The Holy Mountain Reviews
In "The Holy Mountain" ("Der heilige Berg"), Fanck introduces Leni Riefenstahl in her first starring role. She had been a successful dancer until a knee injury ended that career. Fanck, here, uses her dancing as the opening and the theme for his film - two mountaineers fall in love with her and compete for her hand. Riefenstahl, of course, would go on to become famous for her own film making, celebrating the early triumphs of the Nazi regime, and winning many directorial plaudits.
"The Holy Mountain", indeed, is highly stylised in its presentation of characters and action. There is much which could be described as National Socialist Realism in its portrayal of its characters - proud, Aryan actors, posing heroically, caught in roles which emphasise their strength, health, courage, and vitality. The picturing of the countryside and nature again offers up this sort of symbolism, glorifying the role of Germanic peoples. Stylistically, it's very dated. Technically, the filming is superb.
Fanck does not appear to have been a supporter of the Nazis - he was a geologist by training, he climbed, he skied, and he made films about his passion. His early filming of ski jumping and downhill racing is a singular technical and artistic achievement. "The Holy Mountain" is beautifully shot - for its time the mountain and ice scenes are outstanding - with the camera flirting with 'natural' images of sea, mountain torrents, sheep in the fields, wild flowers blossoming, etc. But it gets a bit tedious. The narrative romance is, frankly, boring - it is melodramatic, and it shows its age. The subtitles, meanwhile, are a bit twee, the music grates - twenty minutes in and you do want to shot the piano player.
There are excellent extras - not least a film looking at the highs and lows of Leni Riefenstahl's career. It's a substantial package, and for anyone interested in the history of film-making, particularly in silent movies or the German cinema of the inter-war years, this is essential viewing. "The Silent Mountain" is undoubtedly a classic, and this is an excellent transfer of the film to DVD, the black and white images appearing crisp and the vitality of the original production being captured faithfully. But it's not a film which is going to hold the attention of anything but a very specialised audience. Very interesting, definitely worth watching if you're a keen cinema fan, but!