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Karl-May-Forum • View topic - “Winnetou und das Geheimnis der Geisterschlucht”

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 Post subject: “Winnetou und das Geheimnis der Geisterschlucht”
PostPosted: Tue Jul 24, 2007 10:33 am 
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The latest package from Germany arrived recently, and I have just seen the new fan-film “Winnetou und das Geheimnis der Geisterschlucht” (“Winnetou and the Secret of Ghost Canyon”). The commercial release of the DVD was announced on another thread on this forum—



—where will be found links to the official web-sites, as well as purchasing information.

A “fan-film” is a derivative of “fan-fiction”. The latter consists of stories written by fans of novels, films, or television programmes. Usually, these stories are sequels or prequels to the official source material, or they are based on characters and situations from the original. I do not wish to embark here upon a discourse on the legal and moral intricacies of copyright as they pertain to fan projects, but generally, these projects are permitted if there is no commercialisation involved. In some cases, fans seek and obtain permission for projects that can be sold commercially. The fan-film is a film based on pre-existing commercial material, such as films or television programmes. Because fan-films are usually made by amateurs, working with very low budgets, they tend to be of low quality in most respects, and to have low production values. However, there are exceptions, and “Winnetou und das Geheimnis der Geisterschlucht” is a beautiful example.

I believe that about €30,000 were spent to make this fan-film, which is based on the Winnetou films of the 1960s. This is actually quite a large amount for a fan project, but it is a very low budget for a film—and especially for a film of this kind, with many characters, period and out-door settings, international locations, period costumes, firearms, action, and real-time special effects. Thus, the cast and crew worked on a voluntary basis, and many individuals worked in multiple capacities.

I was about to write that this film was a delightful surprise, but in fact, I expected it to be good, on the basis of the trailers and other information that have been available for some time. I am pleased to report that “Winnetou und das Geheimnis der Geisterschlucht” is far above the level of the usual fan project. In fact, it is far better than many bona fide professional films made with real film budgets. It is a remarkable accomplishment, given the constraints of budget and time. While it is not quite a 12th Constantin Winnetou film, it is a charming and most enjoyable homage to those films.

The production values are astonishing. “Winnetou und das Geheimnis der Geisterschlucht” was filmed in part at the original locations in Croatia, so the settings are spectacular, and consistent with the look of the original films. The photography was done on a video—rather than film—process, but with very high quality digital equipment working in a wide-screen format. The camera operator was 17-year-old Florian Linke, who also portrayed the character of Schiba-Yak. The cinematographic style differs considerably from that established by Ernst W. Kalinke and Harald Reinl in “Der Schatz im Silbersee” (“The Treasure of Silver Lake”), 1962, which was the first of the Winnetou films. This was no doubt due to the lack of the equipment and time necessary for the former, and also to the influence of modern cinematographic styles, which, like the fan-film under discussion, make much use of stabilised hand-held cameras. However, there is plenty of imaginative, albeit modern-style, camera work in “Winnetou und das Geheimnis der Geisterschlucht”, and the occasional faults of camera motion, as in the pan depicting the arrival of Winnetou and Old Shatterhand in the town, are far from serious. The editing of the film is excellent and of professional calibre.

Most of the musical soundtrack consists of Martin Böttcher’s sublime themes from the Winnetou films, used properly (though a very picky observer could be naughty and point out that there is no orchestrion visible in the saloon, and that neither Old Surehand nor Apanatschi appear in the film, while their melodies do—although to excellent effect!). There is a bit of generic “library music”, and there are a couple of fine songs performed by Dirk Maverick, a top country singer in Germany, who also portrays Steve Benson in the film (in addition, the splendid song “Howdy Ho Winnetou”, performed by Dirk Maverick and his Shatterband, is the basis for the film’s associated music video, of which there are two versions on the DVD).

The Croatian settings and Winnetou-music alone transport the viewer into the world of the 1960s Winnetou films, but there is much more in this 87-minute feature. Most low-budget films are noted for atrocious acting, particularly over-acting. There is no over-acting at all in “Winnetou und das Geheimnis der Geisterschlucht”. The entire cast did extremely well; several of the members are professional or semi-professional. The film is introduced by an actual film star, Horst Janson, as a story-teller at a camp-fire. It is a credit to the other actors that they maintained that standard. Mike Dietrich, who also produced and directed the film, portrays Winnetou, and Sven Duscha is Old Shatterhand. They work very well together and fit the parts, though their ability to personify these very special characters is difficult to properly assess since the script lacked appreciable depth (which is the chief fault of the film; the scenario was not based on a Karl May story, and while the plotting was adequate and allowed for plenty of action and some very humorous sequences—which are in keeping with the style of the 1960s films—the story itself was insubstantial and rarely allowed for any meaningful expression by the cast). Indeed, the cast was clearly far more able than the demands of the story. Franz Hoffman as Scroggins, the chief bandit, did an excellent job, in the vein of Mario Adorf as Santer in “Winnetou 1”, though with his own special brand of nastiness. Fried Wolff portrays the saloon owner McIntosh, adding plenty of charm and humour to the film. Josef Reissl as Kiowa chief Schwarzer Büffel (Black Buffalo) stood out prominently with a perfect appearance and performance. Britta Piesker was excellent as Chatu-Lea.

There are plenty of real special effects in the film, including “volcanic” phenomena, explosions, and squib charges to depict the impact of bullets.

As to the plot: I will not spoil the film for other viewers by describing it in detail, but provide the following for those who are interested; other readers may wish to skip this paragraph entirely. In the most general terms, there is a valuable treasure in mysterious “Ghost Canyon”, which Scroggins and his henchmen wish to attain. Along the way, they kill Schwarzer Büffel’s son Schiba-Yak, and frame Winnetou for the deed, leading to the capture of Winnetou, Shatterhand, and their companions by the Kiowas. Winnetou and Shatterhand must do battle (the former with the chief, and the latter with another brave) to assert their innocence, and after definitive proof is found by Chatu-Lea, Winnetou’s group, and the Kiowas, go after the bandits, ultimately converging at Ghost Canyon.

“Winnetou und das Geheimnis der Geisterschlucht” is a very lively, action-filled film, without a single slow section, and it should please any fan of the Winnetou films. The costumes are superb, and Winnetou’s Silver Rifle is faithful to Karl May’s example and those used in the 1960s films. There are some minor negative aspects. Because of circumstances, horses were not available for the scenes filmed in Croatia (they appear only in the settings filmed in Germany). I wonder if the film-makers made a bit of a joke about this, for every so often, in the Croatian scenes, there arose what seemed to me to be the distinct sound of a horse snorting. There was some use of slow motion in the action sequences, and while this modern convention of Westerns was established by none less than Sam Peckinpah, it usually—in my opinion—undermines action rather than emphasises it. In this film, the slow motion does fit into the overall cinematographic style, which, as mentioned above, differs from that of the 1960s films. I found the resolution of the story a bit unsatisfying, though this is a common problem with even the most professional of films.

“Winnetou und das Geheimnis der Geisterschlucht” comes startlingly close to a fully professional film. It is fascinating to consider what this cast and crew could do with a better story/script, time for more and better camera set-ups, and horses (and possibly exterior sets) in Croatia!

The DVD is professional in every respect. The picture gallery is imaginatively designed and very lengthy. There are two music videos, and a “making of” featurette. In addition, there is a clip from the German television programme “TV Total” on the Pro 7 channel, in which Florian Linke is interviewed by host Stefan Raab about the film, of which a scene is shown for the audience. When the DVD is placed in the player, after the usual copyright notice, there is a brief message thanking the viewer for choosing a genuine DVD, rather than a “bootlegged” copy: a thoughtful touch on the part of the film-makers, but a sad commentary on the morality of many people to-day (and yes, like the preceding fan-film from the same company—MayStar Film-Productions—[“Winnetou und der Schatz der Marikopas”/“Winnetou and the Treasure of the Marikopas”, which I shall discuss in future], this film has already been pirated by parasitic thieves).

“Winnetou und das Geheimnis der Geisterschlucht” is loaded with life, heart, and fun. Despite the fact that the DVD is in German only, without subtitles, I can recommend it to any Winnetou fan, especially to fans of the 1960s films, to which this film is a loving and faithful tribute. After all, can there ever be “too much” of Winnetou and Old Shatterhand?


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PostPosted: Thu Aug 30, 2007 9:46 am 
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In another thread on this forum (“We Have Been Spotted........”), I mentioned that the director of “Winnetou und das Geheimnis der Geisterschlucht” had placed a link to our forum (to this topic) on his Karl-May-Treff film forum.—



—The discussion on which the link was posted is on the topic of criticism of the fan-film, with a view toward gaining ideas on how the next project, scheduled for production in 2008, can be made to surpass the current film. Despite a back and forth argument between two of the regular participants, some useful ideas and information have been presented. In particular, I am pleased to report that the problem of having horses in the Croatian locations has apparently been solved. This will make an enormous difference.

In my review, I mentioned that the weakest aspect of “Winnetou und das Geheimnis der Geisterschlucht” was the insubstantial story/screenplay. It did not have any profundity, nor did it permit the special, highly idealised characters of Winnetou and Old Shatterhand, or their extraordinarily close relationship, to be expressed by the actors playing the parts. One of the Treff forum participants mentioned that some “noble” dialogue was needed. This is true. But the defects of the script show just how much more there is to Karl May’s work than what appears on the surface. His stories are loaded with action, and plans for action, described in minute detail. An insensitive person, attempting to emulate the stories, might well tend to produce action only, without that special, and powerful, “something extra” that is the heart of the originals.

For the next film to truly be considered a 12th “Constantin” Winnetou film, it must have the following:

(1) A script that includes more than mere action and humorous interludes. Winnetou and Old Shatterhand are men of unusual moral rectitude who are saddened by the evil men do, and who strive to bring peace to warring factions with the least possible violence and the greatest possible dignity for all concerned. The script must convey this, through the actions and words of these characters, and it must in the same way also demonstrate the relationship between Winnetou and Shatterhand. The more the script can provide for this, the better, since the actors in this case need plenty of material to exploit. Pierre Brice and Lex Barker could carry their characters and relationship through some of the less powerful of the eleven 1960s stories, because of their natural charisma and their extraordinary ability to so embody their characters that they radiate beautifully even from still photographs. This casting was likely a once-in-a-lifetime piece of luck; I can think of no film stars to-day who could accomplish what Brice and Barker did in these parts. To come close, other actors must rely on active performance, and for this, an excellent story and script, full of the “Karl May-feeling”, are necessary.

(2) More time for direction, including self-direction, since Mike Dietrich is both the director and the portrayer of Winnetou. It might not be a bad idea to have a second, intellectually-oriented director who would be concerned primarily with the portrayal of Winnetou and Old Shatterhand (and perhaps other characters, when they are in particularly potent scenes), since in a low-budget production with few specialised personnel, the director tends to become overwhelmed with technical matters, and with the often frantic mechanics of just keeping the filming progressing.

(3) It is my opinion that an attempt should be made to emulate the cinematographic style of the original Winnetou films. This involves obtaining or improvising various camera fixtures, rather than relying on hand-held camera work. A large, stable tripod with a smooth pan-head is a minimum requirement. There are four other important ways cameras are mounted and moved: (A) on vehicles, as in photographing riders in a Western—this can be improvised quite easily; (B) on a crane—these are extremely costly to purchase or rent, and difficult to move, but an improvised apparatus could be mounted on a small truck—however, since video cameras can be operated remotely with ease, small and light cranes are available for them; (C) on a dolly—this can be emulated by mounting the tripod in a small, cart or base with large swivel wheels; (D) on miniature “railroad” tracks, such as are used when a camera moves alongside two actors who are walking—this can be emulated by mounting the tripod to a small cart with pneumatic tyres, and on bad surfaces, plywood boards can be laid over a bracing of simple framing lumber. Perhaps most important to attaining the proper cinematographic style is having the time available to make and use all of the necessary camera set-ups. This time could be obtained by lengthening the filming schedule, and by increasing the number of competent personnel.

The above three elements could elevate the next fan-film to a quite spectacular level, but I realise that the last may be very difficult (though a very creative cinematographer could do wonders with a good tripod).

I do not at all mean to cast “Winnetou und das Geheimnis der Geisterschlucht” in a poor light! It was a wonderful accomplishment :) , and a true delight to any Winnetou fan. :) And considering the time, money, and small crew involved, the result was amazing. :D 8)

........Note: the reason that in suggestion number (1), I did not recommend the use of an original Karl May Winnetou story, is that they involve too many characters, extras, and elaborate situations for the scope of a low-budget film. A more intimate, perhaps character-driven, script is needed.


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