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Saturday, April 19, 2014

L is for Leni Riefenstahl: Triumph of the Will

by Tammy Petry

L
Blogging From A to Z April Challenge
http://www.a-to-zchallenge.com
2014
For my non-American readers, I realize a lot of this stuff may be classified as "illegal" in certain countries.  After a bit of research, I discovered that a simple disclaimer might allow legal viewing of this content for citizens of most countries.

Disclaimer: The information in this blog is for historical/educational purposes only.

"Shortly after he came to power Hitler called me to see him and explained that he wanted a film about a Party Congress, and wanted me to make it. My first reaction was to say that I did not know anything about the way such a thing worked or the organization of the Party, so that I would obviously photograph all the wrong things and please nobody - even supposing that I could make a documentary, which I had never yet done. Hitler said that this was exactly why he wanted me to do it: because anyone who knew all about the relative importance of the various people and groups and so on might make a film that would be pedantically accurate, but this was not what he wanted. He wanted a film showing the Congress through a non-expert eye, selecting just what was most artistically satisfying - in terms of spectacle, I suppose you might say. He wanted a film which would move, appeal to, impress an audience which was not necessarily interested in politics."
— Leni Riefenstahl

Leni Riefenstahl
Triumph of the Will (German: Triumph des Willens) is a 1935 film made by Leni Riefenstahl. It chronicles the 1934 Nazi Party Congress in Nuremberg, which was attended by more than 700,000 Nazi supporters. The film contains excerpts from speeches given by Nazi leaders at the Congress, including portions of speeches by Adolf Hitler, Rudolf Hess, and Julius Streicher, interspersed with footage of massed Sturmabteilung and Schutzstaffel troops, and public reaction.
Hitler commissioned the film and served as an unofficial executive producer; his name appears in the opening titles. The film's overriding theme is the return of Germany as a great power, with Hitler as the leader who will bring glory to the nation. Because the film was made after the 1934 Night of the Long Knives, many prominent SA members are absent, having been murdered in that purge.

Triumph of the Will was released in 1935 and became a prominent example of propaganda in film history. 

Riefenstahl's techniques—such as moving cameras, aerial photography, the use of long focus lenses to create a distorted perspective, and the revolutionary approach to the use of music and cinematography—have earned Triumph of the Will recognition as one of the greatest films in history. 

Riefenstahl won several awards, not only in Germany but also in the United States, France, Sweden, and other countries. The film was popular in the Third Reich, and has continued to influence movies, documentaries, and commercials to this day. However, it is banned from showing in Germany owing to its support for Nazism and its numerous portrayals of the swastika.

Triumph of the Will
"Triumph des Willens"
1935 German Film Poster

The film begins with a prologue, the only commentary in the film. It consists of the following text, shown sequentially, against a grey background:

[On 5 September 1934]
[20 years after the outbreak of the World War]
[16 years after the beginning of German suffering]
[19 months after the beginning of the German rebirth]
[Adolf Hitler flew again to Nuremberg to review the columns of his faithful followers]


The film opens with shots of the clouds above the city, and then moves through the clouds to float above the assembling masses below, with the intention of portraying beauty and majesty of the scene. The cruciform shadow of Hitler's plane is visible as it passes over the tiny figures marching below, accompanied by an orchestral arrangement of the Horst-Wessel-Lied.


HORST-WESSEL-LIED VIDEO
For Historical/Educational Purposes Only.

Upon arriving at the Nuremberg airport, Hitler and other Nazi leaders emerge from his plane to thunderous applause and a cheering crowd. He is then driven into Nuremberg, through equally enthusiastic people, to his hotel where a night rally is later held.

1934 Night Rally
Albert Speers' "Cathedral of Light"

Riefenstahl had the difficult task of condensing an estimated 61 hours of film into two hours. She labored to complete the film as fast as she could, going so far as to sleep in the editing room filled with hundreds of thousands of feet of film footage.

Triumph of the Will is sometimes seen as an example of Nazi political religion. The primary religion in Germany before the Second World War was Christianity. With the primary sects being Roman Catholic and Protestant, the Christian views in this movie are clearly meant to allow the movie to better connect with the intended audience.

Triumph of the Will has many scenes that blur the distinction between the Nazi Party, the German state, and the German people. Germans in peasant farmers' costumes and other traditional clothing greet Hitler in some scenes.

"The Party is Hitler - and Hitler is Germany just as Germany is Hitler!
— Rudolf Hess

In the closing speech of Triumph of the Will, Hitler enters the room from the back, appearing to emerge from the people. After a one sentence introduction, he tells his faithful Nazis how the German nation has subordinated itself to the Nazi Party because its leaders are mostly of Germans. He promises that the new state that the Nazis have created will endure for thousands of years. Hitler says that the youth will carry on after the old have weakened. They close with a chant, "Hitler is the Party, Hitler." The camera focuses on the large Swastika above Hitler and the film ends with the images of this Swastika imposed on Nazis marching in a few columns.

I purchased a DVD copy of this film many years ago and I'm happy to have it in my eclectic collection.  It is free to view on YouTube as well.


Here is the full version of Triumph of the Will, complete with 60-second introductory overture.  The screen is black for the first minute so don't think it's a bad link or video.

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