22 Summits Stories

Filming on the set of the Extreme

In October 1920, we are in the middle of the silent film era, a film team from Freiburg im Breisgau, consisting of four people, sets off for the Monte Rosa Hut. It is a time where skiing is still in its infancy. Mountaineering is a sport for a small elite.

The producer Dr. Arnold Fanck, himself an enthusiastic mountaineer and skier, thrilled German audiences with his first film "Das Wunder des Schneeschuhs" in 1920. Until then, the films of the Weimar period had been produced almost exclusively in the studio - Arnold Fanck filmed outdoors, exposed, in wild nature. He is concerned with the beauty of the image: he wants to let people participate in the wonder world of the mountains. His first film, made with his long-time cameraman Sepp Allgeier, was a success. His backers trust him to make another: "Im Kampf mit dem Berge 1. Teil In Sturm und Eis", production location: Zermatt. Fanck is not there for the first time: in 1911, at the age of 22, he undertakes several summit tours with his friend Hans Rohde, including the Zmuttgrat on the Matterhorn in a winter first ascent. In 1913 he is the actor in the (presumably) first ski film in history, "4628 metres high on skis. Ascent of Monte Rosa".

Arnold Fanck describes the filming vividly and entertainingly in his autobiography. They must have been an incredible grind for the film team. Since the Gornergrat railway does not run, they set off for the hut with half a hundredweight of luggage per person. Two mules transport five hundredweight of wood, but from Rotenboden the fresh snow is so high that they have to carry the wood up themselves in several stages. On the first day of filming, they film at the break of the twin glacier, which is called "The Sugar Factory" because of its ice towers and cuboid ice blocks. In the evening, they sit down to supper and hear everything collapse. Second day: filming in a crevasse of the Grenzgletscher. The film catches fire in the camera. Fanck is able to save it, then the tripod threatens to collapse with a snow bridge. On the third day, they attack the Lyskamm, each packed with 35 pounds. After this day, the team's morale is badly battered. Fanck insists on one shot: he wants to film the sea of clouds across to the Po plain. This scene will later be applauded in the cinemas at every screening.

The descent threatens to become a fiasco: Actor Hannes Schneider has forgotten the storm lanterns. They torch paper bags and light their way home through the maze of crevasses. After 22 hours they are back in the hut. Hannes Schneider throws himself onto the straw mat with rope and crampons and only wakes up ten hours later. Ilse Rohde manages the sensation: she bakes apple cakes and thus restores the morale of her colleagues. The film premiered in Berlin on 22 September 1921. It was a great success. The film music was composed by the 26-year-old Paul Hindemith.

Dr. Arnold Fanck made 15 more films until 1939, including "Der Kampf ums Matterhorn" (director: Luis Trenker, screenplay: Arnold Fanck), "Die weisse Hölle vom Piz Palü", "Stürme über dem Montblanc", "Der weisse Rausch", "SOS Eisberg". He discovered Luis Trenker and Leni Riefenstahl. As he neither chummed up to the National Socialist rulers nor wanted to emigrate, his career took a turn for the worse. His work as a pioneer of mountain and adventure films was long forgotten. Here are some clicks to the film with music.

Read more

Arnold Fanck: He directed Glaciers Storms and Avalanches. A film pioneer tells his story. Nymphenburger Verlagshandlung. Munich 1973 (Autobiography)
Matthias Fanck: Arnold Fanck. White Hell - White Intoxication. Mountain Films and Images 1919-1939. AS Verlag, Zurich 2009

Continue viewing

„Im Kampf mit dem Berge 1. Teil In Sturm und Eis“ was restored in 2013 according to Paul Hindemith's surviving score by the Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau Foundation and the broadcaster arte. It has since been available as a DVD. Himmelhoch und Abgrundtief. The History of Mountain Film (DVD). Written and directed by Hans-Jürgen Panitz and Matthias Fanck. 1997/2008.