Marathon: Leni Riefenstahl

I’ve decided with this marathon to focus on a female because, let’s be honest, they don’t get nearly enough coverage in the film community unless they’re an actress. Now while the subject of this marathon is a bit controversial, I think you’d be hard pressed to find another woman more influential and domineering in the film industry than Leni Riefenstahl.

Leni Riefenstahl got her start in the mountain films as an actress. Her early years in films had her as the lead in a number of these projects. As a dancer, the physical demands of the mountain film appealed to her. It was during this time that she became well loved by both audience members and filmmakers. This allowed her to direct her first film: The Blue Light.

It was after this project that the most well-known part of Leni Riefenstahl’s career began. Adolf Hitler asked Riefenstahl to document in film the upcoming Nuremberg rally. The end product is one of the most influential and powerful films of all time: Triumph of the Will. It’s a film so effective that George Lucas even directly pulls from one of its sequences at the end of Star Wars.

Say what you will about George Lucas, but when he directly references the work of Leni Riefenstahl, anyone interested in film should know that this is a person worth paying attention to, especially when one sees other directors who also talk about Riefenstahl’s work as an influence on their own, such as Peter Jackson and Ridley Scott.

That being said, Riefenstahl’s Triumph of the Will is one of the most controversial and contested films of all time. It’s importance is not doubted, but moral issues abound when looking at a film that promotes an ideology that led to an attempt to exterminate an entire race of people. Should people even be watching a film that promotes such as system?

Clearly, I think the answer is yes or I wouldn’t be doing this marathon. That being said, a big part of what I will explore with her later films is that big issue of the fascist aesthetic and whether or not she should be using it. Should a filmmaker be denounced for making a film that is too effective and too powerful?

As a person, Leni Riefenstahl is a fascinating character. She’s one of those entrhalling personalities, bold and daring in her work. A lot of time has been spent in arguing over whether or not Riefenstahl was a Nazi and if she should be treated and judged as the Nazis were at the Nuremberg trials. While a fascinating debate, this will not be the focus of the marathon.

As Leni Riefenstahl put it: “Until the day I die people will keep saying, ‘Leni is a Nazi’, and I’ll keep saying, ‘But what did she do?'” That’s my interest in this marathon. I’m looking at what Riefenstahl did in the realm of film. What’s not debatable in the least is that Riefenstahl had an enormous impact on film, and this marathon is interested in exploring the roots of that impact.

The Holy Mountain (1926)
The White Hell of Pitz Palu (1930)
Storm Over Mont Blanc/Avalance (1930)
The Blue Light (1932)
Triumph of the Will (1935)
Olympia (1938)
Tiefland (1954)

The Wonderful, Horrible Life of Leni Riefenstahl (1993)