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Some people are swept along by events. Some individuals use events to advantage. How accurate is this statement in relation to the personality you have studied? “Leni Riefenstahl exploits events and other people to serve her own egotistical, obsessive and selfish ambition. ” Leni Riefenstahl was born on the 22nd of August 1902 in Berlin. Her full name was Helene Amalie Bertha Riefenstahl. She accomplished a lot during her 101 years of living. She had successful careers as a dancer, actress, director, producer, editor, photographer, author, and mountain climber, as well as one of the world’s oldest active scuba divers.
Furthermore, she has been induced as one of The 100 Most Influential Women of All Time. However her accomplishments will always be frowned upon given her association with Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party. Riefenstahl had been known to edit scenes from her life, alter details and omit events to suit her purposes. She did this so others would see her as flawless. This has been proven by her quote “reality doesn’t interest me”. When considering the above thesis statement, 2 differing perspectives arise. The first supports the thesis and is that Riefenstahl was so driven to be worldly famous and recognised that she didn’t care what the cost.
The second objects the thesis and is that Riefenstahl could not have possibly predicted the purpose and effects of her films, or Hitler’s intentions for world domination. An historian who supports the first perspective is Steven Bach. In ‘The life and work of Leni Riefenstahl’ he argues that Riefenstahl was obsessed with her career and moulding her image, and that these things are the keys to understanding her behaviour throughout her life. He believes she knew more about Nazism than she would have liked people to believe. An historian who supports the second view is Audrey Salkeld.
In ‘A portrait of Leni Riefenstahl’ she argues that much of the condemnation of Riefenstahl came from hindsight. According to Salkeld, Riefenstahl could not have known of the horrors that occurred under Nazism. Three influential events during Riefenstahl’s lifetime that create debate in relation to the thesis are; the direction of “Tiefland”, The Nuremburg rallies movies (Victory of faith, and Triumph of the will), and her documentary of the Berlin Olympics (Olympia). Tiefland Tiefland is a 1954 film that Leni Riefenstahl scripted, directed, starred in, and edited.
She began developing the script in 1934, and shot the movie between 1940 and 1944. The film, however, was not completed by the end of World War II and eventually was finalized and released on February 11, 1954. The film was set in Spain, and so Riefenstahl needed people who looked of Spanish decent to play extras in the film. She cast a group of gypsies that were being held in a camp. These Gypsies were destined for Auschwitz, and many that appeared in the film were later murdered in concentration camps. Riefenstahl’s decision to use these extras formulates a debate.
It again links back to the thesis and the points of views which arise from it. One perspective is in support of the thesis and is that Riefenstahl used the Gypsies inhumanly or immorally as she knew of their destiny, but used them anyway to create some sort of realism or authenticity to her film. Steven Bach is in support of this perspective and points out in his feature document ‘The puzzle of Leni Riefenstahl’, that Riefenstahl had publicly claimed to have seen ‘all the Gypsies who worked on Tiefland after the war.
Nothing happened to a single one of them’. However, this is not true. In reality, of 48 Gypsies who can be documented, 20 died in Nazi concentration camps, most of them in Auschwitz to which they were transported almost directly from the film set. The other perspective objects to the thesis and is that Riefenstahl had no choice in using the Gypsies as extras and the decision to use them was that of the SS and was out of her control. It also says that Riefenstahl did not know of their destiny.
This perspective is supported by the fact that after the war, in 1949, the tribunal that investigated Riefenstahl’s activities during the war declared she was innocent. The court stated that although there were rumours that Leni Riefenstahl used Gypsies from concentration camps for her film Tiefland, ¬and that most of them had been killed in gas chambers, the judges found no reason to believe this and Riefenstahl was acquitted for this point once and forever. However, no gypsy who had served as an extra was present at that time in the court and with time some started to talk.
Indeed, there were few survivors; many stated that family members who had played in the film had been gassed in Auschwitz shortly after having worked with Riefenstahl. The Nuremburg Rallies Films Victory of Faith was the first documentary film Leni Riefenstahl directed. She was hired despite opposition from Nazi officials who resented employing a woman and a non-Party member for that matter. Her film recounts the Fifth Party Rally of the Nazi Party, which occurred in Nuremberg from 30 August to 3 September 1933.
Triumph of the Will was the other Nuremburg rally propaganda film made by Leni Riefenstahl. It chronicles the 1934 Nazi Party Congress in Nuremberg. The film contains excerpts from speeches given by various Nazi leaders at the Congress, most notably, portions of speeches by Adolf Hitler. The central theme of the film is the return of Germany as a great power, with Hitler as the True German Leader who will bring glory to the nation. Triumph of the Will was released in 1935 and rapidly became one of the best-known examples of propaganda in film history.
After many years of people viewing the two Nuremburg rally movies ‘Victory of Faith and Triumph of the will’, two perspectives arise in relation to Riefenstahl’s contribution and purpose. The first perspective, which supports the thesis, is that Riefenstahl created the films knowing of their propaganda intent and potential. She took advantage of the success and popularity of the Nazis at the time, and willingly and purposely created the propaganda films to further her credentials as a film maker and to make her name well known.
Author Ken Webb is in support of this perspective and in his book ‘Leni Riefenstahl 1902-2003’ (part of the ‘everything you wanted to know about… but were to afraid to ask’ series. ) makes the argument that, “Riefenstahl’s film was a clear promotion of the Fuhrer Cult. A major piece of Nazi propaganda was the presentation of Hitler as a special kind of leader, capable of ending the depression, restoring German pride and leading the country into a great future. The film’s only star is Hitler.
His adoring fans are there to merely worship and stare in reverential awe. The other perspective that emerges, objects to the thesis, and is that the films were not made under the intentions for Nazi propaganda, but rather just brilliant documentaries with skilful camera and film techniques that inspired people. Audrey Salkeld is in support of this view and argues that it is unfair to judge Riefenstahl through the benefit of hindsight. In 1934, no-one knew that Hitler’s regime would kill 6 million people. Riefenstahl’s films say next to nothing about racist dogma and political persecution, and Salkeld argues that it is because the rally did not do this.
Salkeld also refers to Riefenstahl’s statement in Ray Muller’s 1993 film that ‘Triumph of the will’ could not be propaganda because there was no commentary telling people what to think. However, this only means that the pictures speak for themselves, and what do they say? Well according to Salkeld “She may not have set out to glorify Hitler… but her feelings for him at the time were so worshipful that she could portray him only through the shining eyes of admiration… the Fuhrer represented… this is what she filmed. ”
Olympia The International Olympic Committee granted Berlin the 1936 Olympic Games in 1931. When Hitler became chancellor in January 1933, his initial reaction was to condemn the Olympic Games as an evil invention by Jews. The minister of propaganda and enlightenment, Josef Goebbels, however convinced and informed Hitler of the media potential, and the chance to advertise to the world the successes of the new Nazi regime. This lead to the birth and was the basis of Riefenstahl’s sports documentary/propaganda film ‘Olympia,’ which premiered in Berlin on the 20th of April 1938.
Like Riefenstahl’s other documentaries under the Nazi regime, this one strikes debate whether it was propaganda for Nazi ideology, or just another innocent documentary which others interpreted it as propaganda. The perspective that ‘Olympia’ was no doubt a piece of Nazi propaganda is in support of the thesis as it debates that Riefenstahl compromised her moral integrity for her own benefits and successes. Author Ken Webb is in support of this view and in his book ‘Leni Riefenstahl 1902-2003’ (part of the ‘everything you wanted to know about… ut were to afraid to ask’ series. ) makes the argument that, ‘ despite its technical brilliance, it was really nothing more than a piece of Nazi propaganda.
The aim of the film was to present the essence of the Nazi message, which was the primacy of race. ’ The point of view that it was just another documentary, maintains that it was just a film trying to capture the essence of Aryan superiority and the beauty of the human race. This view is in contrast to the thesis. Rainer Rother is one who believes that the film is not of Nazi propaganda.
He argues that the “fascist aspects of Riefenstahl’s films do not necessarily conform to the definition of fascist art as, above all, ‘a utopian aesthetics’ – that of physical perfection. ” Rother challenges the view that the film is fascist art. He claims that although Riefenstahl definitely celebrates beauty and athleticism, he then asks, that don’t the images appear too smooth? He then argues that the images as a result of being ‘too smooth’ suppress any actual effort. He questions “Can Riefenstahl’s films really contribute much to the ideologization of events which are already empathically ideological in their own right”?
In rebut to the above argument, indeed the idea of the filming was to capture the beauty of the human race, and this was the prime force behind the Nazi regime. Further evidence to rebut the argument in the previous paragraph, is that the financing of her film came under the control of Goebbels’ propaganda ministry. Therefore, it makes no sense that the Nazis would give Riefenstahl 1. 5 million marks to finance a film, unless the film was for Nazi purposes, which was to create a propaganda film for them.