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Nazi Propaganda - Case Study Leni Riefenstahl

Leni Riefenstahl made the Nazi`s finest propaganda film `Triumph of the Will` his short articles looks at her impact

Date : 11/01/2016


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Uploaded by : Paul
Uploaded on : 11/01/2016
Subject : History

Leni Riefenstahl made what is considered by many historians to be the greatest propaganda film of all time ‘Triumph of the Will’ (1934). Riefenstahl was an actress in Hitler’s Germany and she was asked by Hitler personally to make a film of the Nazi party rally in Nuremberg for the party itself. As so many times in the Third Reich this ‘project’ was outside of hierarchies and structures and for once was not under the control of Joseph Goebbels and the propaganda ministry. Goebbels’ relationship with Riefenstahl is a strange one, Riefenstahl always claimed that she did not get on well with Goebbels and certainly he was furious that Riefenstahl was working outside of his control as Propaganda Minister. Entries in Goebbels’ diaries indicated otherwise but the diaries are not a reliable source as Goebbels wrote them for posterity so they are more reliable than the rest of Nazi propaganda. In fact Riefenstahl made two films of Nazi party rallies, the first made in 1933 was not completed but is fascinating as it shows that even the Nazi’s had to learn how to be Nazi’s. As surviving clips from the first film show the organisation of the rally was poor and there are moments where there is confusion. The one person who never allows himself to look anything else but in control is Hitler himself, always calm, always in command and always aware of the camera and its importance. The 1934 film is by contrast a masterpiece, Riefenstahl and her camera team were allowed unprecedented control to the extent that what should be a documentary looks like a film set. Events are clearly staged for the camera and Riefenstahl ‘directs’ the participants. At one point she put a circular track around Hitler so that the camera could move around him while he gave his speech. This would have been distracting for the assembled Nazi’s but it electrifies Hitler’s already commanding. performance. The final step was the editing of the film, Riefenstahl spent hundreds of hours editing the film footage to make it more exciting and the result was a film that made Nazism look impressive. Riefenstahl always claimed that she was not interested in politics only in the art of film but she contributed significantly to the power of Nazism through Triumph of the Will.In 1936 Riefenstahl was asked to film the Berlin Olympics, a film that eventually appeared in two parts as ‘Olympiad’ in 1938. Again Riefenstahl was granted unprecedented access both before and during the Olympics. She took the German track and field athletes up to the Baltic coast and filmed them with special cameras and high speed film. By shooting low to high against a cloudy sky she makes the athletes look godlike. Thus at the start of the film a Greek statue of a discus thrower melds into the slow motion actions of the German athlete and discus thrower. The accusation against Riefentahl here is that she reinforced Hitler’s racial stereotypes and the concept of the Master Race and gave them legitimacy by comparing them to the Greeks. Riefenstahl always strenuously denied this accusation claiming again that what she wanted to make was an artistic film that was exciting. The same approach was used throughout the Olympics with Riefenstahl able to get pits dug next to the pole vault to film low to high. She also pioneered the use of moving camera’s that followed the runners on a rail next to the track a techniques not seen again until the 1980’s. Two years in the editing the final pair of films are a masterpiece. Riefenstahl paid a heavy price for her involvement with the Nazi’s as for twenty years after the war no one would work with her, the greatest punishment that could be imposed on her, denying her the chance to continue her obsession with film, an obsession that was so important to who she was.

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