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!
Originally Posted by Lukas Werth
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.
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.
Unfortunately I am not sure. The site credited it to Corbis.
Originally Posted by c6h6o3
Originally Posted by Roger Hicks
I coulden't agree with you more! She was extremely talented in my mind.
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No I do not think that is a great portrait of any kind.
I think she made Goebbel's job much easier.
Claire (Ms Anne Thrope is in the darkroom)
I have no problem with your opinion, and it's probably the prevalent one. However I disagree, to some extent as I've stated.
Originally Posted by Helen B
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.
Last edited by blansky; 09-08-2006 at 05:25 PM. Click to view previous post history.
I couldn't think of anything witty to say so I left this blank.
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.
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.
Originally Posted by Helen B
-- Ole Tjugen, Luddite Elitist
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.
Originally Posted by Helen B
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).