Leni Riefenstahl has been a very controversial figure for many years now. In
this series of articles, I will go over my thoughts and feelings on her life
and her work. This is part. 1, covering her early life and first foray into
Born Helene Bertha Amalie
Riefenstahl in Berlin, Germany on the 22nd of August, 1902; she
began her professional and artistic career as a dancer, her dancing style was
uniquely her own and widely popular at the time. She continued to express
herself through interpretive dance until she injured her knee in her early
20’s, at which point she began her acting career.
Her acting career began shortly
after the injury to her knee brought her career as a dancer to an end. She had
a couple of undocumented and minor rolls, until 1925 when she was finally given
the lead role in Arnold Fanck’s new mountain film: Der Heilige Berg (The Holy
Mountain) as the dancer Diotima.
The role of Diotima was written by
Fanck specifically for Leni Riefenstahl. It is the first film that I watched in
which Leni Riefenstahl was in front of the camera rather than behind it; it’s a
quality work with a great many interesting shots and scenes, Fanck does a great
job filming the environment. At the time of my first viewing I was not familiar
with Leni Riefenstahl’s acting, as I said; nor was I familiar with Arnold
Fanck’s directing; and I must say that I was pleasantly surprised by both
aspects of the film.
Riefenstahl gives a lovely
performance as Diotima; the film also allows us a bit of insight as to what her
dancing style and abilities were, which is wonderfully interesting, and I can
only imagine that she was an even better dancer before her knee injury.
Leni went on to star in many other
mountain films that were also directed by Arnold Fanck, of which I have now seen
several. Generally she played an outgoing young girl, a very entertaining part
and one that she did very well, which perhaps gives us a bit of insight as to
what he personality was like in her youthful days.
Then Leni began her career as a
director when the offer was made to her. Her first attempt at directing
resulted in the breakthrough film Das Blaue Licht (The Blue Light) in 1932.
With the support of Arnold Fanck, Béla Balázs, the production team at Henry R.
Sokal-Film of Berlin, and many others; Riefenstahl was not only able to direct
her first film, but she also starred in the leading role of the film as Junta;
and not only that, but Leni also co-wrote the film, edited the film, and helped
to produce the film.
The work was an absolute
breakthrough for Riefenstahl. The film launched her new career as a complicated
director. One that would lead her to be both praised and criticized, one that
was undoubtedly one of the most influential in the history of cinema and film