This undeniably modern impetus, as we know from German literary history, inheres in the Novelle, a genre often featuring frame stories whose apparent supernatural foundations give way to the more tangible loci of human agency, causality, and rationality, shifting from a naive world view to a Sentimental one. During the tale, Junta evolves from an agent of the uncanny, a witch and a curse, into a public martyr and a popular icon.
Romantic images that accentuate nature's irrational potential take their place in a story logic governed by enlightened reason.
Another crucial and more widely acknowledged generic legacy for Rie- fenstahl was the Weimar mountain film Bergfilm , a popular vein in which , she received her start as an actress. Bound by a hardy code, these feckless males stand above the pedes- trian world of restriction and cultivation, viewing themselves as souls in touch with a mightier destiny, the call of the mountains. Siegfried Kracauer appropri- ately dubbed the films "a mixture of sparkling ice-axes and inflated senti- ments," indicting the Bergfilme for their immature male protagonists, with- out commenting on the conspicuous role played by women in these scenarios.
We first see the actress in a close-up portrait; her face is pale, her eyes are shut.
Anticipating Junta's ultimate incarnation, this initial view appears to be a death mask. The face is that of Diotima who comes to life in a dance by the sea. The editing renders the fluid choreography of her gestures and leaps at one with the natural forces that cause the waves to break. The dancer's image reappears on a poster announcing her evening performance in a resort hotel.
Robert, the mountain climber, finds himself perplexed after Diotima's show. He flees into the Alpine peaks, as the intertitles put it, "to master the overwhelming impression. Catastro- phe ensues when Robert and, his younger companion learn they are rivals for Diotima's affection. They perish in a climbing accident. Remorseful and guilt-ridden, Diotima returns to the sea. The mourner is at once inhibited and inhabited, a woman whose sole obsession remains her memories of the dead admirers.
In conceptualizing The Blue Light, Riefenstahl wanted to.
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Besides snowscapes, billowing clouds, and unpeopled expanses, Fanck's films show us tourists, resort hotels, automobiles, airplanes, observatories, and weather stations. Contem- poraries in the s frequently hailed the ability of Fanck's camera both to venerate and to penetrate natt:tre, to sanctify its secrets and still disclose its uncanny properties. Murnau, sought to grant natural settings an eerie and ethereal aspect, something she accom- plished through special effects, technical ploys involving time-lapse photog- raphy, filters, smoke machines, and modulated lighting.
SO Both directors recasted the still lifes of romantic painting in moving images. Neither wanted to reflect physical reality, but instead to probe its hidden secrets and its subterranean reaches.
The Blue Light exudes at times what Balazs termed the "chilly draft from doomsday" atmosphere of Murnau's silent classic, Nosferatu Frieda Grafe has likewise pointed out the resemblance between Vigo's approach to the mountain village and Hutter's entry into the realm of the vampire. Both films dramatize a disparity be- tween images attuned to primal emotions and unconscious desires and an intelligence that seeks to render the inexplicable and unsettling in terms of human generality. In Nosferatu the visual track often conflicts with written signs, producing a profoundly ironic tension.
Murnau's tableaus show us things that the narrator, a city scribe, only partially understands and in some cases simply fails to comprehend. We first encounter both heroines enclosed by frames: the close-up of Ellen Hutter at the window, the picture ofJunta on the cover of the village chronicle. Both women sleepwalk at night and commune with nature's primordial powers.
The two films cast a woman in the role of martyr, whose sacrificed body saves lives, indeed ensures a community's well-being. Ellen becomes the agent of civilization in its battle against the demonic side of nature it wishes to disavow, the repressed ener- gies vested in Nosferatu. Book of the Vampires and making. Junta also becomes a martyr, but this role is not of her choice.
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She does not understand Vigo as he explains the advantages of mining the grotto and thus has no voice in the destruction of her most intimate space. In both films a community fortifies itself against outside threats. In N osferatu this involves the sublimation of nature's underworld and the exorcism of its darker side. The price of civili- zation in The Blue Light similarly entails a processing of elemental forces and the exorcism of a dangerous sensuality. Both films culminate in scenes in which a heroine lies supine and has all vitality sucked out of her.
Ellen holds Nosferatu by her bedside until the creature dissolves in the rising sun; Vigo stands over Junta's corpse in the early morning light. Riefenstahl's film sanctifies premodern landscapes and documents a village's entry into modernity. In so doing, it enacts a tension between the romantic worship of nature and an enlightened instrumental reason. Riefenstahl's sympathies and those of her film seem unquestionably aligned with Junta and the mountain girl's pris- tine world.
Or at least so it would seem. Histories of Horror Junta's victimization at the hands of mercenary contemporaries, claims Riefenstahl, presages the filmmaker's own subsequent suffering. Her auto- biographical reading has set the tone for many discussions and continues to inform appraisals, most recently in the New York Times.
The Blue Light, for Vincent Canby, is a "very significant film," "the fable-like story of a woman whose search for the ideal, not unlike Ms. Riefenstahl's search in a very different world, leads to disaster.
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Siegfried Kra- cauer and Susan Sontag have offered compelling and controversial assessments of German mountain films. For Kracauer, Junta "conforms to a political regime which relies on intuition, worships nature and cultivates myths. Resolute auteurists de- fend Riefenstahl's visual power, blithely dismissing these interventions: "And anyway," wisecracks Andrew Sarris, "she never claimed to be work- ing for British intelligence while she was making Triumph of the Will.
Siegfried Kracauer's very questionable From Caligari to Hitler is trotted out as if it were holy writ, its mandate for hindsight renewed. Why Kracauer's book is "very questionable" does not receive further com- ment. Which missing evidence Sarris has in mind is equally open to specu- lation. Is it simply fate, one wonders, or does it involve human agency?
Within broader and far-reaching arguments, Kracauer and Sontag link The Blue Light to National Socialist sensibility, indeed, to its history of horror. For them the film is less a romantic tale than a political allegory. Their comments about the film are brief and provocative, sugges- tive, but either too terse Sontag or schematic Kracauer to be conclusive. If one follows their lead, one can indeed go further. In her discussion of The Blue Light, Sontag provides a noteworthy post- mortem. The cause of Junta's death lies in "the materialist, prosaic spirit of envious villagers and the blind rationalism of her lover, a well-meaning visitor from the city.
The erotic that is, woman is always present as a temptation, with the most admirable response being a heroic repression of the sexual im- pulse. Early in the film, Vigo stumbles across figures etched onto a rocky mountainside, a martyr surrounded by mourners, a creation merging elemental nature and human sacrifice in an artistic construction.
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As he passes the faces carved in stone, Vi go asks, "What are those figures? The connection is not fortuitous, for after her demise, Junta will reappear as a religious martyr and an aesthetic countenance. As in The Holy Mountain, sexual energy becomes a spiritual force. The outsider is the object of lascivious stares, her body linked by the editing with wild animals. Her attraction and that of the blue light cause suicidal frenzy among the village's young males. She becomes the target of the imperiled community's anger and aggression, for the boys dying on the rocks are its future fathers.
Junta's primal vitality and erotic magnetism are a public menace. These disturbing forces will become harnessed and transformed, bringing collective relief and welcome prosperity. Junta's face transmutes into a crystal-studded image as the frame dissolves into the portrait adorn- ing a book with her story. The mountain hamlet we see in the film's prologue Jives in an age of automobiles and tourism, yet abides as a hardy Gemeinschaft at one with elementary nature.