Film #5: The White Stadium Jan 23, 2018 15:48:10 GMT -5
Post by StevePulaski on Jan 23, 2018 15:48:10 GMT -5
The White Stadium (1928)
Directed by: Arnold Fanck and Othmar Gurtner
Directed by: Arnold Fanck and Othmar Gurtner
A man changes the score of the ice hockey game between Canada and Switzerland
Film #5/53; part of the Criterion Collection's "100 Years of Olympic Film" box-set
Arnold Fanck's The White Stadium is one of the first Olympic film documentaries ever made to resemble what most of us consider to be a documentary in the most modern sense. Up until this point, the films of Jean de Rovera and the epic showcase of the Stockholm Olympics in 1912 were as experimental with their seemingly insurmountable task as film itself in the largest sense of the medium. Because Fanck and co-director Othmar Gurtner received financial backing from the International Olympic Committee (IOC), unlike the other films, which were third-party works usually under the umbrella of the film studio Pathé, The White Stadium was able to show the 1928 Winter Olympics in St. Moritz, Switzerland with multiple-cameras and more polished aesthetics, making for a gorgeously complete production.
Also a key feature in the film is the use of new film techniques, such as fades and dissolves between scenes, along with treetop cameras, cameras tethered in mid-air, and edited montages (done by Walter Ruttmann, who made the classic Berlin: Symphony of a Great City). All of these tactics show what the fleeting progression of technology had in store for film, as every attribute in The White Stadium would sooner or later become standard features in films both mainstream and independent. Moreover, Fanck was a geologist before becoming a filmmaker, which explains why a sizable portion of his documentary is concerned with the surrounding environment and ambiance around the Olympic events themselves. Gurtner, on the other hand, was an alpinist, or someone who greatly adored climbing mountains as a hobby, and would segway smoothly from filmmaking to being the director of the Swiss Foundation of Alpine Research during his later years.
The White Stadium shows the many events of the 1928 Winter Olympics in beautifully captured film-stock and versatile camera angles to make even the most non-traditional events pop. One of the quirkier events is "skijoring," which involves horses pulling jockeys on skis as they cling to a long harness that stretches over the horses' backsides, giving the jockeys just enough slack to hold on and be pulled by the animals. Another is couples figure skating, which recalls the possibilities and fluidity of the games when the rules were looser and more creative liberty was given to the participants. Then there are the expected events, such as bobsleighing, figure skating, skiing, and ski-jumping, the latter two events making for some absolutely compelling footage thanks to coherent editing that assembles several camera angles at once. Fanck, Gurtner, and Ruttmann all find a cohesive rhythm for the games even while maintaining a clear devotion to show the surrounding atmosphere of the once-in-a-lifetime event.
The opening titles make clear of the intentions of the men: to capture the events for those unable to witness "the splendor" themselves while bringing a suspenseful thrill to watching the games unfold as if they're actually happening. It's ostensibly this mindset that makes Fanck not have a problem with shooting static shots of competitors marching along the St. Moritz mountain backdrops, in addition to highlighting the nearby playfulness of a couple young children gaily throwing snowballs at one another. While the musical accompaniment has of course been composed in the modern day, the complexities of Frido ter Beek and Yamila Bavio's compliment the film as well as any composition in any of the Olympic documentaries thus far. During the use of slow motion videography, ter Beek and Bavio employ a unique xylophonic beat as a solo only to have it lead into an eventual juxtaposition with some synths and piano keys. It's a lovely blend that fits the games and noticeably changes with the dynamic of the events taking place on-screen.
The White Stadium is a lovely piece of history, with many subversive film techniques abound in the two-hour documentary. Film lovers will take note of Ruttmann's use of crosscutting in the editing process in effort to divert from the old documentary tradition of simply showing an event as it unfolded to adding some visual flair that isn't intrusive and helps convey the essence of time (by showing a stopwatch) integral to a competition such as bobsleighing. Fanck and Gurtner take advantage of the IOC's generous funds and utilize the multiple cameras to great effects. While it is true that Fanck's protégé, Leni Riefenstahl, who is shown very briefly in the documentary, would go on to use the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin as the basis for her film, Olympiad, and subsequently receive much more praise and adoration, Fanck's The White Stadium is necessary viewing for silent film enthusiasts and is in need of some serious consideration by film archivists. It's not every day a film thought to be lost reemerges and blows away our expectations to the point where it even merits the proposition of such royal treatment.
Directed by: Arnold Fanck and Othmar Gurtner.