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In the fight with the mountain

A minute-long applause at the end of the silent film screening with orchestral accompaniment at Firmian Castle was a sign that not only the original score by Paul Hindemith (here signed as Paul “Merano”) was played wonderfully by the Haydn Orchestra, but also the powerful images by Im Fight with the mountain by Arnold Fanck from 1921 left a deep impression on the audience and carried them away emotionally. The setting on Firmian is unique, the upper castle courtyard – where Reinhold Messner holds his usual summer dialogues by the fire (the last date for this is August 31st, in German) – looks like a natural arena, with its gently sloping meadow hill and the bounding castle wall, which lets the view wander to the true sky, which, dark blue, covered with a few clouds, completes the whole thing towards the top.

Visual language knows no boundaries.

After a brief introduction by the “landlord”, who has only been a guest of the actual director of the 6 Messner Mountain Museums for several years, his daughter Magdalena, who had taken on this responsible but also creative position with enthusiasm and joy Messner told us with what pride he presented this initiative, because this castle had rarely seen such an important evening that can perhaps only be compared with Silvius Magnago’s 1962 call for “Los von Trient”. In my opinion, both had a cultural-political background: one wanted to maintain this German-speaking culture, in which this so-called “lot” was the starting shot for the struggle for South Tyrolean autonomy, while the other shows the great value of culture for the so-called “polis” ( because the word “politics” comes from the Greek “polis”, which simply means “community”), whereby the language itself and the culture belonging to it are of secondary importance in this case, because here the pictures speak and this visual language does not know any Limits.


Sigmundskron Castle Courtyard: Applause lasting minutes / Photo: Salto.bz

The content of Im Fight with the mountain is quickly told. It is about the documentation of the fascinating mountain world around the Matterhorn in the Swiss canton of Valais, with a view of the Italian Po Valley, whereby a short story is threaded as an ideal red thread: a man and a woman meet high up in the mountains, the latter having to go to a hut and the former accompanying them to get them there safely. The actors are Hannes Schneider and Ilse Rohde, and how much (or better said: how little) they are important for the film itself can be seen from the fact that they were mostly shot from a distance, so that they are silhouetted through the foreground marching standing ice world. Fanck used his best cameramen under the direction of Sepp Allgeier, where it becomes clear how far he was ahead of his contemporaries at the time on the picture level and especially on that of the picture design and created almost abstract worlds. Clouds and snow masses merge into truly fabulous figures, where the human being can (intentionally?) Only be seen as a small point. In this way, he also depicts this so-called test of strength between man and nature, which often wants to be put in the foreground in a certain alpinism, in a very impressive and explicit way Photo laboratory later developed in Paris in the 1920s, way ahead when the dark clouds suddenly present themselves with glistening white frames.

You could almost feel how the strong images and sounds affected the audience …

The music itself brings with it an intense dose of emotionality, which was possible, because Hindemith (= Merano) had rather accidentally written these notes directly onto the pictures in 1921. Because, according to Arnold Fanck’s records, Hindemith was visiting his villa in Freiburg at the time and had observed him and his editing work on the film. He was so enthusiastic about this “picture music” that he suggested composing original music for it, which was totally unusual at the time, because the silent films were usually improvised on the piano on the same evening. “When he finished the composition and played it for me on the piano”, Fanck reported, “I suddenly realized that the effect of my pictures was greatly enhanced by this music”. It is like that too! You could almost feel how the strong images and sounds had an effect on the audience, all of them were projected into this ice world, which is by now far away from us, as it is seldom found today, even on the glaciers that are melting due to the climate.


Played wonderfully: Original score by Hindemith by the Haydn Orchestra / Photo: Salto.bz

It was effectively the first time that a film received original music, the premiere of which in the premier theater in Düsseldorf had become something special, because many conductors had refused to play this score because it was “too heavy. to play in ”would have been. But – in other words – they just wanted to say that their orchestras were simply not used to rehearsing music “beforehand” for a film or for a concert, because it was usually put together by the orchestra and its conductor. Paul Hindemith had composed his score out of sheer joy and asked no fee for it, simply to be able to participate in this wonderful “picture symphony” – as he called the film – which he had already perceived as “pure music”. A comparison that will be used by critics later, in the mid-1920s, for the abstract films by Hans Richter, Walter Ruttmann and Oskar Fischinger.

Either you pay or I just ignore you …

Arnold Fanck is often wrongly associated with the Nazi regime because he was the discoverer and teacher of Leni Riefenstahl: she was “the” filmmaker of the Third Reich. He himself did not want to have anything to do with it and had refused all orders from Josef Goebbels to join the NSDAP party. But Leni Riefenstahl has accepted them and knowing what his cameramen can do, she also has them for her most famous films Triumph of will (one of the Reichtag trilogy in Nuremberg) and Olympic 1936 Summer Games contracted. This is the only way to explain the unique perspectives occurring there in the distance and close-up shots of the individual speakers, the arena filled with a large audience, as well as the individual athletes who were classified as very experimental in the post-war period and are (still) admired from all sides will. I can see this very clearly, especially now that I have In the fight with the mountain have seen.


Images and sounds: Distant ice worlds projected onto the screen / Photo: Salto.bz

Such an evening would have deserved press participation and TV recordings, or at least we would have liked to have seen a program announcement (also) in the German-language local press. But that didn’t exist, despite intensive back office work. I wonder why? It seems that Reinhold Messner’s events will only be of interest to “Dolomiten” & Co. if they are announced by means of officially placed advertisements, i.e. through payment. The motto of the Ebner clan seems to be: “either you pay or I just ignore you”. Nonetheless, there was a large, mixed audience who had sat on the grass in the seats marked with ropes according to the distance rules, in order to watch the massive images on the screen in silent amazement.

Picture 2

Firmian media coverage: Reporting only when an ad is placed? / Photo: Salto.bz

Arjun Sethi
Passionate guitarist, gamer and writer. Lives for the perfect review, and scrapes texts until they are razor-sharp.


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