Arnold Fanck

Arnold Fanck
Arnold Fanck

Arnold Fanck (6 March 1889 – 28 September 1974) was a German film director and pioneer of the mountain film genre.  He is best known for the extraordinary alpine footage he captured in such films as The Holy Mountain (1926), The White Hell of Pitz Palu (1929), Storm over Mont Blanc (1930), Der weisse Rausch (1931), and S.O.S. Eisberg (1933).  Fanck was also instrumental in launching the careers of several filmmakers during the Weimar years in Germany, including Leni Riefenstahl and Luis Trenker.

Arnold Fanck was born on 6 March 1889 in Frankenthal, Germany.  Together with Odo Deodatus Tauern, Bernhard Villinger and Rolf Bauer, Fanck established the company “Berg- und Sportfilm GmbH Freiburg” in Freiburg im Breisgau in 1920.   Fanck, who held a PhD ingeology, directed mountain films, sports films and ski films. He was assisted by Sepp Allgeier, a cameraman who later worked with Leni Riefenstahl, and worked mostly in the Alps in locations such as the Engadine, Zermatt and the Arlberg and on mountains such as Mont Blanc and Piz Palü.

Movie poster for "The Holy Mountain"
Movie poster for “The Holy Mountain”

His most popular and successful films of the period between the wars include The Holy Mountain (1926), The White Hell of Pitz Palu (1929), Storm over Mont Blanc (1930), Der weisse Rausch (1931), and S.O.S. Eisberg (1933)—all starring Leni Riefenstahl.

Movie poster for "Storm Over Mount Blanc"
Movie poster for “Storm Over Mount Blanc”

During the National Socialist period, Fanck got in trouble with propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels, since he refused to cooperate — apparently because of the necessity of joining the party.  In 1934, he also began working on his film, Der ewige Traum/Der König vom Mont-Blanc, which not only starred a French hero in French mountains, but also had a Jewish producer, Gregor Rabinowitsch. This conflict brought Fanck into economic difficulties, from which he was only able to escape by accepting a contract from the Japanese ministry of culture in 1936.

Movie poster for "S.O.S. Keberg" directed by Arnold Fanck
Movie poster for “S.O.S. Keberg” directed by Arnold Fanck

With The Daughter of the Samurai and other “culture films”, Fanck decided to cooperate with the Nazi regime. Soon afterwards, he produced Ein Robinson (1938/39) a propaganda film for Bavaria Filmkunst. Arnold Fanck joined the NSDAP in April 1940.

Scene from "Daughter of the Samurai" directed by Arnold Fanck
Scene from “Daughter of the Samurai” directed by Arnold Fanck

In 1944 he made a documentary about the sculptor Arno Breker called Arno Breker – Harte Zeit, starke Kunst.  After World War II, Fanck’s main films of the National Socialist period were proscribed by the Allied military governments. Fanck received no further job offers and went to work as a lumberjack.

Scene from "Der Ewige Traum" directed by Arnold Fanck
Scene from “Der Ewige Traum” directed by Arnold Fanck

After the screening of his film Der ewige Traum at the mountain film festival in Trento in 1957, Fanck was once again recognized for his artistic achievements. In order to survive his economic difficulties, however, he was forced to sell the rights to his films to a friend, until TV broadcasts improved his situation.

Scene from "Der Grosse Sprung" edited by Arnold Fanck
Scene from “Der Grosse Sprung” edited by Arnold Fanck

Fanck died on 28 September 1974 in Freiburg im Breisgau, Germany, at the age of 85. He is buried in the Hauptfriedhof in Freiburg.

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