MOVIE & SOUND: Test pilota Pirxa / Navigaator Pirx (1979)
Oddly enough, the Eastern bloc regimes that practised bogus communism, tolerated sci-fi themes in arts and literature, despite of treating suspiciously anything what seemed even a little bit ambiguous. In the times when artists had to live with constant unease of having their works censored, may it be for wrong colours used in a painting or for the word use in poetry, the sci-fi could have been an especially risky business. Maybe the abstractions related to unknown territories and times were regarded as harmful enough for not threatening the existence of the rulers. I believe there are scholars familiar with the backstage of fantasy writing in the Eastern bloc to explain that phenomenon better than I can do.
Speaking of authors, the Strugatsky brothers were the genre’s celebrity writers in the Soviet Union and it was their book “Roadside Picnic” that Tarkovsky adapted for his cult movie “Stalker”. Although I remember even some fantasy novels Made in the German Democratic Republic, the most proficient sci-fi writer might have been Stanislaw Lem from Poland. Tarkovsky’s another major work, “Solaris”, was based on Lem, as was “Test Pilota Pirxa” (“Navigaator Pirx” in Estonian), directed by Marek Piestrak and screened in 1979.
A co-production of studios in Poland, Ukraine and Estonia, “Pirx” looked and smelled very Western, visualising not only an Utopian setting, but also anonymous Western world with posh limos, steely high-rises and fancy dresses. There was a car chase with a failing hitman, not to speak about a bar scene with a body-painted go-go girl shaking her bare bosom to the beat of future disco, cheering up the males across the screen, those otherwise deprived of erotica.
The film’s plot was rather simple: Robots had become so advanced that the Government decided to embed non-human members to a space mission, to prove that robots master challenging situations better than the rest of the crew. I was under 10 years when saw the movie first time and it offered plenty of suspense and emotions.
Futuristic soundtrack by Pärt and Rudnik
There was one more thing very different from other movies: The music, which had some classical features, but on several occasions consisted of odd noises and drones. The film score was of experimental kind, as it was supposed to be, and no one else than Arvo Pärt wrote it, along with the Polish electronics pioneer Eugeniusz Rudnik. I can only guess that Rudnik produced the futuristic synth sounds and Pärt did the rest.
Soon after the film was completed, Pärt and his family were allowed to leave the Estonian SSR for the West and I really cannot recall if and how he was credited in the version screened in the cinemas and on TV. Because often actors, writers, musicians, conductors, etc. who had managed to emigrate or just plainly escape the Soviet empire, were doomed in the public discourse and treated as scum by propaganda.
Politics aside, the “Pirx” soundtrack with synth modulations and mechanical noises was ahead of the time and would be highly enjoyable in our days, if only some library/reissue label could dig it up somehow for a vinyl release with proper liner notes. So long, the sounds can be enjoyed during the movie, here embedded as a Polish version with Spanish subtitles.