Saturday, 28 August 2010


'Inadvertent magic, is, we think, the best kind; the secret message, the hazy coincidence, the series of signs not quite decoded. It can be the first recording of a song, before the words have clicked into place, when the flawed syntax catches the edge of a chord, and the hum of a misplaced microphone spills into the mixture. But there comes a point, and this can be dangerous, when the artist can fall prey to a confidence borne of this early fizzing success; she wants to harness the power without understanding it, and seeks a do-over, never understanding that the misplaced passes and fudged lines of the imperfect first incantation were vital to its construct.' Greil Marcus, Lost Locales

" hour later they of course loop back and, finding the intersection they made earlier, exclaim 'More tracks!... A second car joined the first one.' As the hours go by they rejoin their own tracks again and again, believing each time that the highway they are following has grown busier and busier. This brilliantly allegorical scene is endlessly regressive: what Thompson and Thomson are doing is failing to recognise that they are not only reading their own mark but also reading their own reading of their mark, their interpretation of their own interpretation. Tintin, crouching over the tracks, realises what is going on but has no means of communicating. Then the Khamsin whips itself into action: a ferocious sandstorm that soon wipes all tracks away. An orgy of marking, reading and misreading, followed by total erasure, total inscrutability. As Tintin huddles, despondent, endless grains of sand hit his eyes and mouth, like so many illegible tracts.' Tom McCarthy, Tintin and the Secret of Literature

'The past it is a magic word/Too beautiful to last' John Clare, Childhood

Like a prehistoric (in cinema terms, at least) version of Antonioni's Blow-Up, Dexter Himmler's Behold The Awesome Mountain is about the reconstruction of a scene; an attempt at discovery through rediscovery (and vice-versa), insight through repetition. With its classically cinematic themes of doubles, lost images, exotic locales and erasure, layers of suggestion are peeled and unpeeled in ultra-white. Framing tales window onto previous and later ones, events unfold like the pages of a lost diary; we gather that we are following a photographer (Peiter Wiki) who accompanied an expedition up an unnamed peak in the Himalayas. We find that his tale is dipped in tragedy- the party is severed in an avalanche, and the photographer apparently expires, sending his photographs back down the mountain on a horse somehow.

So it seems.

A series of narrative focus-pulls changes our perspective, firstly from the expedition's leader Nicolas (Lukas Bronowsky), then to the photographer following the group (whose feat seems more astounding- for not only does he follow, but at points he leads, lugging his tripod and camera over ledges to record the party's arrival; he does everything they do, but with more baggage), then to the horse, and finally to the recipient of the photos, the brother of the expedition leader, Jan (whose near-identical likeness to his sibling causes us to turn full circle, back to the original hero; especially as he is also played by Bronowsky). Jan recreates the footsteps of his brother in a bid to find the locations of the photographs. Initially this is an attempt to discover the fate of Nicolas, but soon Jan finds a strange power in the snaps, and begins mimicking them as precisely as possible, at the correct locations on the journey up the mount, in a faintly ridiculous ritual that makes sense to only Jan.

He seems convinced that if he can recreate the photos, he will end up finding his brother; all the time, he seems half in-love with the potential for his own decimation by following this path. A belief that the party may have found some snow-capped Eldorado takes hold as well, and Jan follows, re-enacting the scenes, pulling texts from his boots, stories from the snow. He curses his own mistakes. Sometimes he takes the wrong route or gets the angle of a photograph skew-whiff. Always, he regrets not being on the original expedition, and mourns lost games of ping-pong and shuffleboard with his brother. Oh, and the woodland rambles they would drift on! His final words to the reluctant photographer as he struts off alone up the impenetrable mountain hang over the snow:

'I just know that there is a warm safe place here... where nobody but me can find him, napping and content... and I also know that I may never find it...'

Himmler shot the film in English, despite a German cast, contrived a fictional crew member that he claimed was lost on location to drum up publicity, and never made another film. He attempted to remake Behold The Awesome Mountain in America in the early seventies, but failed to find the funding; this time, his previous tracks really were covered over, never to be followed. And so endless versions can be imagined, but not realised.

Behold The Awesome Mountain Directed by Dexter Himmler Produced by Fritz Loger, Dexter Himmler Starring Peiter Wiki, Lukas Bronowsky, Fabrice Domoccoli FDF Pictures Release Date UK: Feb 1948 US: Jan 1951 103 mins Tagline: 'So Snowy, so white, so gone...'

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