is most suspect. On a post-feminist level its downright emblematic.
Of all the trends in the 1970s that have since been 'forgotten,' it's 'women's lib' that has been most neglected, even by
modern feminists. The result is that Star Maidens is even more subversive today than it used to be, and seems almost
dangerous. Another matriarchal TV show, this one from Norman Fell, lasted a season around the same time, All that Glitters
and that's so rare it's not even on greymarket! Someone is going out of their way to make sure we never see examples of what
it would be like if women ran the world.
In the pop media now, humorless aggravation is associated with women in
control: they must be either desexed or made into camp icons, or materialist shrews (The Devil Wears Prada) or continually
undermined by their male subordinates. There's none of that here, and while there's no getting around the camp edge of Star
Maidens, it works because the S/M aspect isn't explored or winked at, but allowed to thrive. Luckily, this very chill
interpretation of hot blondes in power didn't originate in a vacuum, but perhaps from certain East German films coming out
of DEFA studios which portray the gender equality of communist government.
Eolomea (1972) offers lots of moments with German astronauts living on outposts deep in space, awash in dry philosophical
dialogue, drinking, and existential Solaris-ish flashbacks. It all works to make a communist future in space seem much
more than plausible due to the lack of interference of the financial sector that so undermines our own space program, and
this lack of financial concern frees the subjects to engage in discourse of a much more philosophical nature than whether
funding will be cut off.
Professor Maria Scholl (Cox Habbema) is the undisputed leader of all earth space programs--though she gets counsel from the
UN-ish counsel. Scholl is shrewd, kind, and able to have a romance with the main cosmonaut Dan (Ivan Andonov) without it
clouding her judgment or weakening her authority. She doesn't overreact or have womanly issues, or pine for something 'real'
in her life, something 'better than command... like a child and a family,' the way she would have to in the U.S.
comparable US films of the same era, women couldn't have positions of power over men unless they were just biding time for
the right guy to knock them up and take over, so they could pay attention to what mattered most, the patter of little feet,
etc. and even later if they did keep their authority they had to be ballbusters (Ripley in Alien) or older and sexually
neutered (Star Trek's first New Generation). But professor Scholl is able to keep her feminine sexuality and
even have a romance all without losing the respect of her peers. Even her love interest can argue about assignments with
her while they fool around on the beach and not get turned off.
Contrast that with, say, a similar beach scene in Return of the Creature (1955), the sequel to the Creature from
the Black Lagoon, which I wrote about for Scarlet Street in 2001. Clete (John Agar) is a biologist studying the
creature in captivity, who hooks up with a promising young student:
As Helen and Clete discuss their possible romantic future in a roundabout way. Most of the kids I went to undergraduate school
with are already married and have children, Helen says, asking him but what do you want?
I'm a man, I don't have to decide, he says, setting the boundaries for their conflict. As a female, and thus a natural nurturer,
she has already fought a huge battle with herself just by staying in school instead of having kids. There is an unspoken
implication that her time is running out.
There's no such clock running out in Eolomea, though it seems that way, as the story is convoluted with flashbacks,
ultimately amounting to the slow realization that a fleet of spacecraft have been commandeered by brave young volunteers
for a 136-year journey to a remote planet named Eolomea, which a cracked scientist (Scholl's old physics teacher) has determined
may have life.
Like DEFA's In the Dust of the Stars, which we'll discuss next, it's a grand metaphor
for communist ideals and sophisticated politics that are alien enough in the eyes of western viewers to provide a good frisson
Eolomea especially works in addressing the issues of responsibility in government vs. as part of humanity's
higher goal. The space council would never authorize such a long mission, dependent as it is on remote chances of success
and on reproduction of the crew (it would be the original astronaut's grandchildren that ultimately meet the Eolomea aliens,
if there are any) and remote odds of success. Still, everyone at Space UN knows, deep down, it's the right thing to do. As
the elder professor masterminds the mission, he realizes the volunteers will attempt to go anyway whether he approves it or
not, this based on a need inherent in humans to seek out new life and new civilizations, boldly, etc.
Zizek often writes about the communist ideology of the 'Big Other' the invisible social embodiment of the superego, for whom,
say, parades of military strength and solidarity are performed. Communism in East Germany is performed then, as a kind
of love letter to the Big Other. In Eleoma the volunteers understand what the Big Other wants beyond what it
is allowed to ask for. The sacrifice the individual must make for the greater good here would be verboten by an evolved
world conglomerate (we see that the assembled 'space UN' over which Professor Scholl presides is very diverse racially,
culturally, and in age and gender) but with the implicit idea that such laws must occasionally be disobeyed if it is for the
greater good of humanity. In the west we call them 'executive decisions', for example, and people are often promoted for
making them, after first being reprimanded. In such a field of operations, for example, such decisions may prevent the overthrow
of a government were it as inflexible as it presents itself to be.
We should remember that, invariably, in future worlds depicted as utopian, i.e. the earth as it exists in the future on
the TV show Star Trek, ideas like capital, interest, financial gains, losses, and property are largely forgotten
The Federation claims to offer virtually unlimited personal freedom to every citizen, but no one ever tests
this claim. Billions of people live quiet, spartan, communist lifestyles. They never covet wealth, they never go ripping
through space in a personal vehicle, they never expect compensation for their achievements, they never challenge the government
with rebellious propaganda, they never push the envelope by producing offensive art, they never accumulate private arsenals
... in short, they never do anything to test the limits of their freedom. Supposedly, they have all the benefits
of a strong government, without any of the negatives.
---(Michael Wong, The Economics of Star Trek)
Ironically, then, it's the East German films that show direct rebellion and personal gain (i.e. the choice to explore strange
new worlds is in direct violation of orders) to say nothing of the patriarchal 'given' of male command and female objectification
that runs rampant in American sci fi.
We in the USA must escape our view that women in the workplace must be objectified or belittled. The ease with which women
are accepted by men as authority figures in Eolomea is progressive, impressive, and, I find, very sexy.
What happens when a peaceful rocket full of sexy East Germans are lured to a remmote planet and are subject to drugs (the
red spray is "spicy" while the blue spray is "sweet"), erotic dancing and orgiastic staring contests? Das ist die
frageI in Gottfried Kolditz's colorful, cool and just plain weird EFA science fiction film Im Staub der Sterne
AKA In the Dust of the Stars (1976). Like Elomea the film is fascinating not for its space aspects so much as
the gender equality on display and how the sexiness of the characters is enhanced rather than dampened by this.
Answering a distress signal from the planet Cynro, the emergency ship lands and is greeted first by a woman dressed like Pocahontas
driving a combination school bus-railroad handcar who comes rumbling up to the ship in welcome like she's Robby the Robot
in Forbidden Planet. Suko stays behind to spy while the rest ride over to the club to sit on divans and catch snide
insults from the local bosses. Someone wants this spaceship to go home, but first, why not invite them to the party? Pocahontas
comes by later with prismatic plastic fantastic invitations for each of them.
The "boss" of the planet is a fey German artiste who gets his hair spray painted blue and
is forced to play with lite-brite and a keyboard that controls a disco dance floor full of pythons and gel-lit frauleinen.
And let me tell you, his army sucks. Mostly the battles consist in a lot of standing around, working up the nerve to bust
a cap, like a high school dance, and then linking arms in a rehearsed nonviolent social protest move, or a drab version of
line dancing. These cavorting hedonists never speak, but spend most of their time spraying drugs of one color or another into
their mouths, brainwashing nosy visitors with pen flashlights and doing licentious frugs.
The costumes are pretty fetching, with an uncanny resemblance to UN peacekeepers (they advise the exploited miners "Help means
so much more than giving you weapons."). And it's nice that they change clothes about five times a day and stay color coordinated
with each other. The patterns and styles are elegant and mod without being tacky or cumbersome, and they go well with the
natural blonde shag haircuts of the majority of the crew. Jana BrejchovŠ is the hottie commander (above, center). She was
once married to Milos Foreman!
Kind of like Hell House (the Halloween 'haunted house' wherein Christian kids finally get to dance, pretend to do drugs
and worship Satan in their own way), the licentious dancing and spraying of the aliens here presumably was acceptable to the
East German censors because it was negatively depicted as a trap-- set by decadent western Imperialists--to ensnare good honest
communists. As with the licentious dance of Miu the morning after the all-night spray-athon disco party.
While she compares fine with Professor Scholl from Eolomea, the commander here is sometimes beset by overly compassionate
female emotions with the same objective grappling of, say, Kirk on Star Trek might with his angry masculine will. The
point is, she can admit it to her crew, and navigate her human limitations with the same open intellect she navigates through
space. In admitting weakness she becomes stronger, something usually limited to male characters in not just science fiction,
but every genre, where women are either saints or prostitutes, but never 'human' in the sense of complex antipathies. Her
nurturing distance encourages friendly interplay between all of the crew, resulting in an unusually relaxed vibe (they sleep
with each other and make no big deal of it? Man, those East Germans!). My favorite is the girl at lower left; what a magnificently
I think her name is Miu. She's played by Regine Heintze, and I love her. Also, I love the offhand way that the film's sexuality
and lovely female forms are displayed matter-of-factly. It's like the characters in this film actually have sex rather than
just winking and drooling and then finally having one chaste kiss like they're David Manners at an ice cream social. In Dust
they just do it and forget about it. The Germans have no patience for lovelorn leering! Stand straight! Are you slouching?!
So... back to STAR MAIDENS (1976 - TV Series)
Of course it's not just the utopian idealism that makes these DEFA 1970s sci fi films and the West German-British co-production
Star Maidens so subversive, but the way the common, icky roots of capitalism, patriarchy, and sexual frustration are
exposed by contrast. Interesting, then, that both Star Maidens and a similar show (men indentured to women) from Norman
Lear from the approximate same time, the soap opera satire All that Glitters (1977-78) are both nary impossible to
find on video or DVD, as if someone wanted them burnt from our collective memory. Decades later and they are, apparently,
both incredibly 'dangerous' to the status quo, showing just how progressive the 70s really were and just how far we've backslid.
The coincidence of both series being unavailable (Star Maidens is at least on greymarket in a pretty good set created
by some anonymous fan, but Glitters is MIA.
As the friendship between Octavia, (Christiane Kruger, above left)
the Nico-voiced German, and Fulvia, (Judy Geeson, right) the hardass Brit, is the real relationship of Star Maidens
it's worth examining: Fulvia is impetuous and imperial, but is the most eager to have her man back after he escapes to Earth,
a little 'too' eager. But she's awesome when she protects the frightened prime minister on Earth in a hilarious scene. Octavia
is less interested in her man and more in the big picture: She doesn't want earth's barbaric patriarchal social structure
infecting the purity of Medusa. Together they're a bit like a female version of Spock and Kirk, though by the second half
of the season Fulvia (the Kirk) is on Earth dealing with the runaway men and Octavia is on Medusa dealing with typical sci
fi hazards like a berserk cold storage computer and crazy meteors. Both planets get their share of humorous moments but nothing
really tops the scenes of the escaped men running around with their shirts open, shouting "I'm frightened!" Or when Fulvia
soothes a rattled male politician like a fireman talking to a kitten in a tree.
What makes the whow work is that this idea of a women-run advanced civilization planet is never allowed to be either too stringent
nor too campy. The clothes are an amazing 70s Euro fantasia of thigh-high boots, tastefully kinky choke-collared shirts, flowing
dresses and elaborate long hair, and the acting spot-on deadpan. It may be retro but it's way ahead of it's time and an invaluable
record of the decade that still stands alone in daring to imagine women not just in positions of authority usually reserved
for men, but evolved far past them. These German 70s sci fi epics show that our idea of what a woman in charge can be needn't
exclude sex or be swamped by it. Women can be in charge of the world while remaining relaxed and inviting. They can strike
deals with men while simultaneously seducing them on the beach, and they can even admit when they're wrong or if their emotions
are getting the better of them. Seeing is believing. Watch these films and the show and realize we lost something very important
30 years ago... let's get it back! Commence launch!
c. 2011 Acidemic
C. 2013 - Acidemic Journal of Film and Media
- BFG LCS: 489042340244