Leni Riefenstahl’s Triumph of the Will: Who Initialized It and What Purpose Did Each Filmmaker Have in Mind?
Triumph of the Will is associated with Nazi power more than any other film, and has been widely recognized as a "masterpiece" of propaganda. The significance of this film lies both in its powerful use of the film medium as well as in its message.
Riefenstahl’s reality was constructed to serve the image and therefore not as genuine as the film portrays. Riefenstahl had essentially helped the Nazis achieve their goal of creating a fascist state, while Resnais showed the dreadful results of what fascism had led to. Leni Riefenstahl had always neglected criticism of her film Triumph of the Will and died reluctant in admitting her guilt for the creation of the ultimate propaganda film and more importantly the killing of millions of Jews, Gypsies, Homosexuals and others deemed socially unacceptable to the Nazis. This film is considered propaganda through the eyes of those who condemn genocide or stood idly by as the Holocaust occurred, right in the midst of what appeared to be a normal world. Alain Resnais film Night and Fog, is considered a documentary since the truth behind the Holocaust is uncovered without censorship. Leni Riefenstahl’s admiration for the Nazi ideology and its leader Adolf Hitler paved the way for a film unlike any other. Susan Sontag’s analysis of Triumph of the Will film, argues that the use of subtle techniques and staged events presented a fallacious reality that had become the fabrication of a fascist state. Proving that no matter what Riefenstahl claims, she clearly had intended it to be propagandist and of a fascist nature – and while she may have denied her involvement with the Holocaust itself, it is clear that she also played a pivotal role in its creation.
Many critics purport differently. Just as Birth of a Nation reeked of racist negative/stereotypical portrayal of African- Americans and shaped the America’s public’s attitude/image about race, Triumph contributed to heightened negative perceptions of European Jewry and anti-Semitism. Hitler’s conquest for German purity emanates from his speeches as well those of his featured compatriots – Goring, Goebbels, etc. Could Riefenstahl have been that naïve and blind to Hitler’s maniacal plans that lay ahead? Objectivity has meaning but in reality it is greatly influenced by the filmmaker’s point of view via perceptions, emotions, etc. thereby determining the extent they can be biased or slant their point of view. Suffice to say, Triumph of the Will authenticated that film has the ability to influence as well as alter how people perceive themselves, aspects of their society/culture as well as other peoples and their culture.
Extreme high- and low-angle shots of Hitler delivering his histrionic speeches position him as master of a world of impeccably ordered subjects. Swastikas and other Nazi iconography fill nearly every scene. The cumulative effect is a sense of the Nazis’ invincibility and the inevitability that they will remake Germany in their image.
Rabinowitz, Paula. “Wreckage upon Wreckage: History, Documentary and the Ruins of Memory.” History and Theory, Vol. 32, No. 2. (May, 1993), pp. 119-137. Triumph of the Will (Video). Web.