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The horror.....the horror.....
on 5 January 2012
I read that this flag waving piece of Nazi propoganda made the likes of D W Griffiths and Cecil B DeMille look like poverty row film makers, which is certainly stretching it a bit, although one cannot doubt the skill and ingenuity with which it was made. This is a film that would undoubtedly make a contender for one of the most controversial films of all time. The ex dancer/actress Leni Riefenstahl was equally controversial. Riefenstahl was not above using her ample charms to further her career, as a number of strategic affairs with film contemporaries illustrated. After her success with the German mountain films, she was happy to hold hands with the Devil when Hitler personally asked her to make a film of the sixth Nazi Reich Party Congress, held in Nuremberg in September 1934. Riefenstahl was the sort of woman who would have made a great Mata Hari, and one who men would have happily fought wars over.
Riefenstahl had already directed "Victory of Faith" being a record of the 1933 Nuremberg rally, but was hamstrung by technical problems, lack of planning and preparation. She was not to make those same mistakes again. This time she brought all her artistic skills to bear with moving cameras, atmospheric aerial photography, use of long focus lenses, and the clever fusion of Wagnerian style music with cinematography. In short a very clever makeover for an utterly evil regime. Hitler had already shown his ruthlessness the year before in liquidating SA leader Ernst Rohm, during "The night of the long knives", which he briefly alluded to in one of his speeches. The screen is filled with images of Germany's burgeoning military might, as if to cow a watching world into passive submission. But after a while I became a little bored with yet another tracking shot of the massed ranks and brainwashed goose stepping soldiers. I also became sick of seeing Nazi flags. There is only so much that innovation can do with the same old images! This said many of the images linger in the mind. As I watched the youth of Germany parading, I could not help but wonder at such warped innocence, and what was to become of them all in the holocaust that was to follow. Hitler certainly knew how to give a speech, that much was plain to see, and had an almost tangible Svengali like charisma that drew the masses to him like a moth to the flames, but to have him appear as a God descending from Valhalla like clouds at the start of the film was an abomination.
The film was certainly recognised by the allies as extremely potent material. Legendary film director Frank Capra described the film as an attempt to 'destroy the will to resist' in his own film series made during WW11 "Why We Fight", which was a direct response to Riefenstahl's earlier film. Hitler said in one of his speeches that "It is our will that this state and this Reich shall endure through the coming Millennia". So much for that! Riefenstahl spent 4 years in prison at the end of the war, and we know what happened to the other rabid Nazi leaders. The film is now more an interesting curiosity than anything else. It gives a brief insight into how easy it is for a people to be swept along in a tsunami of evil. But watching it today it does seem a bit repetitive. As a piece of controversial film history it is certainly worth watching for some groundbreaking techniques used at that time. I was left thinking of the title of a documentary I saw not so long ago "The Wonderful Horrible Life of Leni Riefenstahl". This film certainly contains wonderful technical moments, but the overall effect is one of stupefied horror!