Thursday, August 3, 2017

Arte-Dokumentary about the explorer Maximilian zu Wied

By Hans-Jörg Rother

Karl May was inspired by his travel descriptions from the New World: Arte follows the trail of the explorer Maximilian zu Wied of Missouri.

Noble savages inspired early the imagination of courageous travel writers of the 19th century. The American James Fenimore Cooper, from his own point of view, braided his authentic "Leatherstocking Tales" (1845). German Maximilian zu Wied (1782-1867), a prince of the House of Neuwied, who had a great interest in exploring, had already started a boat trip on the Missouri together with Swiss painter Karl Bodmer (1809-1893). One of his most eager readers was to become a certain Karl May (1842-1912), who was fond of dreaming of the vastness of the prairie.

The Arte-Docu "Winnetou and the Prince from Germany - In the Footsteps of a Legend" by Peter Adler sets this journey in a complicated manner and soon attaches itself to the person of the chief character, Mato Tope, twice his portrait was painted by Bodmer. In the winter quarter of Fort Clark, there was enough time, which the chief who died a few years later (like most of his tribe) would gladly sacrifice.

Was Mato Tope the model for Winnetou?

Should Mato Tope have been the model for Karl Mays Winnetou, as the film author Peter Adler assumes? The thesis is more than daring. Maximilian did not tell Wied anything about bold adventures with Old Shatterhand, but on the other hand of an attack by hostile Indians, which made it advisable for him to continue his research in a less dangerous area in the spring of 1834.

Whether it was necessary at all to involve the Indian friend May in the story and to show him to us at the desk of his house in Radebeul, as well as film clips with the famous Pierre Brice, may be doubted. Arte loves these mixes and also loves the transmission format of 52 minutes, which sometimes blows the air. Thus in this case, too, where the bitter contrast between the situation found by Maximilian, as an advantageous exchange of "peaceful" tribes within the Fort’s occupation, and today's life on the reservation, where gaming casinos attract the tourists, there are two remarkable biographies and Talks such as Jason Morsette, the expert in the history and customs of Mandan, were not enough material. Where once Bodmer's carefully water colored earth huts stood, there is now a desolate settlement, in which, with the language of the Indians, the tradition also threatens to extinct.

Sparse remains of a great culture

Fortunately not quite as the annual dance festival proves. A small buffalo herd also delights the eye again. But what a nature did before the eyes of the respectful travelers from Europe 160 years ago! A shadow of it, a scanty remnant remained the descendants of those tribes, who had once been forced onto the reservation, for which Karl May, with a sprawling fantasy, Maximilian to Wied, and Karl Bodmer, had taken sides with their equally sober and beautiful portrayal. 

Winnetou und der Prinz aus Deutschland - Auf den Spuren einer Legende – German title
Winnetou and the Prince from Germany - On the trail of a legend – English title

A 2017 Austrian production Michael Cencig [Metafilm, (Vienna)]
Producer: Veronika Hraby
Director: Peter Adler
Story: Peter Adler
Photography: Klaus Achter, Bernhard Sehne [color]
Running time: 52 minutes

Story: Documentary on the German explorer Maximilian zu Wied and his influence on author Karl May and the Winnetou tales.

Dakota Goodhouse


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