The Blue Light

English Title: The Blue Light

Original Title: Das blaue Licht

Country of Origin: Germany

Studio: Leni Riefenstahl-Produktion

Director: Leni Riefenstahl, Béla Balázs

Producer(s): Henry Sokal, Leni Riefenstahl

Screenplay: Leni Riefenstahl, Carl Mayer, Béla Balázs

Cinematographer: Heinz von Jaworsky, Hans Schneeberger

Art Director: Leopold Blonder

Editor: Leni Riefenstahl

Runtime: 85 minutes

Genre: Adventure, Fairy-tale, Mountain

Language: German

Starring/Cast: Mathias Wieman, Franz Maldacea, Martha Mair, Leni Riefenstahl, Max Holzboer, Beni Führer

Year: 1932

Volume: German

Synopsis:

Resting at a mountain village inn, a tourist couple finds a girl’s portrait pinned to a wall, introducing the legend of Junta (Riefenstahl). The village, located at the foot of the majestic Mount Cristallo, was once plagued by the recurring deaths of its young men. Seduced by a blue light that shone on top of the mountain at full moon, they tried to climb it and paid with their lives. The villagers accused Junta, who lived alone in the mountains, of luring their sons to their deaths, because she was the only one who knew a safe route to the top. Vigo (Wieman), an outsider, helped Junta escape an angry mob and subsequently stayed with her in the mountains. When the moon was full again, he followed the sleepwalking girl and found her sitting in a cave filled with precious stones. Excited about his discovery, Vigo informed the villagers of this treasure and Junta's pathway. They plundered the cave and became wealthy while Junta, distraught upon discovering what happened to her secret hiding place, fell from the cliffs and died.


Critique:

The Blue Light established and perpetuates Riefenstahl’s controversial persona as a near-mythical genius. Despite the contributions of other talented artists, the film over time came to be credited almost solely to her. Riefenstahl directed The Blue Light and plays the lead role of the child-woman Junta, who is both feared and desired. According to the credits, Riefenstahl also produced, scripted and edited the film. She also claimed Junta’s story as her own idea, downplaying its actual literary source, Swiss writer Gustav Renker’s novel Bergkristall (‘Mountain Crystal’). Neither Arnold Fanck’s editorial assistance nor Carl Mayer’s scriptwriting found their way into the credits. Furthermore, while the initial release version acknowledged the participation of Jewish-Hungarian writer Béla Balázs, his name disappeared from the credits in subsequent releases (see Rentschler 1996a: 27–53).

 

Placing the story in the eighteenth century European romantic tradition, The Blue Light depicts the intrusion of modernity and nature’s tragic demystification. Wanderer and painter Vigo arrives in a community of superstitious and repressed villagers and is disturbed upon meeting Junta, who is innocent and unaware of her sexual allure. With his wide-brimmed hat and flowing overcoat evoking Goethe’s Wilhelm Meister, Vigo is thirsty for knowledge and scientific explanation. It is his rationalism that ultimately destroys the myth of the Blue Light. Aesthetically, the film harkens back to the early Weimar years, depicting the exterior world as an emotional landscape, evident in the ragged lines of the mountain cave that evoke the expressionism of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920). Carl Mayer wrote Caligari and the similar expressionist features of The Blue Light may be evidence of his participation in ‘Riefenstahl’s’ film. On the other hand, imbuing natural elements such as water, moon and darkness with yearning and desire recalls the eeriness of F.W. Murnau’s Nosferatu (1922). As with Ellen in Murnau’s film, Junta’s femininity is an irrational force that threatens social order and stability. The romantic notion of the uncanny and inexplicable, and Junta’s death as sacrifice for the villagers’ prosperity, prefigure the amalgam of modernity and romanticism of the Nazi Heimat genre, in which female sexuality is a threat that needs to be removed (see von Moltke 2005: 48–52).

 

The Blue Light belongs to the Bergfilme genre pioneered by Arnold Fanck. Whereas in Fanck’s films, mountain climbing is usually structured as a challenge testing male strength, gender dynamics are reversed in The Blue Light. Here, nature – Junta – is a female beauty doomed because of the human urge to possess it (Nenno 2003: 61–84). According to this perspective, the film can be seen as a critique of the devastating impact of tourism on the environment. 

Author of this review: Claudia Sandberg