Luis Trenker, Leni Riefenstahl, Arnold Fanck: Bergfilm and its starsA journey through the great mountain films of the 1920s, as told by Irene Bignardi and Matthias Fanck
In 1920, Arnold Fanck created the Bergfilm, a genre that stood alongside mountain documentaries. However, he did simply shoot the landscape, action and daring typical of documentaries, but interwove a plot and well-defined characters. His films portrayed mountain life and environments, both human and natural, where the lives, feelings and loves of his characters unfurl and daring high-altitude rescues are made. Fanck shot his films almost exclusively in the mountains, but did not spare his actors the rigors this involved; indeed, he pushed them to the limit, putting them through gruelling physical trials to achieve the most dramatic, breathtaking shots; there were no stunt doubles or hi-tech trickery in his films. Between the tenderness and anguish, however, Fanck also succeeded in conjuring up touches of sheer poetry.
Later Bergfilm that emulated Fanck’s style also used silhouette in evocative, even dangerous, shots, ingenious, bizarre editing, and feats by sportsmen and women, or the actors themselves, which verged on the acrobatic. All of these features fulfilled the audience’s demand for great entertainment, beautiful scenery and white-knuckle suspense. Indeed these films are so exciting and enthralling that they are as good as (if not better than) modern mountain films with their cutting-edge technology. Bergfilm was one of the most popular genres in the 1920s, much loved by the audiences of the Weimar Republic. According to many critics, including left-leaning ones, the genre took no ideological stand, and it was often criticised for its neutrality. Der heilige Berg (1926) is widely considered to be the first Bergfilm as it contains all of the typical features of a mountain film.
Irene Bignardi is a film critic. She has been a journalist and correspondent for Italian newspaper La Repubblica since 1976. She has also been President of Filmitalia. Between 1986 to 19889, she was head of MystFest - International Film Festival del Film Noir, and between 2000 to 2005 the Locarno International Film Festival, which was founded in 1946, making it the world’s second oldest after Venice. Bignardi has written books on the dynamics of filmmaking. Her works include Memorie estorte a uno smemorato. La vita di Gillo Pontecorvo (Feltrinelli 1999), Americani. Un viaggio da Melville a Brando (Marsilio, 2005) and Le cento e una sera. Piccola guida personale al cinema in DVD (Marsilio, 2008). She is currently working with weekly magazine Vanity Fair.
Matthias Fanck was born in Berlin in 1951. He lives and works in Upper Franconia. Grandson of pioneering director Arnold Fanck, he studied graphics and design at the Academy of Graphics and Advertising in Berlin, where he graduated as a graphic artist. A freelance since 1978, he works as a graphic artist and consultant to exhibitions and museums; he also oversees and restores the film patrimony of Arnold Fanck. He promotes retrospectives, exhibitions, publications and documentaries on his grandfather’s work and the Bergfilm genre.
30/04/2010 at 18:00
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