Course and Component: Modern History Research

In 1945, Riefenstahl was interrogated by Captain Wallenberg; a German born naturalised American that used to play with Riefenstahl’s brother as a child, in summation of his interrogation report he wrote:Source BJohn Totland (1999), said about Hitler’s attempt to intervene in the production of Triumph of the WillSource CIn her critique “Fascinating Fascism”(1980), American social commentator Susan Sontag has argued that all of Riefenstahl’s work, form the 1930’s to the 1970s, contains elements that promote Nazi and fascist ideasBackground* Name: H�l�ne Bertha Amelie Riefenstahl* Date of Birth: August 22, 1902 (Berlin)* Family: Leni was the daughter of a prosperous businessman and a part time seamstress, she was brought up in a middle class happy supportive close family with two siblings.

Her privileged economic status ensured she was protected from most of the economic, social and political unrest of the times.* She lived to be over 100 years of age and was an independent woman for most of her life and despite having a series of love affairs she was only married once for 3 years and divorced after he was unfaithful. She had no children but her highly demanding career and driving ambition saw her suffer many mental health problems and the need for hospitalisation many times over her long life.First Career: Riefenstahl as a dancer* Leni Riefenstahl began her career as a dancer in 1923, by which time she had been self taught mostly learning by watching others.* It was greatly against the wishes of her father and she studied dance secretly, as he held plans for her in office work after she finished the privileged school she attended* Leni was always called a dreamer from a very young age – this and her dancing meant she remained largely unaware of the broader world of politics around her.* In June 1924, while dancing in Prague, she tore a ligament in her knee quiet severely and her dancing career came to an end.Dancing and the Weimar Culture* Dancing was a large and vibrant part of the Weimar culture* During this period, a new dancing style evolved where dancers performed free, athletic movements and held contorted, gymnastic poses.

* Dancing became the forefront of the expressionist movement where dancers aimed to receive the human spirit by encouraging people to rediscover their emotions.* It was also a reflection of the Korperkultur movement (cult of body)* The Weimar Republic promoted fitness and health as the way to revive ‘the race’* ‘Ugly’ became translated to (among several other things) the racial definition of ‘beauty’ as Aryan, which the Nazis supportedCareer Two: Riefenstahl as the film star* Whilst waiting for a train to see a doctor about her injured knee, the course of Leni’s life was changed dramatically when her gaze fell upon a poster promoting Mountain of Destiny* After seeing the film and the appeal and impact it had, Leni felt that acting was the career for her and contacted Arnold Fanck (director), convincing him to put her in one of his films.* Leni Riefenstahl made her film debut in Holy Mountain in 1926, starring in five more films over the next seven years.* Whilst appearing in the films, Riefenstahl also had many opportunities to stand behind camera and learn about film directing, camera work and editing.

* These experiences were to provide a stepping stone to her first work, The Blue Light (1932), which she wrote, directed, produced and starred in.Career Three: Riefenstahl as a film director* Riefenstahl was fascinated and obsessed with film and the effect that could be created through the use of movement, different camera angles, lighting and creative editing.* Riefenstahl developed a philosophy on filmmaking- she came to realize the importance of planning every shot with the appropriate camera angles, music, moving the cameras as well as the action, experimenting with different film stocks and having a balance between short takes and long sequences which became her trademarks and made her films so unique and special.* She spent a great deal of time on editing- piecing together her films to achieve these artistic effects she desired.The German Film Industry* Riefenstahl’s attraction to film occurred at a time when there was a growing and popular interest in film in Weimar Germany.

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* The Weimar period has been called the ‘Golden Age’ of German cinema.* A bergfilm (mountain genre film) was a film shot in a mountain location with a storyline revolving around climbing mountains.* The mountain genre was a precursor to the racial ideology of the Nazis, whose concept of blut und boden (blood and soil) proclaimed that fit, racially pure Aryan Germans belonged to the countryside and the mountains.* With the onset of the Depression, bergfilms and expressionist films began to loose appeal.* German cinema shifted towards escapist films, and those promoting German nationalism.Riefenstahl’s involvement with Hitler* When Leni Riefenstahi returned from touring Europe with The Blue Light she was unaware of who Hitler was.

* She found Berlin filled with Adolf Hitler posters advertising an upcoming Nazi Party Rally.* In 1932 she saw Hitler for the first time when she attended the rally, which was her first political meeting and the first time she really heard about Nazism.* She was impressed and fascinated by Hitler’s visions to end the Depression, prevent Communism and unite Germany.* He ‘had a kind of hypnotic effect’ and Riefenstahl believed that Hitler might be the man who could save Germany.* However, she dismissed his racial policies as campaign rhetoric and in May she wrote to Hitler, requesting a meeting.* Hitler gave a quick response and immediately arranged a meeting where he asked Riefenstahi to produce films for him.* She argued that making films for an organization with a prescribed ideology, such as the Nazi Party, would restrain her creativity.

She stated:”I have to have a very personal relationship with my subject matter. Otherwise I can’t be creative… I have no interest whatsoever in politics, I could never be a member of your party.”* She also argued that she was not prepared to work within the Ministry of Propaganda under the control of Goebbels; she had no experience in making documentaries, and was not a member of the Nazi Party.

* Following this meeting, Riefenstahl traveled to Greenland to film SOS Iceberg, not returning to Berlin until 1933.* She claimed not to have known about recent events in Germany (such as the burning of books written by Nazi opposition and the flight of Jews and Communist sympathizers from Germany) since Hitler’s appointment as Chancellor in January, however her memoirs reveal that she had letters from friends who had fled and was awaiting her return to Berlin.* In February 1933 Hitler again asked Riefenstahl to make films for him, and offered her a job in the Ministry of Propaganda as artistic director of the Reichjilmkammer (State Film Agency), however, she refused both.* In August, Riefenstahl was forced to agree to film the upcoming 5th Nazi Party Rally, Victory of Faith when Hitler assumed she was already preparing for it.* The Nuremberg Rallies were an excellent way to lift the morale of Germans and to flaunt the Nazis ideology.* Riefenstahl was reluctant to acknowledge Victory of the Faith because it didn’t meet her perfectionist style.

The film never went to general release so was not significant but was a good learning experience for her on how to film a rally as large as the Nuremberg rallies.Nazism and the German film industry* Nazis felt that control of the film industry was vital as Hitler was convinced of the importance of mass distribution of propaganda.* Hitler said: “Propaganda brought us into power, propaganda has since enabled us to remain in power, and propaganda will give us means of conquering the world”.* July 1933, Joseph Goebbels (head of the Ministry of Propaganda) established the Riechsjulmkammer (State Film Agency which all film industry workers were forced to join.

* This was welcomed as they believed that the Nazis would ensure economic security for the industry.* Control also meant censorship – now films could be banned for political reasons (they had to be viewed by the Censorship Board before they were released to the public).* A more important reason for Nazi control of the film industry was that it furthered the Nazi goal to create the Volksgemeinschaft (People’s Community) which envisioned a classless society of Aryan Germans who were bound to each other as racial equals and were loyal to the F�hrer.* Under the Reichsfilmkammer, filmmakers, scriptwriters, actors and films were subject to Nazi scrutiny.

* In 1933, Riefenstahl had started work on a film with Fanck called Mademoiselle Docteur, an espionage film about WWI, but the project was cancelled by the Nazi censorship board, which had outlawed films about spying.* Much of the regulation aimed to remove Jewish influences from the film industry, as the Nazis were convinced that the film industry was dominated by Jews.Nuremberg Rallies* Rallies and rituals had an important propaganda value as emotion took the place of reason, and participants were carried away by the grandeur, strength and feeling of such events.* Hitler was pleased with the outcome of Victory of Faith and engaged Riefenstahl to make a film of the 6th Nazi Party rally, which was to be held in 1934.* However, after completing Victory of Faith, Riefenstahl accepted an offer to direct a bergfilm called Tiefiand, a way to avoid her commitments to the 1934 rally film.

* When Riefenstahl unexpectedly fell ill and was hospitalized, Tiefland was cancelled.* Riefenstahl then tried to have the rally project cancelled, but Hitler was adamant that the film be completed, so Riefenstahl continued with her preparations for the 1934 film, which was called Triumph of the Will.The film – ‘TRIUMPH OF THE WILL’* After Hitler insisted Riefenstahl make the film about the 6th Nuremberg Rally, Triumph of the Wil,l, it become a very controversial film – it has been praised for its sheer artistry, yet damned for its content and vision of Hitler and the German nation poised on the edge of totalitarianism.* It was a superb example of documentary cinema art, and a masterpiece of film propaganda.

* Riefenstahl claimed to have been drafted by Hitler into making Triumph of the Will and had very little choice about the film.* Riefenstahl herself claimed that she was given only two weeks to plan the film and lived in constant hope that the task would be given to someone else:Context* The initial problems with the film in terms of propaganda are easily understood. The 6th annual National Socialist Party Congress was not the jubilant affair it ought to have been. Hitler had been Chancellor of Germany for over a year. In the election of March 1933, following the Reichstag fire, the Nazis had taken 44% of the popular vote. But it was the destruction of the leadership of the SA in the episode known as the Rohm Putsch just a few weeks before the faithful gathered in Nuremberg for the Congress that threatened to spoil it.* Encouraged by the German establishment, especially the army, and pressured by the French, Hitler, with Goebbels and members of the SS and the Gestapo murdered Rohm and his entire command at Bad Wiessee during what became known as the ‘Night of the Long Knives’, 30 June 1934.

Summary* The film presents Germany as an orderly society, with marching, flags and uniforms reinforcing a sense of discipline.* This image reassures European audiences that Germany is no longer threatening the peace.* Showed Germany to be a peaceful country – playing games, not preparing for war, tells people that the SA are not a threat to law and order.* Germany is also shown to be happy and contented – the people are depicted as smiling, fit and healthy.

* Racial harmony is promoted through the fair skinned, blonde haired children, soldiers and workers, who are feature prominently throughout the film:* In these ways the film has been considered as the propaganda film of all time – emphasizing the solidarity of the Nazi Party, the unity of the German people, and the greatness of their leader, who, through composition, cutting, and special camera angles, is given mythical dimensions.* However, Riefenstahl maintained that it was simply a documentary, and claims her innocence in never realizing the effect that her films had on promoting the Nazi cause. She “didn’t see the danger of anti- Semitism” and that “it had to film the way an artist, not a politician, sees it”.* It shows historians how the Nazi state drew in the masses through propaganda and Hitler’s unique and terrifying ability to entice crowds and display his power.* The German Labor Front represented an attempt by the Party to organize the workforce along military lines.* Hitler is placed apart and photographed from below to emphasize that only he is an individual, the identity of the other participants is merged into the masses.Result* Triumph of the Will had its premiere in the larger cities but not with a wider public and for this reason it was not used generally for propaganda purposes.* Riefenstahl created artistic intensity by using many cameras and apparatus and different camera positions.

Then very careful editing and even remaking of scenes with the result that the film won the German Film Prize and several other awards* Her artistic depth brought accusations that she was glorifying the Nazis, however, Riefenstahl said she was simply capturing the event in an artistic way and was not intending to glorify the Nazis.* The film was seen as not a typical Nazi propaganda film as Goebbels preferred indirect propaganda for the feature length film, concentrating direct propaganda in the newsreel.The film – “OLYMPIA”* Olympia (1938) was a truly innovative film, established precedents for filmed sports coverage that continue to the present day, as well as inventing new devices to facilitate the filming.* General agreement that this monumental effort by Leni Riefenstahl stands as one of the great moments of world cinema, a pioneering, innovative film that changed the course of filmmaking.* The Nazis realized early before the Olympic Games, which were to be held in Berlin in 1936, that they could use this as an opportunity to showcase Nazi Germany to the rest of the world – to show its “culture of achievements and abilities”.* Not only was she convinced that she could film the games in a suitable documentary manner, but her confidence in her own artistic abilities assured her that she would be able to capture the spirit as well as the physical reality of the games.* It has become a celebration of the idealization of the Aryan body, through Riefenstahl’s fascination and manipulation of the muscular male body.

This focus reflects the Nazis idealization of the classical Greek body as the pinnacle of racial perfection. She, however, claims to not have connected this fascination with the Nazis promotion of the ‘master race’.* In reality, the Olympics were yet another area where Jews were excluded, despite the International Olympic Committee’s attempts to alleviate discrimination.* In 1938 she went to America to promote Olympia. The tour coincided with the infamous Kristallnacht of violence against the Jews, when an estimated 20,000 were carted off to concentration camps and scores were murdered.Hitler’s Presence* Hitler is shown few times on the film – the major section that does is the opening ceremony, filmed in a straightforward documentary method.* A sympathetic interpretation of the film suggests that the true hero of the film is not Hitler but instead the black American athlete Jesse Owens* It is Owen’s presence that dominates the first part of Olympia and Riefenstahl gives his athletic triumphs the full cinematic coverage they deserved rather than downplaying them in the name of Nazi racial ideology so it is more art then propaganda.

* Although the Nazi flag was the dominant flag of Triumph of the Will, it is the International Olympics flag and not the German flag that dominates Olympia.Result* The critical acclaim for Olympia began with the film’s premiere on April 20, 1938, in Berlin. It won the Grand Prize at that year’s International Film Festival in Venice, where it was cited as “the world’s best film of 1938”. Prizes were also awarded by the Greek and Swedish governments.* Riefenstahl’s permission to travel abroad to promote Olympia on various propaganda tours, including to the United States, was also, by this time, a rare privilege for members of the Nazi artistic elite.* The Nazis had vandalized and looted Jewish shops and homes, burned down synagogues and thrown 30,000 Jewish people into concentration camps. When Riefenstahl arrived in the US she was seen as a promoter of Nazi values and her visit was marked by protests.

* Anti-Nazi sentiment frightened potential distributors away from the film, and it was never shown commercially in the US.World War 11 experiencs* When the war broke out, Riefenstahl organized a film crew to report at the Front.* She and her crew experienced death at close quarters and immediately abandoned working as a war reporter and returned to Berlin.* For the rest of the war she devoted herself to the production of Ti�fland (Lowlands) which she directed and then played the leading role.

* While filming on location at a mountain site, she met Peter Jacob, a First Lieutenant in the mountain infantry, whom she later married.* It was shortly after this marriage that she last saw Hitler.* The film industry during the war reflected Germany’s position in the war. When they were winning, the industry was prosperous and produced large-scale political films to inspire Germans to embrace the Nazi ideology and support the war.

But when they began to lose the war, the film industry lost momentum and newsreels aimed to uncover the truth.After World War 11* By May 1945 Germany has surrendered to the intrusion of Russian troops in Berlin.* Following the end of hostilities, Riefenstahl had to face Allied charges that she was a Nazi or a Nazi sympathizer and her propaganda films, most notably Triumph of the Will, made her an obvious target.* Riefenstahl was arrested by the US Army and they submitted her to an intense ‘denazification’ program. She escaped and was re-arrested by the Americans four times.* On the last time the Army interrogated her for days on end about her Nazi Party Rally films, her knowledge of the final solution and her association with Hitler.* Riefenstahl was interrogated by Capt.

Hans Wallenberg (who was German-born naturalized American that used to play with Riefenstahl’s brother as a child)* After a few weeks she was considered de-nazified and was released without prejudice on June 3, 1945.* However, she was then arrested by the French Army, spent 3 months in a mental health facility and was finally released in August 1947, until the French classified her as de-nazified.* She returned to her Tiejiand project but was put under house arrest.* Finished Tieland, however, there was controversy about her possibly having used gypsies from a concentration camp as extras.* Leni found it too difficult to make more films after the war, and took up photography and continued her emphasis on physical beauty in her images of the Nuba tribe in Africa.

* She was abandoned by her former friends, denounced by film historians and the press. She has never been able to shake the shadows of her past, she has been quoted as saying: ‘I’ve suffered for half a century. It is an incredible burden’.Riefenstahl – The Propagandist or Artist? A Historiographical Debate* Partly by virtue of her long life, and partly because of the way in which her career has become the focus for heated debates about the relationship between art and propaganda, she has remained a highly controversial figure in the history of cinema.* Her films have had an enormous impact on world cinema, and she has remained a controversial and unrepentant pariah.* Audrey Salkeld’s Leni Riefenstahl: A Portrait (1997) states:’How much being a woman, and how much her own personality contributed to her fate..


The notion of guilt by association continues to cloud any rational verdict on her moral culpability for promoting Hitler’s demonic Reich through her films.’* She has been described as an egotist, driven by ambition and not as politically innocent as she claimed rather as someone who took advantage of every situation for personal benefit without regard for the moral consequences.* There exists four arguments regarding the role of Leni Riefenstahl in Nazi Germany, each has differing opinions on her commitment to Nazism, the extent of her contribution to Nazi propaganda, her relationship with Hitler and Goebbels, her major works and subsequent public person as well as her attributes and beliefs.THE PROPAGANDIST?* Riefenstahl Nazi films have been criticized as being reflections of Nazi ideology and as attempts to subliminally influence the German people, therefore being forms of propaganda.* The assessment of Riefenstahl’s films as propaganda had its origins in the United States and France, after KristallNacht and the Sudetenland Crisis altered the Americans and the French to the racist and militaristic nature of the Nazi Regime.* Hitler saw the two major films as propaganda “a totally unique and incomparable glorification of the power and beauty of our movement”* Camera work and original editing style had the purpose of promoting Nazism and deify Hitler.* Susan Sontag suggests that Riefenstahl’s films which contain beautifully crafted scenes of* Aryan soldiers lined up in formation and reeling off the names of their hometowns, which range from every corner of Germany, are intended to highlight the Nazi belief in the superior Aryan race, and also the Nazi policy of Volksgemeinschaft.

* Triumph of the Will- This film has been described as the most influential propaganda film of all time. All of the footage in Triumph of the Will was intended to rouse a sense of nationalism and pride, stirring the emotions of all Aryans. Her commitment to Nazi ideals can also be evidenced by the amount of time Riefenstahl spent editing and composing the film, 5 months of 16-20 hour days (particularly as she even remade some scenes). It is more likely that she was attempting to produce the most definitive glorification of Hitler and the Nazis ever. Scenes of happy, contented German soldiers Germans, soldiers playing and men working without a sense of class-consciousness conveyed that the world had nothing to fear of Hitler’s Germany. This was false promotion of Nazi Germany being a peaceful nation.* Olympia- Riefenstahl falsely promote Nazi Germany as a peaceful nation through the visions of Hitler coming out of the clouds, overseeing the Olympic Games, smiling, waving and shouting his beliefs to adoring crowds.* Some critics declare that Riefenstahl’s films should be banned and not shown; others state that the films should not be celebrated as art, instead recognized for the role they played in their historical context.

* The films have the ability and power to wield political influence beyond the 1930’s. In 1997 an exhibition of Riefenstahl’s work was held in Numba, picketed by demonstrators who promoted “1936 Propaganda – 1997 profits”THE ARTIST?* Some view Riefenstahl as an ‘artist’, emphasizing her cinematography techniques (such as contrasting the use of light and dark, movement and stillness, her innovative camera angles, blending of myth and narrative, dramatic use of sound and silence) as skilful representations of the human body.* She always claimed she approached her work as an artist, not politically.* Riefenstahl’s films had great artistic value and the cult of the body was common all over Europe, not just in Nazi Germany.* Themes of anti-Semitism and racial purity were commonplace.* Riefenstahl regularly stakes her claim as an artist by saying that she had no intention to make propaganda for the Nazis and that her only intent was to document a historic event as artistically and creatively as possible.* Triumph of the Will- She admits that Triumph of the Will was commissioned by Hitler but has argued that how could she know then (1934) what horrors would follow.

Riefenstahl displayed neither the intention nor the awareness to execute her works as propaganda for the Party. Hitler attempted to intervene in the production of Triumph of the Will so that party officials could be included. This was an offence to Riefenstahl’s artistic principles and she refused* Olympia- The film which most supports the argument of the artist theory is Olympia. The film is an impressive example of her ability to capture events as they happen, free of political or cultural influence. Black athlete Jesse Owens features prominently in Olympia despite Hitler’s overt disgust at his performance.* As it was unusual for woman to become directors in the 1930’s. The Weimar’s Republic New Woman has greater access to work, university and political power then ever before however surprisingly Nazism rejected the New Woman in fevour of a return to traditional woman’s roles.

Revisionist feminist historians believe that Riefenstahl has been defamed because she is a successful woman in a male profession.* Revisionists also point that no other male filmmaker of the period has suffered for his affiliations with the Nazis as much as Riefenstahl. For example film director Georg W.Pabst, made three films for the ministry of Propaganda in the 1940s and faced no retribution and continued to work making films in Germany well into the 1950s. Another film industry great that did not suffer was Gustaf Grundgens, who remained a star in West Germany until the mid 1960s.RIEFENSTAHL’S OWN VIEW OF HERSELF* Recent effort to re-evaluate Riefenstahl’s role in Nazi Germany, have portraying her as highly talented and opportunistic, but politically na�ve in her youth, allowing herself to be used by Hitler as a propagandist.

* Riefenstahl clashed with Goebbels, who resented her independence and closeness to Hitler. She claims that Goebbels wanted her to edit out footage of black athletes from Olympia and demanded control over both the final cut and her production staff* She claims she knew nothing of concentration camps until imprisoned by the Allies but she had been accused of using gypsy inmates in her films.* Ultimately, Riefenstahl wished history to view her as she viewed herself: not as a collaborator but as an artist whose sole fault was to have been at the wrong moment in history, and who was exploited by political forces of which she was unaware. She stated:”I regret I was alive during the period. But I was never anti-Semitic. I never dropped any bombs.

“* She claims she was never interested in politics, never a member of the Nazi Party she said:’I was not a Communist. I was not a Nazi. I was an artist! I was nothing. I had no party”) and she merely made artistic documentary films ‘lt is history. A purely historical film’


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