OT: Triumph of the Will-- Leni Riefenstahl

bw wrote on 3/14/2007, 6:45 AM
This could be considered a way out political thread, but this remarkable film has a lot in it for editors everywhere.
Maybe I am behind in that I have never seen it before, although I had heard of it.
It is a documentary propoganda film made in 1934 by Leni Riefenstahl for the Nazi Party in Germany. Leni (a woman) was quite famous and only recently died in 2003 aged 101.
Triumph of the Will was made only three years before I was born and yet shows a world so far removed from today. However my interest and recomendation is to look at the editing and production. A lot of learning can be had from this remarkable woman.
My copy was purchased at a market stall for a couple of bucks, is a good DVD copy from flashbackentertainment.com .
Considering the technology of the time and ignoring the blatent promotion of this evil regime I was blown away by the evocative camera work and editing (all done with scissors and glue) Check it out if you can, Brian
ps Google Leni for more info.


Jay Gladwell wrote on 3/14/2007, 7:12 AM

You're right, the propaganda aside, it is a well done piece. I have a copy and watch it once in a while just to see how good cinematic techniques can make even the most abhorrent idea palatable.

I think anyone who wants to be an editor should watch this film, and more than once.

Grazie wrote on 3/14/2007, 7:53 AM
how good cinematic techniques can make even the most abhorrent idea palatable

. . no . .
Jay Gladwell wrote on 3/14/2007, 7:58 AM

Graham, I didn't say I agreed with its content/message. Nothing could be further from the truth. But one can't deny that the film was successful in its goal. It must be looked at within the context of Germany in 1934.

There is no denying that it is a well made piece of cinema. And, like it or not, propaganda films are an important part of cinema's history.

Grazie wrote on 3/14/2007, 8:10 AM
. .and I still stand by my "no".
Paul Fierlinger wrote on 3/14/2007, 8:26 AM
... yes ...
busterkeaton wrote on 3/14/2007, 11:54 AM
Besides being abhorrent. It's also immensely dull. Because it just goes on and on and on. Very hard to watch the same thing. Propaganda was much cruder then.
If you want to watch a Riefenstahl movie that has less Nazi ideology, try Olympia which is her documentary of the 1936 Olympic Games.

Lucas used direct copies of Triumph of the Will scenes when setting up The Empire of Darth Vader as evil.

There is a great documentary on Riefenstahl, The Wonderful, Horrible Life of Leni Riefenstahl. I think she was in her 90's when interviewed she is still an energetic monster. She pleads her ignorance of the evils of Nazism and portrays herself as a victim who so dedicated to art, she didn't see the political context around her.
Serena wrote on 3/14/2007, 4:39 PM
Leni Riefenstahl documentaries made before WWII won gold medals Venice 1935, World Exhibition Paris 1937 (also Olympia), Olympia won best film Venice 1938. These films showed technical innovation in camera work and editing and were outstanding in their time period. "Triumph of the Will" certainly does bog down during the parade of troops, but you can't watch this without seeing modern day parallels. The films of Sergei Mikhailovich Eisenstein were just as political and similarly innovative in their time (but 20 years earlier), but perhaps because Stalin preferred a simpler approach to propaganda Eisenstein is still a big name in the development of film techniques. Keynote films can teach valuable lessons without you needing to like a film or the people who made it.
je@on wrote on 3/14/2007, 5:44 PM
"Propaganda was much cruder then."

Yeah, now they call it Fox News Channel!
farss wrote on 3/14/2007, 7:20 PM
I once worked with an old German gent who was very much part of that propoganda machine. It took 4 years training to become a film maker back then.

I was only a teenager at the time but I do remember one thing he had to say. He was a Nazi and had no problem admitting it and his part in what happened. What truly disgusted him was how his fellow cinematographers tried to change their tune after the war.
Serena wrote on 3/14/2007, 8:14 PM
It's little wonder that people denied their participation in the Nazi propaganda machine when you have the experience of Riefenstah as a guide. Hindsight is wonderful, but there were many outside of Germany watching with admiration as Germany was dragged from depression to apparent prosperity. I don't doubt that Riefenstah was fully aware of the purpose of her work, but what was the purpose of films such as "In Which We Serve"? I always ask what would I have done, without the benefit of hindsight, in their place? Obviously I don't know, but I suspect not as well as I would like to be judged. So I have watched "Triumph of the Will", knowing that some scenes were reshot in the studio (an early mockumentary?), for what I can learn about film-making and for sharpening my political skepticism. The film was theatre from start to finish, an excellent insight to Hitler's idea of government. Of course, without understanding context, you might miss a lot.
Incidentally, should you watch it, check out the camera positions for Hitler standing in the back of his car ('waving' to the populace); the MCUs must have been shot in a re-staging.
fldave wrote on 3/14/2007, 8:28 PM
I appreciate skill, in a benevolent pursuit.

I understand, thru my readings, that Hitler was a master at manipulating the masses. Of course, media was used for that manipulation.

Let this be a warning to all of us, that at any time we may have a gun to our head or a large amount of cash in front of our eyes.
Coursedesign wrote on 3/14/2007, 8:38 PM
Actually watching Hitler's "home movies" gives a lot of insight into both his views and those of his cabinet.

His silent 8mm films (shot by his lover Eva Braun) were found after he fled his Berghof mountain retreat, and recently restored and his voice added to the soundtrack with dialog recovered with automated lip reading in a fascinating project described here.

In summary, he seemed like a nice gentleman who a) thought that his cabinet (Goebbels, Eichmann, etc.) were nutty to do what they were doing, but he felt powerless to do anything without them, and b) his incredible public persona was created by a Jewish acting coach. It's all in the 40' documentary linked to in the story above, very high class.

The a) part above seems to have several modern parallels, not the first or the last time someone was tempted to come to power by using evil people.
Serena wrote on 3/14/2007, 8:38 PM
>>>>or a large amount of cash in front of our eyes.<<<<

Or patriotism.
fldave wrote on 3/14/2007, 8:40 PM
"The a) part above seems to have several modern parallels"

Let this be a warning to all of us, that at any time we may have a gun to our head or a large amount of cash in front of our eyes.
Serena wrote on 3/14/2007, 8:54 PM
I doubt that Riefenstah had either a gun to her head or large amounts of cash for her personal account. She was someone offered opportunities to make films without hindrance and with resources to make them. One needs to look no further than patriotism for political motivation. Ignorance, at the time of production, of the reality of Hitler's regime is quite believable, for that was carefully hidden behind the theatre of the absurd. I don't believe that Hitler was a nice old gentleman befuddled by his cabinet members; everyone has a nice side which they can present when they wish.
fldave wrote on 3/14/2007, 9:02 PM
Agree, Serena. Patriottism.

Absolutely no remorse for Hitler. An evil being that got much less than he deserved. There are evil beings around us now.

But there are influences that create patriotism. Those are endless.

Guns to your head, cash, ideology, good luck, bad luck, violation, national success, national defeat.
Coursedesign wrote on 3/14/2007, 10:54 PM
I don't believe that Hitler was a nice old gentleman befuddled by his cabinet members; everyone has a nice side which they can present when they wish.

Serena, I believe you're the right kind of person to look at the documentary (BBC, I think?) and form your own opinion based on what you see.

It may not be as simple as black and white, nice side vs. evil side. Check it out, I can only promise that it is supremely interesting enough to be worth watching for about 40 minutes.

farss wrote on 3/14/2007, 11:22 PM
One of my clients met Hitler's secretary, she was a dinner guest as his father had helped her get a visa to come to Australia, where her sister still lives.
His recollection of her was how she always spoke of Adolf as a very kind man, someone who loved children and was a perfect gentleman.
That's kind of the problem we have with such monsterously evil events, we desperately want to demonise someone because the truth is just too disconcerting. It's very hard to accept that the greatest evils of history are not bought about by one person but by thousands, if not millions, of us going about business as usual.

For an indepth analysis I'll again recommend "Evil in Modern Thought".
Serena wrote on 3/15/2007, 12:02 AM
I've seen some of those home movies, but I'm not sure that was the programme you mean. There was one that used a lot of amateur 16mm footage of public events, and that made the interesting assertion that all of the original clique were failed artists and that their artistic ambitions guided much of their early public endeavors. Interesting idea. Although people like to believe that Hitler had horns that anyone with eyes could see, it's clear from many documents that he could be quite personable. Nicely portrayed in "Downfall", at the time of his disintegration. It's also clear that he presented differently to different people and that he compartmentalized information so no one of his ministers possessed the full picture, and perhaps he didn't either. Certainly he could recognise and recruit very capable people (e.g. Speer). Hitler was a corporal in WWI (won an Iron Cross for bravery) and someone has remarked that this was just about the worst background for a leader; gave him a fetish for detail (size of bolts on a new weapon) while lacking the broad view. The manner in which he was allowed by his cohorts to gain absolute power and to take absolute command of the army (didn't worry much about the airforce or navy) was both the blunder for them and the saving for us. It is these lessons that have to be understood; how a weak and fractured personality through being able cultivate social fears, to put voice to the worries of others, and to use that to gain power over them. Pretty much describes much of sound bite political scene of today. Unfortunately today's politicians don't show horns either.
Anyway, much recent history is documented in film and video and I think it a pity when people close their eyes to past political lessons and reject opportunities to examine the works of previous film makers because of such biases.
MH_Stevens wrote on 3/15/2007, 12:04 AM
People then, just as now love the ease of not having to think, and just following the system dogma, convinced it is just and good as if it was their own. If Michael Moore had been there making an objective film few would have taken that difficult road that requires us to think and believe in our own judgements and accept that our leader can be crooks.

How many of you who have taken the high and mighty road to disparage Leni believed Michael Moore over Fox News?
bw wrote on 3/15/2007, 6:11 AM
I really started this thread to get comments on the editing etc find the political comments interesting as well.
There are those who still say ,Why didnt the US, UK and France etc go into Germany in the early thirties when they saw what was happening?
Imagine the hue and cry!
On the technical side what about the shots of outdor orators standing back 5 or 6 feet from the mics? Early digital noise and feedback cancelling, or are these studio setups?
Jay Gladwell wrote on 3/15/2007, 6:47 AM

On the technical side what about the shots of outdor orators standing back 5 or 6 feet from the mics?

I had always presumed that they stood back from the mic because, more often than not, they were always shouting. I don't think any of the shots were done in the studio. If they were, they did an excellent job making it look otherwise.

Brian, personally, I trully appreciate you starting this thread--finally something that has to do with editing--how novel. However, based on recent events here in the forum, I would say leave the politics out of the discussion (lest the thread get yanked) and stick to the cinematic aspects of the piece.

Triumph of the Will is a historical document in the purest since of the word and a wonderful example of a film documentary. There is a great deal to be learned from it.

earthrisers wrote on 3/15/2007, 8:20 AM
As for Hitler not knowing what he had unleashed -- it's all laid out in the book he wrote before he came to power, "Mein Kampf."

Hitler did seem to present himself gently to those to whom he wanted to present himself gently. Master manipulater, all around.

Re "Triumph of the Will" -- when I watch that film, I shudder to realize that I'm moved/inspired by some of its cinematic sequences, and that had I been there at the time, I could have been swept up in the "excitement" of what was going on. It makes me watch my own reactions to the political propaganda of today very, very closely.
Riefenstahl herself said she edited the film as if she were composing a symphony... carefully crafted build-ups, tone-downs of emotion, etc.
tdillard wrote on 3/15/2007, 9:22 AM
As opposed to the Clinton News Channel, CNN?

At any rate, I've heard so much about this film that I've put it in my queue at BlockBuster. If any of you are interested, it's available there.