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The Holy Mountain

March 9, 2012

The Holy Mountain (1926 film)

Not Jodorowsky’s classic head film of 1973 but Dr. Arnold Fanck’s classic mountaineering film of 1926. This is the first example of that strange and beguiling genre, the German mountain film, that I have seen. It did not disappoint. There is Purity. There is Beauty. There is Love. There is Loyalty. There are mountains that are more than mountains.  Leni Riefenstahl’s film career began with her performance here as Diotima, the dancer. Her dancing is not entirely good. More beautiful is the scene of skiers bearing torches as they hurry through the night to rescue their endangered comrades. There is considerable skiing. Also the strikingly intense close-ups that you count on from silent dramas. There is a scene of the hero angrily stuffing an accordion into a rucksack. The love triangle does not make any sense. The ski race is perplexing, seems to contain a glaring discontinuity. But you expect to be confused by silent films. You have to embrace that. Confused and sometimes bored. The confusion and boredom go hand in hand with the enchantment and otherworldly transport, and the amusement. To enjoy a movie like this you need to be willing to accept and appreciate, simultaneously, both the silly and the sublime. Sublimity is crucial to the mountain film. To rise above; pure, chill, elemental, commanding, beautiful. You might think the mountains in their splendor couldn’t be captured by the cinematics of the Twenties; you would be right, and that fact serves the deeper aesthetics of this film very well. The ideal seen through the gauzy veil of earthly life. The holy mountain can never truly be reached. Except, perhaps, in death. And there is Death.

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