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Lukas Werth
09-08-2006, 03:29 PM
Being German and trying to accept this aspect of German identity as a responsibility, it is not easy for me to contribute to this string. However, here are my thoughts: Riefenstahl was, for all I can see, able to create great pictures. Being an Anthropologist by education, I have admired for a long time her pictures of the Nuba. I am aware of the critique that she re-created the same aesthetics, a celebration of physical strength and alertness, thought to be also a Nazi ideal, which she did in her Olympics pictures, but personally i don't think this critique really holds water (though my own efforts to engage with another cultural context are very different, see my website below, the gallery "mystical Islam"). For me, the Nuba pictures show an effort of a real engagement and a respect for another people, and I respect that.

In the Third Reich, Leni Riefenstahl uncritically allowed herself to be made use of her talent, and to thrive on her political connections. Later she admitted she was misled, but she also played her enthusiasm down. It is difficult to throw the first stone here, and difficult, also for me, even though I have been told much by my parents and grand parents, and read on the subject, to really imagine what the feeling of life is when one lives through such a time. Easy to say one should resist, leave the country - where, for most people? Knowledge of foreign languages was not common then, people had families, children, employment. You have only one life to live... But on the other hand, there were people who resisted, who either left when they were famous or rich enough, or tried to make secret or half-open stances against official views, very dangerous at the time, even really lived through the daily hell of being humiliated, bullied, maybe incarcerated, tortured and killed.

For me, this is an open question, maybe not at all resolvable once and for all, really a question about the nature of evil, and human fallibility.
For a comparative note: since long time, I think that the idea of the uniqueness of the German disaster is misconceived (not because I would want to diminish it), and that there were two great catastrophes in the middle of the 20th century alone, instigated by Hitler and Stalin. Now, I admire Sergej Eisenstein's films which were certainly politically correct, but still more I like Michail Bulgakow's novel "The Master and Margerita", not politically correct at all, and published only posthumously.

In Germany, it was the luck and the chance of people like Guenter Grass to wake up when they were young, to look around and perceive the disaster, and to go on and lead a free life, and it is his lasting merit to have shown to Germany, and the world, the power of temptation, the subtle seduction of ordinary people. In Russia, people had no such chance. Solshenizyn tried the same for his country, perhaps not with quite the same talent, but he was bullied a lifetime, had to go into exile - and he is lucky to have got out!

Roger Hicks
09-08-2006, 03:34 PM
there were two great catastrophes in the middle of the 20th century alone, instigated by Hitler and Stalin.

Dear Lukas,

Three. Don't forget Mao. Very roughly, Hitler was reponsible for the deaths of 16,000,000 people; Stalin, for 32,000,000; and Mao for 64,000,000.

Only Mao's regime is still in power -- and doing a roaring trade with the west.

Cheers,

R.

Helen B
09-08-2006, 03:38 PM
Iím not suggesting that someoneís talent should be ignored because of the way they used it. On the contrary, I think that it is important to recognise and never forget that talent may be associated with repugnant ideals, and that repugnant ideals may be promoted by people with talent. I just find it impossible to dissociate talent from the way that it is used or to ignore context. To me, it is no coincidence of time and place that Riefenstahl produced perfect Nazi propaganda. Her pictures show an idealised, pure surface that does not invite you to look beneath. I asked those of you who think that we should ignore her involvement with the Nazis whether or not you had seen Triumph of the Will, and Iím still interested in the answer. She sold Hitler very well Ė I suspect that few would argue with that. Did she do it because she had no principles other than to advance her career, or did she do it because she believed in it?

While researching a movie I heard many Nazi songs that I would not have heard otherwise. They were powerfully evocative, stirring masterpieces that obscured the underlying toxicity with the fog of personal valour and heroism. Forget the murder of eight million people and look at how well the talented creatives sold the stench? No. Letís remember them both together.

Best,
Helen

billschwab
09-08-2006, 03:39 PM
Who did it?Unfortunately I am not sure. The site credited it to Corbis.

B.

Charles Webb
09-08-2006, 03:39 PM
Dear Ben,

It's disputable how committed a nazi she was. Also, it is disputable how far she was a friend of Hitler, and how far they used each other for their own ends.

There are those who will hear only ill of her, and those who refuse to believe any ill of her. Having read a good deal about her, including two major biographies, I suspect that the truth lies somewhere between.

And regardless of which camp you fall in, she was a brilliant photographer. There's no law saying that great artists have to be nice people.

Cheers,

Roger


Roger,
I coulden't agree with you more! She was extremely talented in my mind.

Charlie.....................

Claire Senft
09-08-2006, 03:54 PM
No I do not think that is a great portrait of any kind.

I think she made Goebbel's job much easier.

blansky
09-08-2006, 03:59 PM
Iím not suggesting that someoneís talent should be ignored because of the way they used it. On the contrary, I think that it is important to recognise and never forget that talent may be associated with repugnant ideals, and that repugnant ideals may be promoted by people with talent. I just find it impossible to dissociate talent from the way that it is used or to ignore context. To me, it is no coincidence of time and place that Riefenstahl produced perfect Nazi propaganda. Her pictures show an idealised, pure surface that does not invite you to look beneath. I asked those of you who think that we should ignore her involvement with the Nazis whether or not you had seen Triumph of the Will, and Iím still interested in the answer. She sold Hitler very well Ė I suspect that few would argue with that. Did she do it because she had no principles other than to advance her career, or did she do it because she believed in it?

Helen

I have no problem with your opinion, and it's probably the prevalent one. However I disagree, to some extent as I've stated.

I believe you are in some aspect of the movie business and I'm not sure if you've ever made industrial films or not but in that genre the moviemakers job is to display and romanticise the company that they are representing.

I don't see too much difference here. The ideal being represented was at the time very popular to a people who were "down on their luck" so to speak, and were seduced by a mythological Teutonic, Aryan ideal.

I don't believe there is a definitive answer to the question on how much she knew early on or later on but I do think she did a masterful job of glamorizing her employer just as a corporate moviemaker/photographer does today, for companies that may or may not be great citizens.

You talk of her willingness to do this but perhaps she was apolitical and only interested in the "art" part of it. I don't know. If early on in my life I was asked to romanticize Exxon or Union Carbide or Monsanto I would pull out all the stops to make them appear as what they wanted to see. For the art.

Some of the atrocities that the Nazi's later did, would have been miles above what normal people could ever imagine.


Michael

Helen B
09-08-2006, 05:04 PM
Michael,

I don't disagree with you about the art of prostitution and prostitution for art's sake. And maybe for money. Perhaps it is just a matter of degree, but perhaps it is an important degree in the case of selling Hitler.

"You talk of her willingness to do this but perhaps she was apolitical and only interested in the "art" part of it. I don't know."
I can't know why she did it. All I can say is that seeing Triumph of the Will gave me the strong impression that she believed in what she was doing. At the very least she must have understood Hitler's beliefs very well to have made it the way it was made.

"Some of the atrocities that the Nazi's later did, would have been miles above what normal people could ever imagine."

Well I certainly hope so. However, Triumph of the Will was made in 1934, after Hitler had made his beliefs quite clear in Mein Kampf. Riefenstahl can't have been ignorant of them.

Best,
Helen

Ole
09-08-2006, 05:15 PM
... All I can say is that seeing Triumph of the Will gave me the strong impression that she believed in what she was doing. At the very least she must have understood Hitler's beliefs very well to have made it the way it was made...

That does not necessarily follow one from the other. There's no need for agreement or acceptance in order to portray the "true believers", as any half-decent actor will know.

Lukas Werth
09-08-2006, 05:25 PM
I asked those of you who think that we should ignore her involvement with the Nazis whether or not you had seen Triumph of the Will, and Iím still interested in the answer. She sold Hitler very well Ė I suspect that few would argue with that. Did she do it because she had no principles other than to advance her career, or did she do it because she believed in it?

While researching a movie I heard many Nazi songs that I would not have heard otherwise. They were powerfully evocative, stirring masterpieces that obscured the underlying toxicity with the fog of personal valour and heroism. Forget the murder of eight million people and look at how well the talented creatives sold the stench? No. Letís remember them both together.

Best,
Helen

I don't remember having seen this film ever in its entirety, and it is a long time since I have seen any excerpts, so I cannot claim real xpertise here. However, while you are certainly right to point out the film's seductive qualities, remember that it was made well before the start of the second world war and the deportation of citizens of Jewish origin, even before, if memory serves, the "Reichskristallnacht". At that time, the full terror had not yet been revealed, though many signs were certainly in the air for those with eyes to see.
But I don't really want to argue against you, and neither, funny as this may sound, against Michael. No, art is not divisible from its message, I certainly don't believe there is a "pure aesthetics" - I rather think the aesthetical dimension is inherently linked to the ethical one. And yes, humans fail, and not only in such times, and if they establish something, it is more often than not through many errors and shortcomings - or so I understand you, Michael.

And Roger, I can only agree. The reason I forgot to mention Mao was that Hitler and Stalin were linked together, and started the 2nd world war (through their "sharing" of Polland).

Helen B
09-08-2006, 05:27 PM
Ole,

Do you think that she did not understand Hitler's beliefs?

Have you seen TotW? She wasn't portraying the true believers, she was selling them very well. She was deifying Hitler.

Best,
Helen

Lukas Werth
09-08-2006, 05:40 PM
Michael,


Well I certainly hope so. However, Triumph of the Will was made in 1934, after Hitler had made his beliefs quite clear in Mein Kampf. Riefenstahl can't have been ignorant of them.

Best,
Helen

Sorry, this post came up when I was writing. True, but "Mein Kampf" was, first, not so widely read, second, if yes, mostly seen as something like fiction or the putting forward of an ideal, and, third, had even in the European abroad received quite favourable reviews. Antisemitism had been not yet outraged, but kept creepig into normal discourse!

MattCarey
09-08-2006, 06:13 PM
My real objection is to the idea that she was a Nazi and therefore can't have been a great photographer. This is exactly the same as saying that Alexandr Rodchenko can't have been a great photographer because he was a communist or that Mapplethorpe can't have been a great photographer because he was gay.

I wouldn't say that the talent is degraded by her actions--she is not any less of a photographer because she used it to support the Nazi cause. She is less of a human. Since she used her art to support the cause, this taints the art, in my view.

Also, since I have nothing against gay people, I would say that your analogy is not accurate at best. At worst, it is insulting.

Matt

jovo
09-08-2006, 06:15 PM
A very involving thread!

When the Israel Philharmonic had to decide, many years ago, whether or not they would include thr music of Wagner in their repertoire I was deeply interested in the reported process. It does not need to be elaborated that Wagner was a profoundly brilliant and expressive composer, AND/BUT, a rabid, and much published anti-Semite whose tracts, laden with the most egregiously specious "logic" (especially regarding Mendelsohn), were published and celebrated by those of a similar disposition. That Israeli orchestra chose to embrace the genius of what was musical while acknowledging what was repugnant. I can't begin to know their angst in making that decision, but I applaud their courage to confront an exceedingly difficult one. So, Israeli audiences buy tickets to hear concerts that feature repertoire composed by a man whose moral and ethical compass wallowed in swampscum, but who feel that the musical 'worth' of his genius trancends even that loathesome abyss. I choose to side with those who can distinguish Reifenstahl's 'art' from her execrable moral choices.

blansky
09-08-2006, 06:29 PM
Didn't Leonard Bernstein, the composer/conductor (West Side Story etc)
have the same sort of scrutiny after the war as well.


Michael

Curt
09-08-2006, 08:19 PM
I wonder if she got a shot of Hitler walking out of the stadium when Jesse Owens won the gold?

Of course she knew it all. The tragedy is that she is credited with anything. I see no difference in her pictures than I do in the lamp shade pictures made on human skin that the Nazi had made from the dead in the death camps. If we can't say that they are all sick bastards then we are doomed. There is no middle ground here. Leni Riefenstahl is as much of a monster as the circle of people around Hitler, including architects, painters, and those who searched the world and stole real art and culture to pervert it to the Nazi goal of supremacy and their 1000 year Reich.

c6h6o3
09-08-2006, 08:30 PM
Didn't Leonard Bernstein, the composer/conductor (West Side Story etc)
have the same sort of scrutiny after the war as well.


Michael

I've never heard of anything like that. There were, however, some truly marvelous musicians (not that Bernstein wasn't) who were wrongfully vilified after the war, such as Wilhelm Furtwangler (http://www.classicalnotes.net/features/furtwangler.html) and Kirsten Flagstad (http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Bio/Flagstad-Kirsten.htm). Herbert von Karajan, who was a card carrying Nazi, and who routinely opened his concerts with the Horst Wessel Song, became Director for Life of the Berlin Philharmonic and retired fabulously wealthy.

Michel Hardy-Vallťe
09-08-2006, 08:44 PM
Iím not suggesting that someoneís talent should be ignored because of the way they used it. On the contrary, I think that it is important to recognise and never forget that talent may be associated with repugnant ideals, and that repugnant ideals may be promoted by people with talent. I just find it impossible to dissociate talent from the way that it is used or to ignore context. (...)

Helen, hindsight is 20/20. If you don't want to ignore context, you have to be fair and look at the one around the time at which Riefenstahl did her work, not the one that happened later.

There were a lot of people in Germany for whom Hitler was a way to regain the dignity they lost at the Versailles treaty closing the World War, and Riefenstahl was one of them. They were also precipitated in the massive economic crisis of 1929 on top of that. The massacres had not happened. The lampshades weren't a reality. Leaders like Chamberlain, Churchill, and all the other European politicians were still concerned about the "Jewish problem."

For my part, Riefenstahl is not innocent, and she willingly fostered a militaristic regime through her craft. But she never asked for the Zyklon B, nor did she washed herself in human soap with glee. Guilt is a yes/no, but the sentence deserves gradations. Fairness is knowing how far to go. A lot of people in Europe share guilt in the Holocaust, and I'm not just speaking of the Nazis. So let's not make her a poster-girl unwittingly and ignore the rest of the world.

Krasnaya Zvezda
09-08-2006, 09:04 PM
Werner von Braun's (giant of American space program) brilliance as a rocket scientist did not seem to be tarnished by the fact that he built V-2s for Hitler.

Riefenstahl was, in my mind and many others, a genius in visual arts, and invented many of the cinematographic techniques in use today. Almost all documentaries owe something to "Triumph of the Will" and "Olympia".

copake_ham
09-08-2006, 09:26 PM
Well - at least Roger admitted that it's not a very good sports portrait!

And many of you have revealed yourselves.