Arnold Fanck Mountain Films

Ski Mad World fills a niche we didn’t know existed: “the History of Skiing Geography.” MadPatSki’s recent post on the history of ski movies motivated us to investigate some of the story lines he alludes to in the piece.

Arnold Fanck was a pioneer in ski films. He began making documentary and action films after the end of World War I, shooting in remote mountain locations.

His movies were popular with German audiences and led to what are known as “mountain films,” a style that some see as the German equivalent of the US Western: a genre unique to the country.

Making a Arnold Fanck film was hard and at times dangerous work. His actors suffered bruises, cuts and injuries as a result of their participation in his work. In one case, the female star in Avalanche was hauled halfway up a cliff, and “buried” by a slide triggered by a dynamite explosion on the mountain above her. Fanck did not use stand-ins.

The YouTube clip — a trailer for documentary on Fanck — is fascinating, even in German. There is great footage at the beginning and end. The whole clip is very short, and below, we’ve provided expert translation services for the monologue in the middle.


Insight from Mary Beth our translator:

“I can offer viewers a little help on what the film explains in German. It says Fanck suffered asthma as a child and was sent to boarding school in Davos, Switzerland and had always loved the mountains. He later got a doctorate in geology at the University of Zurich.

The first film showed in this clip is a documentary made in Montarosa, near the Matterhorn, in 1913 by a cameraman named Sepp Alpgeier. It explains that such documentaries were very popular in the early days of film. Arnold Fanck appears in the film — he is the dashing fellow they show with the cigarette in his mouth at the beginning of the film. It was his first experience and he found that he liked it so much that he eventually started directing his own work. He is known as “the Father of Mountain Films” in Germany.

Later the clip shows Arnold Fanck’s film, The Wonder of Snowshoes. He pioneered new film techniques with limited resources and no telephoto lens, his grandson explains. To add interest he focused on the patterns the skiers make in the snow. He was mainly focused on the optical look of the film.”

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