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Film Notes: German Mountain Silent Films

January 30, 2010

Above: Clips from “The Holy Mountain” (German: Der heilige Berg), a German silent film directed by Arnold Fanck. (1926)

This film is one of the most visually alluring films made in Germany in the 1920s.  It was directed by Arnold Fanck (born the 6th of March 1889 in Frankenthal, Germany), who was a pioneer of the German mountain film and was responsible for some of Germany’s most memorable cinematic achievements at that time. As a self-taught director and producer, Fanck first specialized in documentaries about life in the mountains and winter sports.

He later expanded into feature films and started to work with actors and dramatized scenarios: “Der Berg des Schicksals” (Mountains of Destiny, 1924) saw the debut of Luis Trenker, while Leni Riefenstahl made her first appearance in “Der heilige Berg” (The Holy Mountain, 1926).

Arnold Fanck

Der Berg des Schicksals (Mountain of Destiny) (1924)

Luis Trenker

Like most German filmmakers of the period, Fanck was influenced by expressionism, a prevalent stylistic approach inspired by societal upheavals that was having a radical effect on much of German art at the time, be it music, painting, literature, theatre and film.

Fanck plunges us into a dreamlike world in which the lasting beauty and relentless power of Nature consume our senses.  Fanck and his camera team achieved to show the artistry in this film with their extraordinary exterior photography in the Swiss Alps.  Without the benefit of special effects, the cast and crew involved in this production were literally risking their lives in the most hazardous conditions – just for a piece of art.

Above: The White Hell of Pitz Palu (German: Die weiße Hölle vom Piz Palü) (1929)

This silent film, another one of the best German Mountain films directed by Arnold Fanck and Georg Wilhelm Pabst and starring future filmmaker Leni Riefenstahl and World War I flying ace Ernst Udet. This film is set in the Engadine Valley on the 12,000 foot Pits Palu in the Bernina group of the Swiss Alps, where temperatures were in the range of -50’F to -60’F, The White Hell of Pitz Paluwas one of the most popular of the mountain dramas that came out in Europe in the 1920s and early 1930s.

(Images via here.)

Read more about this film here.

I’m completely ignorant of  mountaineering but I’m really fascinated by the breathtaking beauty and power of mountains in these exceptionally magnificent silent films.  (and look how amazing those outfits are.)


7 Comments leave one →
  1. January 31, 2010 4:27 pm

    These are fantastic. I have a whole series of posts about skiing planned for next week, but I may need to make room for one more.

  2. indiansummervintage permalink
    February 19, 2010 4:31 am

    is this the movie that was talked about in the cellar scene in Inglorious Basterds? Piz Palu? I think so!!


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