The Good Die Young, and Leni Riefenstahl Turns 100

Born Aug. 22, 1902, and still going strong. Happy birthday, you unfortunately talented Nazi bitch.

Well, shit. Must be the triumph of the will.

Ha! I said it first!

Perhaps you could mention the other dozens and dozens of things she did besides the two films for Hitler?

Can no one ever be redeemed for a wrong doing?


Not that wrong-doing, not when she’s been so unpentent and smug about it for 60-some years. There was a big Times story on her last week—she is still denying things she did and said in the 1930s and '40s, and still insists that her films were “art,” not “propaganda.” Frankly, if she 'fessed up and said, “I was an opportunist and I’m sorry,” I’d not have as much problem with her.

Oh, she did other Nazi propaganda films as well, in addition to her two best-known. In one, Gypsies from a concentration camp were forced to dance happily in front of her camera, after which they were sent to their death. The director, of course, “knew nothing about this.”

Leni worked under Hitler’s direction for six days total, and while she was aware of his political leanings, she says she had no idea of genocidal ways.

She directed 12 films, she was also a silent film star and dancer in the twenties and thirties before her involvement with Hitler.

She also went on a self imposed exile AFTER the war, distancing herself from the whole thing and becoming a photographer in the Sudan.

She DOES realize that what Hitler did was wrong, but maintains that her films were beautifully shot…>WHICH THEY WERE. Olympia has some of the most beautiful photography I’ve ever seen of the human form.

I understand that she created propaganda for the NAZI party…but bakers also baked bread for Hitler, women cleaned houses for Hitler are they all worthy of being called “NAZI BITCH” sixty years later?

I just think it’s a little harsh.

Well, we’ll agree to disagree. I wouldn’t cross the street to spit on the bitch if she were on fire.

Well, they’re pretty darned artistic propaganda…

Even most Germans hate Leni for her history of conflicting stories and lies about her past.
That said, despite her being a consumate liar, there is no denying her talent.

So, do you want to destroy the work because it is propaganda?

“So, do you want to destroy the work because it is propaganda?”

—And where did I say that?

Fine Eve. We will agree to disagree. I had significant reason a year or two ago to do extensive research on Leni. I found that while she did wrong during the Hitler regime, she also expressed regret at what had happened, while still defending her work. Call me naive, but I found no reason to think she was lying when she said she was unaware of the massive scale of the atrocities in the camps. I think there were a lot of people in NAZI Germany who didn’t know exactly what was going on for a LONG TIME.

I don’t think she’s an angel, or a hero of the world, but I do think she was talented and before and after the war made significant contributions to the arts. She was certainly more than a “NAZI bitch”.

:: shrug::

We’ll disagree, no skin off my nose. It’s not like we’re dating.

Baloney. Saying she was just “aware of his political leanings” is like saying James Carville is just aware that Bill Clinton is not a Republican. Hitler was the Fuhrer, for God’s sake. It would be quite reasonable to say that Riefenstahl really didn’t CARE what the Nazis were about; she was an obsessive artist, entirely concerned with the artistic aspect of what she was doing, irrespective of the politics involved, and the attractive to doing nazi work was basically that they were funding it, always an attraction for the filmmaker. But she sure as hell knew what they were.

“I knew nothing” is the standard Nazi excuse, right before they trot out the “I was just following orders” one. The ugly truth is that just about everyone in Germany knew quite well what was going on, and they went right along with it.

I don’t think anyone seriously doubt Riefenstahl was a brilliant filmmaker. “Triumph of the Will” is shown in almost every first year film class as an example of filmmaking genius.

But so what? Nobody’s claiming she was a crappy filmmaker.

Well, frankly, a rather massive difference is that Hitler’s sandwiches and clean toilets weren’t used to promote and recruit disciples to the causes of murder and evil. “Triumph of the Will” was designed and meant to promote the destruction of decency, peace, and progressive civilization. Hitler’s last cucumber sandwich was not.

I don’t think she should be hanged, but a little humility and honestly is in order. I suspect much of her denial is based in sheer embarassment, but the fact is that she was a willing mouthpiece for one of the most evil regimes in human history, and some people are understandably a little bitter about that.

. . . Ummm, does this mean we’re off for Saturday night?

[Eve sadly puts away her dancing shoes]

What I was saying by listing the baker and the housekeeper of Hitler is that a lot of people worked blindly with and alongside NAZI party leaders and members without knowing the extent of their hatred for A VERY LONG TIME.

Like I said, I don’t think she’s the greatest person to ever live, but I do think that as a young, artistic, eager filmmaker, she probably was excited to do films for the most important person in Germany. It may seem small, when we look back on it…but WE DO ALL MAKE MISTAKES.

I dunno. I just think that Eve’s two sentence summation sort of skims over a hundred years of bad AND good. She’s a complex human being of many shades of gray.


I dunno Eve.

We’re having our first official spat.

I’ll be in the corner with my arms crossed, pouting.

Four films.

Victory of Faith-the short film about the 1933 Nuremberg Rally
Triumph of the Will-film about the 1934 Nuremberg Rally
Day of Freedom-Our Wehrmacht-short film about the 1935 Nuremberg Rally
Olympia-Film about the Berlin Olympics.

She also went on a US tour promoting Olympia and fascism, and in her show “Lowlands”, used concentration camp prisoners as extras.

She was no Fritz Hippler, but she wasn’t any great prize during the war years either.

She’s about on par with Jane Fonda – albeit talented. I’ve seen neither film, but they were considered quite well done. Seems that both Albert Speer (who was the architect behind the famous klieg light ‘cathedral of ice’ at the nurnburg rallies) and Leni got off relatively easy.

I recently saw the documentary Blind Spot, a feature-length interview with one of Hitler’s main secretaries. She was with him for years, taking dictation, doing filing, working on transcription, and other secretarial duties. The film – which is nothing more than a talking head for 90 minutes – makes it clear that many people worked alongside Hitler and had no idea what he was about. I certainly recommend the film.

Obviously, Riefenstahl, being more highly placed, had more access to more information, and her protestations of ignorance are harder to swallow. But don’t forget, Hitler and his cronies managed to hoodwink millions of people into doing their bidding. Why should Riefenstahl be the target of more venom than the others?

Because – I think – she’s an artist. She’s a staggeringly talented filmmaker and photographer, as her underwater and African work demonstrate. She’s quite possibly the best (as in most influential) female filmmaker in history. Her work has served as inspiration for everything from sports journalism to Star Wars. (The medal ceremony at the end is ripped straight out of Triumph of the Will.) She had all of this potential, and due to the vagaries of fate, it was channeled into supporting an impossibly hateful and destructive regime.

And yet, her talent cannot be denied.

It seems to me that at least some of the anger directed at Riefenstahl is more of a nebulous rage, an unfocused disgust at the unfairness of a universe that would create such an important and influential artist, and yet contrive that her most significant work would be festooned with swastikas. It seems to violate our innate sense of rightness that this should be so. Nobody much cares about Malevich or the other artists who were forced to become social realists and/or constructivists under Stalin, partly because (1) maybe none of them was a genius like Riefenstahl, or (2) the restrictive form quashed any real breakthroughs, or (3) a combination of the two.

But Riefenstahl wasn’t quashed; she bloomed. She created works of astonishing power and beauty. And she did it for Hitler.

Life isn’t fair. It’s just long and occasionally infuriating.

Another vote here for “Nazi Bitch”. The Las Vegas Review Journal ran a great picture a couple of days ago. It seems that Siegfried and Roy went back home recently to wish her a happy birthday. The RJ ran a picture of them standing with their arms around her with big smiles on their faces. I’ve got it posted on my computer room wall now. Camp like this cannot be passed up.

“Nobody much cares about Malevich or the other artists who were forced to become social realists and/or constructivists under Stalin, partly because (1) maybe none of them was a genius like Riefenstahl,…”
But how about Sergei Eisentein who is of even greater stature than Riefenstahl but who doesn’t seem to attract the same kind of venom for working for Stalin? I don’t know the details of the two filmmakers’ lives or films but I suspect part of it is driven by double-standards about the Communists versus the Nazis. I suspect that if Riefenstahl had been working for Stalin rather than Hitler no one would be bothering her either.