Leni Riefenstahl was a cinematic genius. She was the favorite director of Adolf Hitler. She started her career as a dancer and ended up being one of the outstanding faces of German cinematography.
Cinematography is considered the newest, but yet one of the most popular branches of art and culture.
Except being a form of art, movies have also been used as a powerful propaganda machine. Effective sounds accompanied by visuals have a magical influence on people’s emotions and even thoughts. It’s all about director’s right vision.
The government of Nazi Germany didn’t ignore the power of movies too. In fact, they give it a strategic importance.
Leni Riefenstahl, the controversial movie director directed iconic movies “Triumph of the Will” and “Olympia”, which are considered the masterpieces of Nazi propaganda.
From the political point of view these movies are unacceptable for many people, but from the artistic and professional point of view, critiques consider Leni one of the best directors of all times.
The fact that Leni Riefenstahl’s career biography included her cooperation with Nazi government, affected her further creative activities. But Let’s look at Leni Riefenstahl from a different angle, let’s discover the infinite talent of this visionary director.
Brief Biography of Leni Riefenstahl
August 22, 1902
Berlin, German Empire
Leni Riefenstahl was a German film director, producer, screenwriter, editor, photographer, actress and dancer.
- Leni began her long and extraordinary career as a dancer. Though it was not her destiny to continue the career of a dancer. After a knee injury, she stopped dancing.
- Later she began engaging in the film industry as an actress. Leni Riefenstahl became fascinated with the possibilities of the medium of film, especially nature films.
- Soon young Leni became starring in a number of German director Arnold Fanck’s silent motion pictures. Here she got an athletic and daring female lead. In the silent era, Leni was quite popular among German audience.
- In 1932, Riefenstahl directed her first major feature film in 1932. Very quickly film became popular among Germans, but more importantly, it attracted the attention of a rising politician, Adolf Hitler. He too is said to have artistic ambitions.
- In the same year, Riefenstahl had heard Hitler speaking at a public rally. She was caught by his oratorical style and the ability to mesmerize audiences.
- After becoming friends with Hitler, she attracted the reputation of Hitler’s chief cinematic propagandist.
- After the war, Riefenstahl was arrested. She denied all knowledge of Nazi war crimes. However, Riefenstahl later wrote that meeting Hitler was the biggest catastrophe of her life.
Why Leni Riefenstahl, a Nazi propagandist director considered a great woman?
The friendship of Leni and Hitler lasted about 12 years. Hitler is said to have believed that “the image Riefenstahl created for herself in “The Blue Light” epitomized the ultimate German woman.”
In a nutshell, Leni Riefenstahl became the most famous filmmaker in Adolf Hitler’s Nazi Germany. She gained popularity in a state where women played a secondary role.
They were considered inferior to men. In such society, Riefenstahl was given freedom just for one reason. She had to produce propagandist films glorifying the Nazi regime, which she did.
What is the greatness of “Olympia’s” director as a woman then?
Leni Riefenstahl did not become famous director only because Hitler admired, her. It was mostly due to her talent and vision for directing. She managed to work her way through the vast criticism of jealous men and received positive reviews for her films across the world.
She was able to prove herself the best in a male-dominated world and industry. Leni became an outstanding director during the time when women in Germany were expected to obey the stereotype of a wife and mother.
Leni first used innovative techniques in her films, that have never been used before. These effects made her films stand out among other motion pictures.
Even though after the war Leni did everything to be remembered as a great director, she was always associated with the Third Reich.
Until the day I die people will keep saying, ‘Leni is a Nazi’, and I’ll keep saying, ‘But what did she do?’”
It is impossible to work with this wild woman.
After the war, Leni was arrested and accused of knowing about Nazi crimes and assisting them. She denied all the accusations, insisting that her only job was to do what she does best: directing movies and she claimed that she had nothing to do with war crimes.
Leni Riefenstahl’s Movies: Nazi Propaganda or Masterpieces?
Hitler and Leni got on well and formed a friendly relationship. The very first movie Leni was offered by Hitler to do, in fact, did contain Nazi propaganda. After her first work, Hitler became very impressed, which led him to offer Riefenstahl to direct the iconic film “Triumph of the Will”.
The premiere of the movie took place in March, 1934.
Triumph of the Will: A piece of art about Nazi propaganda
This movie begins with a calm scene which is broken later on by Hitler’s appearance.
Fade in: A plane soaring through the mist of scattered clouds. There is an utter calmness in the air, which is soon to be dramatically broken. The ground below comes into view: Nuremberg. Thousands of heads look to the sky. The plane lands, the door opens, Hitler appears. Cue deafening sounds from the astonishing crowds.
This iconic movie is special because it was one of the first observational documentaries. It shows events such as parades, mass assemblies, images of Hitler, speeches.
There are no speeches by ordinary men. Only speeches of Hitler and other Nazi leaders are heard.
As critics say, “Triumph of the Will demonstrates the power of the image to represent the historical world at the same moment as it participates in the construction of the historical world itself.”
The film’s impact is said to come from Riefenstahl’s choreography of images and sounds. One can hear the marching of men, the waving of banners, the overwhelming cheers, see the uniforms, and the swastikas. Children are at the front of the crowds. They are smiling and their eyes sparkle with happiness.
Olympia: The Greatest Film About Olympic Games
In case of “Triumph of the Will” the Nazi propaganda is quite obvious. It’s not that definite in case of “Olympia.”
“Olympia” is arguably one of the greatest sports films. But it can also be an effective propaganda tool that promoted National Socialism as a model form of government.
This controversial documentary captures the 1936 Summer Olympics “Olympia”, which took place in Berlin, Nazi Germany.
On the one hand, the film appears to be a very well-made sports film. It depicts outstanding athletic accomplishments by many individuals and teams from all over the world.
However, as Germany’s intentions became clearer shortly before World War II, critics became more and more suspicious that the actual motive for producing “Olympia” was a political promotion.
Even after so many years, no one has been able to uncover enough evidence proving that the only intention of producing “Olympia” was propaganding National Socialism.
The film has two parts. The first part begins with a history of the Olympic games. It depicts the traditions of the ancient games in the city of Olympia and continues with the portrayal of many field events at the 1936 Berlin games.
The second part shows the track and field events of the Berlin Games.
“Olympia” is a documentary. Just like “Triumph of the Will”, “Olympia” too was praised for an excellent sound and editing effects.
Leni Riefenstahl’s extremely skillful editing abilities allowed the most exciting and amazing moments to be featured.
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