Monday, August 22, 2016

Leni Riefenstahl: Pioneer Propagandist

Today marks the birthday in 1902 of the German film maker, Leni Riefenstahl (1902-2003). If you were in school during the third quarter of the 20th century there's a likely chance you are familiar with her landmark 1935 film, Triumph of the Will. This legendary propaganda piece was the product of her fascination with Adolph Hitler, the National Socialist movement and his desire to document the party rally in Nuremberg in 1934. It was the second film she produced for Hitler and its success, as well as their ongoing friendship, resulted in other notable projects but nothing approached the success of Triumph of the Will. At the same time, her association with the party, its principals, and her use of the enforced labor of talented Jews brought her a brief prison term at the end of World War II. She was also shunned for three decades by the world-wide film industry.

Hitler greets Riefenstahl in 1934

In the last quarter of her life of 102 years she focused on still photography of nature and culture in Africa. At age 72, she developed an interested in underwater photography, became a certified diver, and went on to produce two books and one film featuring marine life. 

Riefenstahl reached the heights of creativity and controversy in her lifetime. I don't expect interpretations of her legacy will change. To admire her amazing technical innovation in documentary film making one has to ignore her association with evil. It is an association she denied but the evidence in her life and work cause us to suspect otherwise. At this point we are left only with the hard evidence that she was a genius behind the motion picture camera.

Here is the evidence of her talent: The opening sequences from Triumph of the Will...

...and the opening sequence from Olympia (1936) documenting the famous Berlin Games. NEAR-NUDITY AND BARE BREAST WARNING


Photos and Illustrations:

Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-R99035 / CC-BY-SA

Text:, Leni Riefenstahl, Leni Riefenstahl

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