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Veranstaltungen · Universität Innsbruck · Medizinische Universität Innsbruck

Donnerstag, 14.11.2019


He’s been to the Mountaintop: Luis Trenker’s Western Der Kaiser von Kalifornien and the Tradition of the Bergfilm

12:00 - 13:30 Uhr
Universität Innsbruck, Geiwi-Turm (Erdgeschoss), Hörsaal 5¾, Innrain 52e, 6020 Innsbruck

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Kamaal Haque

Kamaal Haque is associate professor of German at Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania (USA). He earned his Ph.D. in German and Comparative Literature at Washington University in St. Louis with a dissertation on space in Goethe’s West-östlicher Divan.

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Often called one of the best and best-known German Westerns, Luis Trenker’s 1936 film Der Kaiser von Kalifornien is a fictionalized account of the life of Johann August Sutter, best known today as the owner of the mill where the California Gold Rush of 1849 started. The film depicts Sutter as the founder and leader of a community in California where all benefit from the paradisiacal conditions of his benevolent rule, until the day that gold is found on his property and chaos ensues. Previous interpretations of this film have situated both within the traditions of the Western and National Socialism film production. Critics do, of course, mention Trenker’s past as a founding member of the uniquely German genre of the Bergfilm, yet only briefly mention the connections between the Der Kaiser von Kalifornien and the classical Bergfilm. This talk will focus on those connections. I will argue that the film is more indebted to the traditions of the Bergfilm than is often presumed. While mountains are not prominent in the film, the urge to command from on high, the desire to reach the mountaintop and see the Promised Land, is one of the film’s defining themes. Both dramaturgy and cinematography in the tradition on the Bergfilm reinforce this view from the summit in Der Kaiser von Kalifornien. Furthermore, the film’s mixed messages on modernity are in line with the Bergfilm’s own ambiguity on technological progress, an ambiguity that haunts Sutter in the film.


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