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Leni Riefenstahl
August 27, 2007 1:12 PM   Subscribe

The wonderful, horrible films of Leni Riefenstahl
posted by vronsky (37 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite

 
Triumph of the Will was an amazing film. I wonder if it could have been done so well if the Nazism/Fascism was removed. Guess not, liberal democracies have never impressed me when it comes to rallies, and Communism ruins art.
posted by Gnostic Novelist at 1:22 PM on August 27, 2007


I don't think that the Olympia part that's featured here does the movie justice. It's especially the way the sports have been filmed that was quite innovative.
I remember the long jump and the marathon as very filmic.
Almost 70 years ago.
posted by jouke at 1:24 PM on August 27, 2007


I meant the prologue video with all the boring greek statues. The diving one is examplary.
posted by jouke at 1:27 PM on August 27, 2007


[Hey, Gnostic Novelist—if you could check your email, I'd appreciate it.]
posted by cortex at 1:31 PM on August 27, 2007


Gnostic Novelist has a point. Say what you will, the Nazis were masters at martial design, style and spectacle.
posted by Faint of Butt at 1:39 PM on August 27, 2007


I just found out last week that Leni and I share a birthday! I was pretty delighted, 'cause it meant that all day long, whenever a friend wished me a happy birthday, I could say, "You know who else wanted his friend to have a happy birthday today?"
posted by Greg Nog at 1:42 PM on August 27, 2007 [6 favorites]


I watched the Wonderful Horrible Life of Leni Riefenstahl a few months ago. She always tried to cast herself in the light of an unworldly artist who was just trying to make beautiful things, but I got the feeling from that film that she used the Reich for her own purposes as equally as it used her. Relentlessly driven artists who pursue their vision with a frightening single mindedness make intense and beautiful things, but it's very hard to listen to their creative philosophy phrased as an excuse for living in unreality without wanting to kick them down the stairs. The only thing she considered as having any import at all was what she viewed through her camera lens.
posted by oneirodynia at 1:44 PM on August 27, 2007 [1 favorite]


cortex: Nothing is there. I just sent an email to the one listed in your profile.
posted by Gnostic Novelist at 1:45 PM on August 27, 2007


Say what you will, the Nazis were masters at martial design, style and spectacle.

and at least they had an ethos, dude.
posted by COBRA! at 1:49 PM on August 27, 2007


Triumph of the Will was an amazing film. I wonder if it could have been done so well if the Nazism/Fascism was removed.

Triumph of the Will is one of the scariest films I've seen. Partly because I don't speak German. Riefenstahl was always non-commital about the Nazi party, and disavowed them later, but she said she could never apologize for making that film.

I think the most famous scene in Olympia is the diving. You almost never see the bodies hitting the water, it's just human figure after human figure arcing slo-mo through the air. Very innovative back then, and the black and white lends extra gravitas. The gymnastics stuff is similar. It's almost enough to let you watch the introductory sequence of the naked male German olympians training without cracking up.
posted by gsteff at 1:50 PM on August 27, 2007


Gotcha. Thanks.
posted by cortex at 1:51 PM on August 27, 2007


ENOUGH WITH THE YOUTUBE YER KILLIN ME WITH YER LACK OF CREATIVITY
posted by xmutex at 1:51 PM on August 27, 2007 [2 favorites]


What xmutex said.
posted by ranchocalamari at 1:59 PM on August 27, 2007


Watching The Wonderful, Horrible Life of Leni Riefenstahl a few weeks ago, I was really struck by something in her demeanor that suggests a good criterion for sniffing out fascism. Confronted again and again by the evidence of her complicity in the rise of the Nazis, her impulse is, at every point, to self-exonerate. "I was never a member of the party", "I never attended parties with Goebbels", "I had no idea what was happening in the camps", "I never used gypsy slaves in my films", blah blah blah. Any decent, morally functional human being, when confronted with the reality of atrocities to which they may, wittingly or not, have contributed, would engage in self-criticism. Shrill avoidance of culpability is the first instinct of the guilty. And on that count, Riefenstahl is a goddamn Nazi, whether or not she ever put on a brown shirt.

In time, even Sontag changed her mind on Riefenstahl. Let's not fall into the same trap of pursuing a pseudo-sophisticated aestheticism that suggests that art may be viewed apart from its political function. Sure, it's boring to reduce everything to politics. But there are times and places that politics do, indeed, matter more than anything else. Making propaganda films for fascist dictators should count as one such case, if anything does.
posted by felix betachat at 2:02 PM on August 27, 2007 [5 favorites]


I think the most famous scene in Olympia is the diving. You almost never see the bodies hitting the water, it's just human figure after human figure arcing slo-mo through the air.

Did you know that some of that footage was shot and then run backward for the final cut? That's how she achieved that disorienting effect of bodies flying through empty space.
posted by felix betachat at 2:04 PM on August 27, 2007


I think the most famous scene in Olympia is the diving. You almost never see the bodies hitting the water, it's just human figure after human figure arcing slo-mo through the air.

Actually one of the youtube clips is of the diving, and there are plenty of shots of people hitting the water.
posted by delmoi at 2:05 PM on August 27, 2007


When I watched that delmoi, I noticed that they didn't seem to put as much emphasis on the small splash that they do now. If you have watched recent olympic diving, the announcers always fetishize the splash that the divers make. Though I admit, it is hella cool when the divers nail it.
posted by vronsky at 2:11 PM on August 27, 2007


Has anybody read the new biography, Leni Riefenstahl: A Life?
posted by felix betachat at 2:11 PM on August 27, 2007


ENOUGH WITH THE YOUTUBE YER KILLIN ME WITH YER LACK OF CREATIVITY

take it to metatalk lady.

or just skip my posts like I do yours.

or, after perusing your posting history, please to show me which of your posts had even the slightest bit of creativity.
posted by vronsky at 2:17 PM on August 27, 2007


Off-topic, but related: YouTube Criticized In Germany over Neo-Nazi Clips.
posted by ericb at 2:21 PM on August 27, 2007


Actually one of the youtube clips is of the diving, and there are plenty of shots of people hitting the water.

Don't distract me with your sophistry.
posted by gsteff at 2:56 PM on August 27, 2007


ENOUGH WITH THE YOUTUBE YER KILLIN ME WITH YER LACK OF CREATIVITY

ENOUGH WITH THE WEBPAGES YER KILLIN ME WITH YER LACK OF CREATIVITY
posted by languagehat at 2:58 PM on August 27, 2007


felix, I read the Steven Bach biography and her own memoirs, which together make a fascinating course in truth & fiction, and I've got a few more Riefenstahl links here.
posted by muckster at 3:37 PM on August 27, 2007 [3 favorites]


I saw an interview with her biographer on book tv last week felix. And interesting Sontag article.
posted by vronsky at 3:59 PM on August 27, 2007


from muckster's link -


The last word on Leni Riefenstahl seems always just out of reach. After her Memoirs, Steve Bach’s new biography provides a desperately needed corrective to Leni’s own lies, evasions, and half-truths. Anybody who has seen The Wonderful, Horrible Life knows what an extraordinarily maddening, talented, obsessive, domineering, and flirtatious creature Leni was even in her nineties–and she lived to 101. For artists anywhere–but especially Germans–Leni remains endlessly perplexing. The questions raised by her life go straight to the core of history, morality, ambition, power, and cinema. The dry statement issued after her death by the German government barely scratches the surface:

Leni Riefenstahl symbolizes a German artist’s fate in the 20th Century both in her revolutionary artistic vision and in her political blindness and infatuation. No one would deny that with her talent she developed cinematic methods that have since become part of an aesthetic canon. Her career also shows that one cannot lead an honest life in service of the false, and that art is never apolitical. (297)
posted by vronsky at 4:05 PM on August 27, 2007


Riefenstahl previously on MeFi.

It's more than ironic that the woman who was so largely behind the Aryan myth for a time chose to live out her final years amongst tribals in Africa - the Maasai, I think - and, from memory, found them to be the most beautiful & complete people on the planet.
posted by UbuRoivas at 4:11 PM on August 27, 2007


Oh, Nubians.
posted by UbuRoivas at 4:12 PM on August 27, 2007


When I watched that delmoi, I noticed that they didn't seem to put as much emphasis on the small splash that they do now. If you have watched recent olympic diving, the announcers always fetishize the splash that the divers make.

In Olympic diving, divers are judged based on the amount of splash. They score higher if there is less splash, so I don't see why announcers wouldn't comment on it and viewers at home wouldn't be interested in seeing it.

Of course, her intent was different.
posted by Shakeer at 4:24 PM on August 27, 2007


No discussion of Leni is complete with out a reading of my girl Susan Sontag's essay Fascinating Fascism. It's a long read but it's worth it. Basically what it comes down to is the discussion of fascist aesthetics, i.e. the formal qualities in Leni's films are inherently fascist, as they mostly are designed to venerate a great leader while obliterating individual identity in favor of the group. I haven't read the essay in a while but I think it draws a parallel to Busby Berkeley musicals* where these same kind of aesthetics were in play.

As for this post, total Mehfilter. A topic like this deserves more than just three YouTube clips, links to two books on amazon and a Wikipedia page. A topic like this deserves an in depth variety of links, all of which can be found in a five minute google section.

*Skip ahead to 2:30 for a good example.
posted by PostIronyIsNotaMyth at 5:29 PM on August 27, 2007


Shame she never got a chance to film Atlas Shrugged.
posted by parki at 5:54 PM on August 27, 2007


yeah, Nubians UbuRoivas;)
posted by vronsky at 6:02 PM on August 27, 2007


Somebody mixed Elliot Smith and Triumph of the Will:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=21xGjMIs2wc
posted by mecran01 at 8:37 PM on August 27, 2007


Thanks for the post vronsky! I've been meaning to see some of Leni's work but never got around to it.
posted by hadjiboy at 9:23 PM on August 27, 2007


"A topic like this deserves an in depth variety of links, all of which can be found in a five minute google section."

It's 25 minutes of film, I thought that was enough. But it is an open thread, knock yourself out.
posted by vronsky at 10:13 PM on August 27, 2007


Wow. Sorry. That came off way more dickish than I intended. I best check myself next time, lest I wreck myself.
posted by PostIronyIsNotaMyth at 1:30 AM on August 28, 2007 [1 favorite]


Not the Nubians but the Nuba. The photos are spectacular -- and after Africa, she still had a career as the world's oldest scuba diver and underwater photographer ahead of her. Whatever else you might want to say about Leni, she possessed an incredible vitality.
posted by muckster at 3:27 AM on August 28, 2007


Gnostic Novelist has a point. Say what you will, the Nazis were masters at martial design, style and spectacle.

"National icons are always neutral for her, with the exception of Nazi Germany's, and this not so much from a sense of historical evil (though she certainly has that) as from an awareness of a scary excess of design talent. Hitler had had entirely too brilliant a graphics department, and had understood the power of branding all too well."
-- William Gibson, Pattern Recognition
posted by sparkletone at 12:57 AM on August 29, 2007 [1 favorite]


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