Extremely talented an innovative female German director who unfortunately was selected to make a movie for the Nazis, eventually ending her career. Oh well.
Triumph of the Will (1934) -- Imagine you are a young, talented filmmaker. The head of your government (someone you admire, someone who seems to have the best interests of the country in mind) asks you to shoot a movie for him. You do an exceptional job of capturing a bunch of spectacular parades and peace-loving speeches. A decade later, the same man ends up being responsible for the death of about six million people in an attempted genocide. Yikes. That's what happened to Leni Riefenstahl. It's hard to watch this movie today, since swastikas are the modern symbol for evil. Hell, Hitler's moustache is a modern symbol for evil. You can watch this as a propaganda film if you like, but note that the propaganda here is that Hitler looks like a good guy. The propaganda has nothing to do with the Aryan race or the inferiority of Jews. At any rate, it's propaganda for nothing now since World War II is long gone. It's best then to watch this as a movie that gave us tons of the cinematic vocabulary that we take for granted today. (Go watch Star Wars after seeing this. Lucas was a plagiarizer.) Leni Riefenstahl didn't do anything by halves. She could have shot this flat newsreel style and everyone would have been happy. (I'm sure that's what Hitler actually expected.) Instead she got shots from airplanes, from self-made elevators, shots right up in Hitler's face, track shots, emotive close-ups of regular people that made them look like actors, and every other trick in the book that she had to write herself. Forget for two hours that Adolf Hitler eventually went down as one of the most evil sons of bitches to ever live and view this movie as the first of its kind: the documentary as an art, not just a document.
Day of Freedom (1936) -- "Leftover" segment from Triumph of the Will of the German army demonstrating their weapons and airplanes, eventually flying off in the formation of a swastika. The available version is only seventeen minutes long, the original being almost forty. Had it been included in Triumph of the Will (it wasn't for technical difficulties, apparently) it would have been nice, but by itself it doesn't work as well.
Olympia (1938) -- In the same way that Leni Riefenstahl turned footage of a speech and parade into art, she did the same (and arguably more so) for coverage of the Olympics. Think of the way the Olympics look now on TV while you're watching this. We don't think of sports and athletics much as art these days, but she showed us that it was. Lots of slow-motion shots of graceful limbs performing amazing physical feats. Anyone, by the way, who says the opening shots are meant to demonstrate Aryan superiority are only placing their own historical prejudices on top of what's not actually there. What is there is simply a translation of Greek statues of the original Olympic athletes into real-life people. Duh. Unfortunately, sports coverage became dull and uninteresting as TV rolled around, but moviemakers were still able to be inspired by this film for their future projects. Some of it even looks like some of the beautiful shots from Disney's Fantasia.
Copyright (c) Feb 2006 - Apr 2007 by Rusty Likes Movies