Leni Riefenstahl--duped genius or Nazi bitch?

I’m going to re-watch that documentary about her tonight on TV, and wondered if any of you have opinions. Was she really unaware of what was going on in Germany–as she still claims–or was she a willing tool of the Reich?

The more I learn about such people as Colette and Chanel, the more I see people were perfectly happy and willing to go along with “that nice Mr. Hitler,” as long as it looked like he was on the winning side . . .

I Think that Riefenstahl is a little of both. There is no denying her directoral talents, but not knowing what was going on? Every slug in nazi Germany spewed out the line about only following orders.
BTW, is she still alive? I thought that she died 2 or 3 years ago.

Nah, the old hag is pushing 100, you couldn’t kill her with an ax.

Her line isn’t even “I was only following orders,” but “I had no idea what was going on,” pretty hard to swallow, since she was socializing with and filming most of the Nazi leaders from the mid-1930s on.

If by “what was going on”, do you mean “Was she fully aware of what was going on in concentration camps?” I’m not sure how many civilians had full knowledge of the atrocities committed in those camps vs. people who sincerely believed that people were being shipped off for forced labour or prison camps.

In any event, she helped glorify an ultra-nationalistic and bellicose regime, and deserves censure for that.

But let me give you another example. I still see articles praising D.W. Griffith’s “Birth of a Nation” as a “landmark American film masterpiece.” Don’t you think D.W. Griffith knew about what was happening in the USA with respect to the rights of blacks? (Obviously not on the same scale as the nazi extermination of jews / gypsies / homosexuals / political dissidents.)

La franchise ne consiste pas à dire tout ce que l’on pense, mais à penser tout ce que l’on dit.
H. de Livry

It is possible (though IMO unlikely) that she did not know.

Arthur C. Clarke quotes Wernher von Braun (whom he knew personally) as saying, “No, I did not know what was going on in the (concentration) camps. But I was in a position to find out, and I didn’t. For that I blame myself.”

Good topic - she’s a genius, no doubt of that. But then so was Hitler.

Hitler’s art was public speaking and - there has been no one better that we have evidence of. He was purely mesmerizing - a master of gesture, inflection and persuasion. Hitler, though, let hatred overwhelm his art, whereas Leni did not. She had a true love for film, nature, and man. Her recent work on aquatic documentaries (scuba diving in her 90’s!) is testament to this.

She should be remembered as one of the best, most innovative directors ever. Her coverage of the Olympics and “Triumph of Will” are phenomenal. The nazi years were a very small part of her career.

Unfortunately, all who were associated with the Nazi party are condemned - Riefenstahl, Heidegger, etc. Their contributions far outweigh their damage. Although I must admit, it is hard to guage the extent of damage caused by propaganda. Kurt Vonnagut Jr.'s novel “Mother Night” covers this well.

Hell is Other People.

I recommend you try to catch that documentary tonight–I’m guessing it’s on TCM (for the three or four of you who have access to TCM!).

D.W. Griffith is also a poser. I find Birth of a Nation a hateful film, of course; it also has some stunning, moving moments. I was good friends with Lillian Gish, but we NEVER discussed this movie–I mean, there she was, riding at the head of a Klan march in the finale!

Grifith was definitely a genius, and a hateful racist. It’s a shame, though, that other silent directors are forgotten because so many of their films are gone: John Collins, J. Gordon Edwards, Alan Dwan, Lois Weber, etc., etc. The reason we revere Griffith is the same reason we do Chaplin–his stuff is right in our face.

Quite definitely both, I think.

I’ve seen the doc before, and IIRC, Riefenstahl comes across as someone intelligent and gifted who allowed herself to be swept up in a cult of personality, and has been rationalizing ever since.

Great director, great photographer; how unfortunate that such talent wound up glorifying such a cause.

I can almost understand how in the earliest years of Nazi rule (say, 1933-34), intellectuals like Riefenstahl got very enthused over the regime, carried away in fact with the emotion and dramatic symbolism (although it was pretty overblown).

However, once the promulgation of the Nuremburg Laws in 1935 revoked German citizenship from Jews (amongst other things), there can be no excuse. These statutes established Nazi racial philosophy as the law of the state. Canadian novelist Mordecai Richler has called the Nuremburg Laws “a station on the road to Hell.”

Someone moving in the circles that Riefenstahl did would have to be deaf, dumb and blind not to have deduced what was happening to the Jews (and others). Certainly there was much ‘street gossip’ in Germany and the occupied countries. IIRC in a recent book “Germany’s Willing Executioners,” the author (Goldhagen) recounts memories of German children being told to behave “or they’d go up the chimney.”

I think it was a case of “hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil,” for many Germans, including Riefenstahl.

Ditto, Rodd.

Can anybody tell me the names of other movies by Riefenstahl, other than ‘Triumph of the Will’? I have seen TotW, and would like to see some of her other work, if it is available. I am assuming that she made some conventional movies during her career.