“Cinematic Mountains” Special Issue 21.1 (Spring 2023)

Clouds of Sils Maria (Olivier Assayas, 2014)

Guest Editors: Cornelia Klecker & Christian Quendler

Introduction: “Cinematic Figuration of Mountains” by Cornelia Klecker & Christian Quendler (University of Innsbruck)

Excerpt: While most approaches to studying mountain film have concentrated on the legacies of the German mountain film or the Bergfilm of Weimar Cinema, we propose to rethink mountain cinema along a different path that takes its inspiration from the French New Wave cinema and the criticism of Cahiers du Cinéma and argues for sustained efforts of integrating mountains in both cinema and life.


Highroads and Skyroads: Mountain Roadbuilding in U.S. Government Films of the 1920s and ’30s

By Jennifer Lynn Peterson

EXCERPT: While this focus on roads certainly makes sense in the case of government films made by the Bureau of Public Roads, my research shows that roads are a point of focus in films made by all branches of the federal government in this period. This emphasis on infrastructure appears so frequently across different government films that it feels like an obsession: The films work not just to promote federal landholding, but to justify the entire project of the national parks and forests in the name of the public good. Seen from today’s perspective, we can read this as symptomatic of a specific moment in the historical expansion and consolidation of the state’s landholding and land management practices, as well as a specific moment in the history of fossil capitalism.

Imagining Taking Tiger Mountain (by Strategy): Two Landscapes of the Anthropocene, 1970 and 2014

By Sean Cubitt

EXCERPT: [A]ll of us experience mountains as real and as strictly invisible. This is no doubt why they have been so often addressed as gods: because they are both real and imaginary. The word Anthropocene that also appears in my title is, similarly, both real and imaginary: We cannot experience a global shift in person, only in the imagination. Taking Tiger Mountain and its predecessor, separated by almost half a century, the fifty years during which environmental issues escaped laboratories and entered politics, the period when the term Anthropocene was coined and became a matter, perhaps the matter of concern for a generation, may also be a period when the word imagination subtly but significantly altered in its work in cultures and societies. 

Revisiting Brokeback Mountain — How Mountains Matter, or: Melodrama, Melancholy, (Im-)Mobility

By Sabine Sielke

EXCERPT: At a time when film has transformed, by way of video and DVD, into an “incredibl[y] shrinking medium” (3) and the experience of cinema has become “increasingly rare” (28), film reaffirms its power, wishing it may once again become “precious to us” (29). That power, of course, comes in all kinds of shapes from special effects to melodrama, the “fundamental mode of popular moving pictures” (Williams 1998, 42). It is this longing for a renewal of a familiar cinematic experience that is as central to Brokeback Mountain as is its longing to mainstream a supposedly marginal sexual desire; and, as I argue, both of these longings take recourse to other, older “immobile” media including painting and photography.

Ambiguous Images of Soviet-Kyrgyz Mountainscapes in The Sky of Our Childhood (1966)

By Anna Ladinig

EXCERPT: The nomadic way of life is threatened by the expansion of the road infrastructure that will connect the rural Soviet republic with the urban center of Moscow, which reaches out to a generation that has different desires and plans for their future. [The Sky of Our Childhood]’s apparently straightforward plot makes room for the complexities of this topic, remains open to various interpretations, and has been received differently with the passing of time…How somebody reads the film depends on and reveals that person’s (historical) frames of reference. Not unlike the mountains, the film becomes a stage that mirrors specific views and attitudes of different historical periods and phases.

Cinematic Cultures of Descent: The Other Sides of the Mountaineering Story

By Eva-Maria Müller

EXCERPT: [I]f ascent is a distinctive feature of many classic mountain films, descent promises a meaningful way in which to broaden the genre. Thinking about mountains through cultures of descent thus not only offers a long overdue corrective to orthodox approaches in mountain studies, it also highlights the special role of film in facilitating a change of perspective and allows us a better understanding of socio-ecological concerns that come to the fore via mediations of descent.

Book Reviews

Jeremy Agnew, The Landscape of Western Movies: A History of Filming on Location, 1900-1970 (Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company, 2020)

Ofer Ashkenazi, Anti-Heimat Cinema: The Jewish Invention of the German Landscape (Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press, 2020)

Catherin Elwes, Landscape and the Moving Image (Bristol and Chicago: Intellect, 2022)

Further Reading: Kamaal Haque reviews Roberto Mantovani’s Action: Let’s Climb!: History of Mountaineering and Climbing Film (C.A.I., 2020)

Related Projects, Events and Publications

Delocating Mountains: Cinematic Landscapes and the Alpine Model

Mediating Mountains: 46th International Conference of the AAAS

Mediating Mountains: Journal of the Austrian Association for American Studies