Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Leni Riefenstahl's Triumph of the Will (1935)

Riefenstahl's "Triumph of the Will" is often described as the  most famous propaganda film of all time.  Most historians agree that 'Hitler's favorite film director' did create one of the greatest works of cinematographic propaganda of the 20th century.   Riefenstahl did not agree; in a 1964 interview she argued that the film was a documentary:
"If you see this film again today you ascertain that it doesn't contain a single  reconstructed scene. Everything in it is true. And it contains no tendentious commentary at all. It is history. A pure historical film... it is film-vérité. It reflects the truth that was then in 1934, history. It is therefore a documentary. Not a propaganda film. Oh! I know very well what propaganda is. That consists of recreating events in order to illustrate a thesis, or, in the face of certain events, to let one thing go in order to accentuate another. I found myself, me, at the heart of an event which was the reality of a certain time and a certain place. My film is composed of what stemmed from that."

Despite her protestations,  this film is an important historical document of Nazi propaganda and it deserves to be viewed critically by students seeking to understand the nature of Nazi ideology in the years leading to the Second World War.   For a great discussion of Leni Riefenstahl read Susan Sontag's "Fascinating Fascism" (from Under the Sign of Saturn, 1980.)

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