PROFILE Leni Riefenstahl: Triumph of an Iron Will ; Forever Recalled for the Nazi Propaganda Films She Made in the Thirties, a Living Legend Is about to Mark Her 100th Birthday - with a New Movie
Thomson, David, The Independent (London, England)
She will not go away. Every time Leni Riefenstahl comes back into the news, she is the golden, olden lady. And how are you going to convince the world that an old lady - to be played by Jodie Foster in a bio-pic - was dangerous? Her 100th birthday is this year, and she has made a new movie, on which she worked as a camera-operator, about the spectacular beauties under the water.
Riefenstahl always had an eye for beauty. Her fate was sealed by the fact that in her long-ago youth she saw beauty in unlikely places: in the spectacle of marching men, jackboots and the lone figure of a demonic leader addressing the masses. As far as she is concerned, the spoilsports and fault-finders turned on her and said: "That's not beauty, Leni, that's fascism." As if fascism and the movies hadn't done very well together, all over the world.
It's an odd mixture, the way Ms Riefenstahl still talks about her wretched luck and the misunderstandings she suffered. But no woman ever had quite her opportunity in films, or made the medium sing and soar the way she did. For Leni Riefenstahl was somewhere not far removed from being a genius. Here is the test. Let me take you to a screening of Triumph of the Will, the movie she made about the Nazi party rally in Nuremberg in 1934, and consider its relationship to the party. Triumph of the Will is a work of propaganda, as opposed to a mere documentary record. So now we'll start the film, and I'll keep an eye on you and wait to see how long it takes until your foot starts tapping. Film and fascism are like that; they make you want to march along with those golden men in the black uniforms, the troopers. That's how good Riefenstahl was, and that's how tricky her career story is to evaluate.
Born in Berlin in 1902, the child of a wealthy businessman, she turned out blond, tall, beautiful and athletic. She adored health, dance, movement and the German mountains. As an actress, she served a man named Arnold Fanck who made "mountain films", stories that saw the cruel sharp peaks as metaphors for impossible human striving, and which cast her as a mountain nymph, a superb climber, an ardent spirit. She became not just a strange star, but a film-maker, too: a woman in love with the camera.
No careful biographer of Hitler or Goebbels has ever established that she was romantically involved with either of them. Still, after 1933, she took steps to signal her availability as a film-maker. So she was hired to make Triumph of the Will. Years later, after the war, when she was imprisoned for a few years in France and Germany for aiding the Nazi cause, she said she had been told to make a record of the Nuremberg rally and that it was not her choice or her kind of subject, and certainly nothing she understood.
The greatness of her film shatters that defence. In fact, she had a mass of cameras, cranes, platforms and dollies, and the ability to order the action of the rally for the purpose of filming. You know that as you watch the film. You know that in the first dazzling tracking shot of Hitler in his car, when his hand opens in the infamous salute and the gold of light seems to fill it, that the effect has been precisely calculated. And is exulted in. And so on, time and again, as the magnificent work unwinds. …
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Publication information: Article title: PROFILE Leni Riefenstahl: Triumph of an Iron Will ; Forever Recalled for the Nazi Propaganda Films She Made in the Thirties, a Living Legend Is about to Mark Her 100th Birthday - with a New Movie. Contributors: Thomson, David - Author. Newspaper title: The Independent (London, England). Publication date: January 13, 2002. Page number: 23. © 2009 The Independent - London. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All Rights Reserved.