All 4 entries tagged Leni Reifenstahl

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March 30, 2007

The Wonderful Horrible Life of Leni Riefenstahl,1993: Dir. Ray Muller

The Wonderful Horrible Life of Leni Riefenstahl,1993: Dir. Ray Muller




Eureka Cover wonderful Horrible Life of Riefenstahl

Eureka DVD Cover


Please note that at time of writing this DVD also comes with the Eureka version Holy Mountain. this obviously provides excellent value for money.





Notes

This post is currently what I'm describing as a 'phase one' post. A synopsis and contextual and critical comments will be added at a later date. Through the webliography below this post thus serves to act as a resource page. This will allow prospective course members and other visitors to conduct some basic research into the relevant film. For further research you ma y also consuly the relevant bibliography. Please use the bibliographies tag in the sidebar to access this resource. 




Bibliography

In addition to the main bibliography here are some links to recent of forthcoming books on Leni Riefenstahl. I haven't read the one in print and the other is forthcoming so no comments here on the quality of the content.

Leni Riefenstahl a Life             leni_steven_bach.jpg



Webliography 


Date of last search 05 April 2007

At the time of writing the following sites I consider the best researched academically or else are present because of the quality of their links. This is searched down to page 10 of Google.


Guardian interview with Reifenstahl on 100th birthday by Christopher Jones and Andrew Pulver
Friday August 23, 2002

http://film.guardian.co.uk/interview/interviewpages/0,,779102,00.html

Guardian breaks news of Reifenstahl's death /  Obituary of Leni Riefenstahl

http://film.guardian.co.uk/news/story/0,,1038656,00.html

http://film.guardian.co.uk/news/story/0,12589,1038696,00.html

New York Times obituary of Leni Reifenstahl:

http://www.writing.upenn.edu/~afilreis/Holocaust/riefenstahl-obit.html

New York Review of Books essay by Susan Sontag "Fascinating Fascism":

http://www.history.ucsb.edu/faculty/marcuse/classes/33d/33dTexts/SontagFascinFascism75.htm

World Socialist site obituary and commentary on Riefenstahl

http://www.wsws.org/articles/2003/sep2003/rief-s15.shtml

An odd page from the web which is a serious essay on Reifenstahl The Blue Light and Bela Balazs, which is properly researched and referenced:

http://www.uni-konstanz.de/FuF/Philo/LitWiss/MedienWiss/Forsch/Telaviv/Riefenstahl-englisch.html

Link to "German Flicks.com" posting on Leni Reifenstahl with a link to a YouTube upload of Triumph of the Will :

http://www.germanflicks.com/riefenstahl.html

Link to a useful review in Senses of Cinema of  Rainer Rother's Leni Riefenstahl the Seduction of Genius:

http://www.latrobe.edu.au/screeningthepast/reviews/rev0703/eb2br15.html

Link to article by Brigitte Peucker: The Fascist Choreography: Riefenstahl-'s Tableaux
Modernism/modernity - Volume 11, Number 2, April 2004, pp. 279-297. Please note you will need an Athens account to access the full article:

http://muse.jhu.edu/login?uri=/journals/modernism-modernity/v011/11.2peucker.html

Link to article on Riefenstahl by Assoc. Professor Judith Keene is the Director of the European Studies Centre at the University of Sydney. One of Judith's specialities is fascism and anti-fascism. She has written several books on the subject of the Spanish Civil War. In one her courses at the University, 'Film and History', she covers the subject of Leni Riefenstahl:

http://www.hyperhistory.org/index.php?option=displaypage&Itemid=703&op=page#judith

Link to The Problem of Leni Reifenstahl by lloyd Eby:

http://www.worldandi.com/public/1994/february/ar3.cfm

Link to a student research paper by Celia Soudry on Riefenstahl  prepared for web publication by Professor H. Marcuse of  University of California Santa Barbara:

http://www.history.ucsb.edu/faculty/marcuse/classes/133p/133p04papers/CSoudryRiefenstahl045.htm

Link to Reappraising Triumph of the Will by Alan Marcus in Film Studies Journal:

http://journals.mup.man.ac.uk/cgi-bin/pdfdisp//MUPpdf/FSS/V4I0/040075.pdf

Bright Lights review of the documentary:

http://www.brightlightsfilm.com/26/riefenstahl.html

BBC Storyville link on the documentary:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/bbcfour/documentaries/storyville/riefenstahl.shtml

BBC Obituary of Reifenstahl:

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/entertainment/3093574.stm

Link to an interesting BBC page which reviews  and provides links to the responses of the German press to the death of Leni reifenstahl;

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/entertainment/3097018.stm

Below link to a BBc  Nick Higham video on Riefenstahl  

http://news.bbc.co.uk/media/video/39316000/rm/_39316742_riefenstahl13_higham_vi.ram

Review of the documentary from Kamera.co.uk:

http://www.kamera.co.uk/features/leniriefenstahl.html

Link to Jewish Virtual Library:

http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/biography/lriefenstahl.html


The Holy Mountain, 1926: Dir. Arnold Fank

The Holy Mountain






Eureka Holy Mountain Cover

Eureka Video of Holy Mountain









Holy Mountain Still 1

Still From Holy Mountain








Holy Mountain Still 3

Still From Holy Mountain




Notes

This post is currently what I'm describing as a 'phase one' post. A synopsis and contextual and critical comments will be added at a later date. Through the webliography below this post thus serves to act as a resource page. This will allow prospective course members and other visitors to conduct some basic research into the relevant film. For further research you may also consuly the relevant bibliography. Please use the bibliographies tag in the sidebar to access this resource. 

Webliography 


At the time of writing the following sites I consider the best researched academically or else are present because of the quality of their links. This is searched down to page 10 of Google.


Wikipedia on the genre of the Mountain Film

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mountain_film

Link to a Goethe Institute Los Angeles retrospective of Fanck films with synopses:

http://www.cinema.ucla.edu/calendar/calendardetails.aspx?details_type=2&id=138

link to officual Eureka webpage on Holy Mountain:

http://www.eurekavideo.co.uk/moc/catalogue/the-holy-mountain/

Link to a blog discussion site run by Doug Cummings who is a part of the Masters of Cinema Group with links to Eureka Video:

http://filmjourney.weblogger.com/discuss/msgReader$882

Link to the article Mountains and Modernity by Eric Rentschler in New German Critique. This is a Jstor article and requires your library to have a subscription:

http://links.jstor.org/sici?sici=0094-033X(199023)51%3C137%3AMAMRTB%3E2.0.CO%3B2-W

Film video site with links to synopses of other Fanck films:

http://www.walkerart.org/archive/9/AE7371C9B1EAC1E5616E.htm

This Riefenstahl site is a strongly hagiographic one which nevertheless contains useful information both about her and on the page below about The Holy Mountain. Given the highly controversial nature of Riefenstahl's career any readings of the site need to to be critically astute.

http://www.riefenstahl.org/actress/1926/

BFI databses link:

http://ftvdb.bfi.org.uk/sift/title/229901

Link to a short article on a German / Japanese co-production with the script written by Fanck inspired by the Holy Mountain:

http://www.mori.art.museum/english/contents/tokyo-berlin/about/img/Daughter.pdf


November 14, 2006

Nazi Film Genres

Out more than 1,000 feature films produced during the Nazi period relatively few were directly propagandistic. As both Petley and Taylor have noted Goebbels was concerned with developing covert rather than overt ideological content: ‘At the moment propaganda is recognised as such, it becomes ineffective’, said Goebbels. One of the most notable directly propagandist films includes Riefenstahl’s Triumph of the Will (1935). It was a huge Nazi rally choreographed to fit in with the film, which can be seen as the nadir of Fascism. While this film is often classed as a ‘documentary’ this underplays the importance of the cinema in the creation of the event itself. It was a huge spectacle carefully designed to be filmed as a part of an emotive and overwhelming display of power. Reifenstahl discussed aspects of the spectacle and how it could best be filmed with Hitler himself. The film is now best considered as an historical document which is evidence of how Nazism consolidated its power both in the content and simultaneous control of the media it can also be directly linked to the principle of Fuhrerprinzip. The film’s importance in relation to the consolidation of Nazi power after 1933 means that a separate analysis will be given

Riefenstahl also produced films which glorified the idealised Aryan body in Olympia (1938). Olympia used 45 cameras some suspended from balloons shooting 400 hours of footage edited down to 4 hours.

Woman gymnast in Riefenstahl

As an actor Riefenstahl also contributed to the Mountain-film genre starring in many of Arnold Fanck’s films such as Storm Over Mont Blanc /Avalanche (1930) which was a part of the national mythology.

Recent analysis of the more generic film output has challenged earlier work by people such as Erwin Leiser who considered that most cinematic output of this type was ‘distractive entertainment’. Rather it is important to analyse how a culture of everyday fascism was ideologically developed through this cinematic output.

It is very important to consider the cinematic texts within the overall contextual situation of the politics and economic situation of the time. The film industry and its products need to be considered as a substantive part of a range of mutually interacting ideologically driven media strategies in which the viewing and exhibitionary conditions are an important part. The task for the analyst as Rentschler sees it is to comprehend the way in which films interacted with and resonated within larger social constellations.

The Nazi Star System within Genres

The commercial need for a star system to compete with Hollywood had already been established and under the Hugenberg ownership of Ufa this approach had been successful prior to the Nazi government. Cinema in Third Reich continued this trend. Any star system has the function of collapsing the boundaries between persona and character. The projection of audience desire and anxieties onto stars has an important ideological function of this style of cinema. Along with the more obvious hierarchical elements of star systems this was fundamental to Nazi cinema and the huge salaries and regal treatment afforded to the recognised stars ensured that they were not lured to Hollywood.

The salaries paid were unsustainable so the Nazi government effectively subsidised their opulent lifestyles. The discourses of stardom in the media and their lifestyle which was exotic and glamorous, provided an outlet for pent-up desires. As much as anything it is this aspect of Nazi cinema which can be compared with Horkheimer and Adorno in their analysis of the ‘Culture Industry’: “Pleasure always means not to think about anything, to forget suffering even where it is shown. Basically it is helplessness. It is flight; not, as is asserted, flight from a wretched reality, but from the last remaining thought of resistance.” (Horkheimer & Adorno: The Culture Industry, p 144).

Under American Liberalism the culture industry served the needs of monopoly capitalism whilst in authoritarian regimes it served the interests of the state and its controlling elites more directly. Whichever way it is considered, ‘It’s only entertainment’, as a statement functions as an ideological chimera.

There was a fundamental paradox in Nazi cinema that many of the female stars acted more as an exoticised and eroticised pole of attraction based upon non-Aryan models of womanhood. Indeed many were foreign. This analysis of the Nazi star system drawn from Sabine Hake appears to be directly contradictory to that of Jill Branston who has drawn heavily on the work of Erica Carter. Branston suggests that the propaganda demands of the Nazis laid an emphasis upon ‘the biological-racial essence of character, which ‘should’ correspond to external appearance via cinematic realism.’

Zarah Leander in Das Herz der Konigin

Above the Swedish actress Zarah Leander in a costume drama. A genre often considered as inherently conservative. Below another Swedish actress Kristina Soederbaum in one of the most blatantly propagandistic and overtly anti-semitic films of the Nazi era directed by Veit Harlan. Here the ‘historical’ costume drama is undoubtedly linked to a Nazi agenda.

Kristina Soederbaum in Jud Suss

The development of genres was important as a way of wooing and keeping popular audiences ‘ One of the main psychological functions of genre in general is to produce specific emotions (joy, fear, sadness) and process them through predetermined forms that offer imaginary solutions to social problems’ . During the Third Reich the genre range was intentionally limited. Crime, thrillers and courtroom dramas were seen as drawing attention to taboo subjects and therefore no investment was forthcoming in these genres.

Directors who were committed Nazis became associated mainly with the historical and biographical film. Comedy is also an interesting area of cinema to consider with about half the feature length films produced in Germany after 1933 being comedy hybrids such as rustic comedies and musical comedies. Of these hybrids the white collar comedies managed to retain some of their social awareness.

The Comedy Genre

It has been argued that far from being harmless entertainment ‘comedy functioned to make German film audiences emotionally pliable for a propagandistic consensus constructed across all media discourses.’ This can be seen as a double aesthetic strategy. On the one hand the strategy functioned to separate the unacceptable characters to the regime from ‘legitimate’ society. At the same time the way the comedy operated institutionalised the norms of Nazi ideology in ways which easily translated into the everyday life of much of the population.

It has been noted that the visual aspects of the comedy was subordinated to the verbal which allowed for more control of the text giving a stronger preferred reading. This has been compared to the more visually based comedic output of US cinema. For example, Horak notes the career of Heinz Ruhman which traversed Weimar, Nazi and the Bonn periods. Ruhman’s character was always seemingly subverting order in order to grab a piece of power for himself and thus integrate himself into the status quo. Ruhman’s roles are frequently infantilist after 1933 but without the subversive potential which Horak assigns to US infantilist comedians such as Stan Laurel.

Below two images of Ruhman.

Heinz Ruhman 1

Heinz Ruhman 2

By comparison with the Hollywood infantilists Ruhman’s infantilism is a repression of sexuality in favour of lavatorial humour. Horak suggests that German comedians from Ruhman to Hans Moser to Heinz Erhardt are de-erotisised or emasculated. Horak further argues that this may be because Nazi culture extolling the woman’s role as mother has removed sexual discourse from the cinema. This fits in with Horak’s hypothesis that sexual desire is entirely repressed in Nazi cinema which functions to ensure the culture of sacrifice for the Fatherland.

Please follow link for article on Musical Comedies under Nazism

Other genres that continued to be popular were the Bergfilm (mountain film) and the Heimat genre. Nether of the genres originated with the Third Reich but both were comfortably adaptable to Nazi ideologies. Fanck’s Bergfilm comedies of the Weimar period often featured Leni Riefenstahl. Both the White Ecstasy (1931) and The Big Leap (1927), concentrate on the physicality of the ski race thus repressing sexuality. The comedy lacks the anti-authoritarianism of Hollywood slapstick.

Audience and Distribution

From the above review we can see that there are currently differences of analysis of Nazi cinema. There is a need to pay more attention to the concerns of audience and the patterns of distribution of various types of film. For example in Hollywood cinema it is well known that ‘B’ movie Westerns were mainly targeted at male rural and small town audiences. Discovering which films were distributed to which parts of Germany would help deepen the analysis of how the Nazi media strove to create a Nazi imaginary in both major industrial cities which had sophisticated audiences and isolated rural areas. As a sub-genre of rural comedies has been identified a useful research development would be to find out if they were screened in large cities and whether they were considered popular.

The evidence proffered by Taylor in his analysis of ‘Triumph of the Will’ (which is largely regurgitated in the notes on the recently released DVD), suggests that it did very well in the Ufa first run cinemas in the major cities of Nazi Germany, yet it was relatively unsuccessful in the more rural parts of the country. This is anomalous because we know that the Nazis failed to win the political control of any major industrial city while there were proper elections. We also know that the mass consistent political base of Nazism came from the rural and small town areas of Germany. What explains the apparent success of this overtly propagandistic film in the large cities? Given the Nazis effectiveness at organising ‘Mass Ornament’ and the fundamental importance of the content in consolidating Nazi control the machinery was simply not going to allow it to be a failure. Were the mass of Nazi supporters bussed into the big city cinemas? There is room here for further research.

Overall it seems clear that a useful area of further research would analyse more closely the patterns of distribution of the particular types of films and their target audiences. There is plenty of evidence that the Nazis were good at targeting different audiences in their political campaigning to gain power, which gives the analyst good cause to believe that they recognised that audience was never going to be totally homogenised but more heterogeneous. The problem here becomes developing a range of films with a consistent Nazi-approved content that appeals to a wide range of audiences.

To solve this problem it seems likely that, as in other countries, the multi-generic or genre-hybrid film which is likely to have the most highly paid stars will be constructed in such a way as to appeal to a broader spectrum of people in relation to their class and intellectual background and Hake specifically use the term ‘cosmopolitan atmosphere’ required for commercial success across the domestic and international markets. The use of the term ‘cosmopolitan’ has a certain irony as on Peter Wollen’s analysis ‘cosmopolitan’ as a term tends to refer to mobility of Jewishness. It leaves me with the question of whether the numbers of films with exoticised and eroticised stars was more of an urban than a rural phenomenon?

Ideological Interventions

There is some evidence that use of the cinema to promote certain ideological priorities as the Nazis consolidated and developed their grip on Germany can be discerned in certain key films. Riefenstahl’s documentary style Triumph of the Will can be seen as directly corresponding to the myth of Nazism that they had directly seized power. This rather contradicts the reality that Hitler was placed into the position of Chancellor by sleight of hand and collusion by von Papen and others. This was done at a time when the support for the Nazis was beginning to wane and the organisation was facing bankruptcy after two election campaigns in 1932. At the time they thought they could muzzle the Nazis and use them for their own ends.

This was followed by Riefenstahl’s Olympia, again a documentary style paean to the idealised Nazi body which can be directly linked to the main ideological campaign of ‘Gleichschaltung’ the so-called ‘co-ordination’ of all political, economic and cultural activities. The Berlin Olympics was the perfect vehicle to celebrate ideologies of youth, purity and fitness, which can ultimately be linked to the Nazi eugenics programme which had been rapidly installed to deal with ‘unhealthy Aryans’ soon after the Nazis came to power. This also corresponds to the obsession with health and hygiene.

Cinema and Euthanasia

The issue of eugenics and resistance to some of the most outrageous aspects of this came to the fore in 1941. In August Bishop Galen the Bishop of Munster delivered a sermon detailing how innocent sick people were being murdered with their families being given false death notices. Copies of the sermon were delivered throughout the Reich, the RAF dropped copies of the sermon over German cities and Burleigh cites responses from an officer in northern Lapland reporting that his soldiers had received copies of the sermon. Galen was too popular for the Nazis to simply take him out and as a result a major ideological response came from the cinema with the release of Ich Klage an (I Accuse) (1941, dir Liebeneiner, which presented a case for ‘mercy killing’ or involuntary euthanasia.

The wife killed by her doctor husband as a mercy killing. Ich Klage an
The plot of Ich Klage an was based around a doctor of pathology whose wife develops multiple sclerosis. Originally against euthanasia he becomes convinced by means of a baby who he has saved which becomes horribly deformed. The doctor ends up by killing his wife.

Trial scene from Ich Klage an

The subsequent trial becomes a showcase for the Nazi position utilising some of the best known stars of the cinema at the time. According to Welch (2002) the audience reception was generally positive. Reports of the SD (Security police) indicate that members of the poorer classes were sympathetic on financial grounds as the sick would have been a ‘burden’.

The wife who was murdered by mercy killing in Ich Klage an

The Catholic clergy in the south were particularly resistant to the film and encouraged their congregations to avoid it. They interpreted the film as a direct response to Galen’s sermon. Apparently some younger doctors viewed the film favourably. The film attracted 18 million viewers which for Welsh ‘Reveals an alarming flight from reality, a willingness on the part of German audiences to delegate responsibility, and a reluctance to face the moral consequences of their actions.’ Welsh, 2002: p 91).

Anti-Semitic Cinema

Whilst the general output of the Nazified film industry largely ignored the Jewish in a form of structured absence, a number of key anti-Semitic films were released towards the end of the 1930s and into the wartime period. These coincided with the increasingly militant campaign against the Jews being conducted by the Nazis. Kristallnacht in early November 1938 has become infamous and marked the beginning of a new phase of anti-Semitism which became constructed as the ‘Jewish Question’. Welsh argues that film was co-ordinated with other parts of the mass media to conduct an ideological / propaganda campaign of anti-Semitism. The first of these were Robert and Bertram (1939) and Leinen aus Irland (1939). Both work within the comedy genre to caricature Jews as subhuman. In the same year Goebbels banned the term ‘anti-Semitic’ replacing it with the expression ‘defence against the Jews’.

In Bismark (1940), dir Liebeneiner the hybrid genre form of Biopic and celebration of German heritage sees an assassination attempt by a Jew on Bismark. Below images from Bismark (1940).

Bismark 1940

Bismark 1940

1940 also saw the release of three of the most infamous anti-Semitic films produced by the Nazis: Die Rothchilds, Jud Suss, Der ewige Jude (The Wandering Jew). Arguably these films were produced to help justify and rationalise the process of deporting Jews from Austria and Czechoslovakia to Poland.

These films were marketed under the guise of being ‘factual’. Jud Suss is the story of a Jew conducting a political machination in Wurttemburg. The story ends with the hanging of Suss and the banning of Jews from Stuttgart in 1738. Bringing together Nazi themes under the guise of popular entertainment the SD reports on favourable audience responses and Goebbels considered the film a success from the popularity of it. We don’t know who stayed away from these screenings. In Heimkehr (1941) Jews are represented as encouraging the Poles to commit atrocities against German minorities.

Conclusion

The cinema of the Third Reich saw the development of a monopolistic system in which the interests of the main industrial players and the NSDAP became merged. The period saw the rationalisation of the industry turning it into a highly profitable enterprise with a core strategy of developing an industry able to compete with Hollywood. The industry willingly complied immediately with Nazi norms of anti-Trade unionism and anti-Semitism. Many of the more authoritarian ideas of the Nazis in both content and management of the industry are likely to be discovered in a study of Ufa after its take-over by the extreme nationalist Hugenberg during the late Weimar period.

The ideological leanings of its products were strongly different to Hollywood and the output of other democracies. Holding a position of covert rather than overt ideology to win hearts and minds many genres were repressed, replaced and reinvented. Genre was used as an ideological tool even in the realm of comedy which is often associated with subversion and transgression. Within the genres themselves sexuality was repressed and replaced with the aestheticised body, which could serve the Fatherland as either soldier or idealised mother. It seemingly displayed a Fascist utopianism in which social problems were removed by magic by not being discussed at all.

In Nazi Germany the conditions of exhibition further supported the ideological nature of the content with their strongly ‘preferred readings’ based upon Nazi ideologies. Jews had been banned from cinemas and people were unable to come late to the shows which always had propaganda and newsreels on first. The weight of contemporary criticism now sees Nazi cinema holistically as an ideological machine, covering all aspects of the institution of cinema from production, regulation, audience, content, criticism, aesthetics and finance. This is in contradiction to earlier work which saw the generic output such as comedies as simple distractions.

Textually-based readings which argue that individual films can be seen to contain ‘ruptures and contradictions’ fail to contextualise and consider the mutually performative nature of all the key parameters of Nazi cinema as an institution in which all aspects of the media institutions worked within a totalising policy environment devoted to fostering a Nazi ideologically based concept of the everyday. There are those who take a different perspective including Antje Ashied.

Textually based readings across a wide range of texts should be able to discern a distinctively fascist aesthetic which aestheticised politics and the body in what might be termed as ‘hyper-naturalistic’ in other words a representation of ‘natural’ which is far more than natural. Nazi cinema eschewed cinematic techniques such as montage. Where possible it privileged the verbal over the visual with the exception of highly choreographed distinctly propagandist products.

Much of the research work has been focused upon Nazi feature films yet the role of newsreels and documentaries also needs to be analysed more rigorously. The figures used by Rentschler providing an overview of Nazi cinema also show up some interesting features which could be usefully investigated further. It is not until 1936, three years into the Nazi regime long after the unemployment rate had been radically reduced that the German cinema has recovered so that both ticket sales and gross income exceed the figures of 1929. This seems to indicate that at this time there wasn’t an enormous amount of enthusiasm for Nazi style cinema in the early years of the regime.

An interesting pair of figures that emerges is the enormous increase in both cinemas and box -office numbers between the years 1938 and 1939. The rise in box-office figures can be explained by interest in the newsreels during the early and successful part of the war. Presumably families of soldiers would wish to keep up to date about events. Also of interest is the huge rise in the number of cinemas of approximately 1,500 in the space of a year. This is unlikely to have been driven by purely commercial factors and provides an indicator about just how important a role the Nazi cultural policy makers thought cinema could play. Given that there is evidence from elsewhere that Hitler was expecting to fight a major European war in the very early 1940s it is not unreasonable to speculate that this massive growth of cinema building which ran parallel to the growing Nazification of the content of the films once they had consolidated their power was part of a coherent strategy which understood Nazi cinema functioning simultaneously as an ideological battering ram and a growing global cultural industry.

Overall there is still much work which needs to be done to tease out the full extent of how cinema was developed for Nazi ends during the time of the regime. It is a cinema which was in many ways more invidious than the purely propaganda models recognise and it was built into the structure of the industry as well as the content itself. The content across all cinematic genres was being designed consciously or unconsciously to promote everyday Nazism in ways which no other regime has ever done.


October 05, 2006

Triumph of the Will: Riefenstahl Consolidating Nazi Power

The Stadium in Nuremberg

Leni Riefenstahl’s film of the Nuremberg Nazi Congress of 1934 has frequently been hailed as a significant artistic documentary film. Reifenstahl died very recently and up until that time she consistently denied any association with the Nazis defending the film as a ‘work of art’. However the fact that she made another film about the Nazi Nuremburg congress in 1933 tends to undermine that argument. Dealing with the film and with Reifenstahl is awkward. As the article below by Marcus points out Reappraising Triumph of the Will it is possibly the most discussed film and director in the history of cinema to date only possibly exceeded by Welles & Hitchcock. However as a quick trawl through the internet will show you there is a lot of not very good discussion and much of it has little or no historical contextual background. Below I focus particularly on the representation of the Army in the film and the underlying issues surrounding this as it appears to have been little covered elsewhere.

Riefenstahl with Hitler

The film itself came out at a highly significant time for the Nazis as it celebrated Hitlers process of consolidation of power which took place during the period from the end of January 1933 through the infamous ‘Night of the Long Knives on June 30th 1934 followed by Hitler becoming Fuhrer after the death of Hindenberg. The film had a lot of work to do to spread the message of consolidation. Below the film is examined with a lot of attention being paid to to the composition of the target audience it was meant to reach. Whatever else the brutality against the Left, Jews and even liberals within the administrative posts in Germany meant that few could be unaware of the course of events. Riefenstahl’s denial rings very hollow.

This extract from the film is at the George Washington University and shows the reception that Hitler got when he landed at Nuremberg. It is the moment which Reifenstahl has been building up to. Reappraising Triumph of the Will
This is a particularly useful recent article. It contains a critical report on an interview conducted by Marcus himself with Reifenstahl. Marcus notes many of the diecrepancies and contradictions with previous interviews that she had given.

This a very useful article because it places Triumph of the Will squarely in the context of the other films which Reifenstahl made for Hitler. She had filmed the Nuremberg rally in 1933 gaining very valuable experience of the place and space of the rallies themselves. She also made a film of the rally the following year. This film was to strongly feature the Werhmacht as the Werhmacht had complained that there was very little about their manoeuvres in Triumph of the Will.

Animated Gif of Nuremburg Images

Marcus spends a brief time on the issue of the army and what he says is perceptive and useful. The role of the army is something which most commentators either fail to consider or skim over. Coming at this film within the context of seeing the film as an important part of the whole of the period of the Nazi consolidation of power rather than a decontextualised psuedo documentary allows us as critics to get a much better handle on the film. Below a representation from Visconti signifying the free reign of terror which the SA had between March 1933 for over a year. However much of what they were doing was alienting the middle and upper class base of support for the Nazis.

The SA practicing on Effigies in Visconti

The role of the army in Hitler’s plans after taking power were crucial. In the first instance the army needed to stand by in a ‘neutral’ fashion whilst Hitler carried out his institutional purges during 1933 & 1934. It was the role of the Army in the future of Nazi Germany which was one of the fundamental points of difference between Roehm head of the SA and Hitler along with his unquestioning supporters such as Himmler and Goebbels the SS.

Ernst Roehm Leader of the SA

An excellent cinematic representation of this difference is shown within Visconti’s much under-rated film The Damned. Roehm wanted the SA to replace the army and be the spearhead for a more fundamental revolution at home and to lead the struggle for Lebensraum the Nazis imperialist plans for eastwards expansion. The Werhmacht were fundamentally opposed to the SA. whilst consolidating his position Hitler had no choice but to buy off the army – he obviously didn’t need a civil war with a fully professional armed fighting force. furthermore the Prussian backbone of the army had much in common with the genral aims of resoring Germany’s place in the World which would ensure a massive expansion of the armed forces. The kind of debauchery which Roehm was engaged in at the time of the massacre was helpful to Hitler in calming disturbed elements of the SA. visconti’s representation of this is largely based upon the reports of William Shirer an American journalist in Germany at the time.

The Debauchery of the SA

The Wehrmacht colluded in the ‘Night of the Long Knives’. It was ensured that they were confined to barracks whilst those identified as the greatest threats amongst the SA were purged. Furthermore it is reported that the Wehrmacht aslo provided logistical support for the SS to carry out the massacre. Shortly afterwards the officers of the army swore their personal allegiance to Hitler as Fuhrer. The seriousness of swearing an oath of allegiance within the Prussian officer code cannot be overestimated. Over the coming years this would prove to be a fundamental pillar of strength for Hitler. Below is an image of von Blomberg who appears on the podium with Hitler watching the manoeuvres. This would be seen by many of the film’s eventual audiences as highly significant.

Von Blomberg a key element in Hitlers rise to absolute power

Whilst the army might have wished to have been better represented the key target audience of the film needed to be the SA and all its supporters who had so recently had their leadership brutally removed. The mass popularity of Hitler and the unifying of Germany as a Nation with even the Saarland – at that time still under occupation – being included. There currently appears to be no evidence concerning the amount and type of footage of the army however it would be extraordinarily if Hitler wasn’t very aware of and had some level of input at the policy level of exactly what was in the film whatever Reifenstahl says. In another section I have placed a brief article on the re-armament policies of the Nazis and the development of these over the course of the early years of the regime. This historical detail will hopefully help to shed light on aspects of Triumph of the Will. I will also be placing a review of the process of the Nazi consolidation of power which I take to be from the end of January 1933 to the release of Triumph of the Will. This film needs to be seen as a spectacular represesentation of a spectacular event with a range of target audiences in mind. As a piece of performative filmmaking which come close to Wagner’s ideal of the gesamtkunstwerk then it is hard to beat. This link will take you to some realplayer downloads. I find it takes them a time to start up. The prelude to the Meistersinger was Reifenstahl’s ‘choice’. The fact that Wagner was Hitler’s favourite naturally had nothing to do with it. But then its a pain having to out up with that anti-Semite as well :-). Wagner was entirely appropriate for Riefenstahl’s score to the film, but then that was art – nothing to do with anti-Semitism at all!


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