Leni Riefenstahl – A Great Artist – Part 4

Leni Riefenstahl Directing Tiefland

 

Leni Riefenstahl’s next cinematic work was very likely made
specifically for Adolf Hitler himself. The film was financed by Hitler through the
German government; it is a film version of Adolf Hitler’s favorite opera: Tiefland
by Eugen d’Albert.

Based on the great Catalan writer Àngel Guimerà’s 1896 play Terra
baixa; Eugen d’Albert’s Tiefland was his seventh and most famous Opera; though
not immediately popular, the opera would garner international acclaim shortly after
it was reworked by d’Albert in 1907.

Tiefland would be Leni Riefenstahl’s last full length feature
film. Once again she would direct, write, star, edit, and produce the film.
I’ve seen the film and it is a very high quality work, it’s a very artistic
film and I feel that Leni Riefenstahl’s vision is well supported, especially
taking into consideration that the film was created during such a hectic time
in her life, and of course a very hectic time for the entire world.

 

Leni Riefenstahl Writing Tiefland

 

While Tiefland is not quite as much of a breakthrough as
Leni Riefenstahl’s great work done in Triumph of the Will and Olympia; Tiefland
is full of extremely high quality, beautiful shots, and I believe it to be a
fine film overall.

The one draining issue with Tiefland is that some of the
actors were taken out of concentration camps and put to work on the film. Both
Sinti and Roma gypsies were taken from concentration camps nearby wherever the
shooting location was at the time.

It’s said that the actors in the film were later put to
death at some point after returning to the concentration camps. Whether that is
true is unknown to me, but it seems that it was likely unknown to Leni Riefenstahl
if it were true, as she denied anything like that ever happening. Regardless of
the fact that many of the actors in the film were gypsies, or whether they were
being forced into doing the work or not, or whether they were killed by the
Nazi’s at some point after the filming was finished; we have to realize that it
was a terrible situation for them, as well as many other people during World
War II, but it is a fact of Germany from that period in time, one that we have
to accept and deal with.

It’s unknown to me how Leni Riefenstahl treated her actors,
but I can’t see it as having been too bad, certainly not as bad as what was
happening to them inside of their concentration camps; taking into account the
fact that she was acting right there along with them. Who can say how they were
treated while in her presence and working with her though.

Leni Riefenstahl – A Great Artist – Part 3

Leni Riefenstahl's Portrait

Leni Riefenstahl’s next film was another work for Hitler and
the Nazi party, filmed and released the same year that Triumph of the Will was
released, 1935. It is another documentary / propaganda piece filmed at the
annual Nazi rally held in Nuremburg, entitled Tag der Freiheit! — Unsere
Wehrmacht! (Day of Freedom! — Our Armed Forces!). It’s a short film glorifying
the German army. It is not quite up to the artistic merits of her previous
works, especially Triumph of the Will, but it is a quality work for what it is;
basically it’s a showcase of the German army and how they operate.

The film was created due to the German army’s lack of
exposure in the brilliant Triumph of the Will. As such they were upset and
wanted a film of their own, they went to Hitler with their concerns and Hitler
accepted their idea and put it through to Riefenstahl.

Sadly the 1935 Nazi party rally in Nuremburg was the point
in which the Nazi ideologies on the Jewish people would begin to further come
to light and be implemented. Known as the Nuremberg Laws, they are one of the
first of many black marks on the history of Leni Riefenstahl and her work,
Adolf Hitler, the Nazi party, and much of the German population. The Nuremberg
Laws were of course some of the first official discrimination laws against the
Jewish people by the Nazi party.

 

Leni Riefenstahl Directing Olympia

Riefenstahl’s next film was Olympia, in which she
brilliantly documents the 1936 Summer Olympics. It is Leni Riefenstahl’s last
groundbreaking work in film (though not her last film). It is another
masterwork, along with Triumph of the Will, Olympia is her greatest work in
film; I can’t quite say for sure which one I enjoy more or which was more of a
breakthrough, both are cinematic masterpieces.

Olympia is a truly brilliant work. Known for its technical
achievements, Leni uses advanced techniques in the process of creating the
film, such as; tracking shots, everyone is aware of tracking shots today, but
they certainly weren’t as aware of them before Leni Riefenstahl; extreme
close-ups, everyone knows what an extreme close-up is now, but very few knew what
it was in 1936; smash-cut editing, which is now commonly used to give the
viewer a quick snap, a wakeup call if you will, they weren’t happening before
Olympia; as well as cleverly angled and designed shots and lighting techniques;
slow-motion techniques; and much more. The film showcases her absolute brilliance
as a director in film and as an artist in general.

Before Olympia the vast majority of shots in cinema were
done from stationary positions, little camera movement was involved and little
variation on top of that. Certainly there were plenty of other great filmmakers
both before and during the time of Leni Riefenstahl’s classic directing works
and I do not mean to discredit them at all. But the fact is that Leni
Riefenstahl truly was a great artist and a cinematic visionary; Leni Riefenstahl
was a pioneer and she should be seen and respected as such.

Leni Riefenstahl – A Great Artist – Part 2

Leni Riefenstahl Standing

During the filming of Das Blaue Licht, Leni read Adolf
Hitler’s Mein Kampf, and in 1932 she attended a Nazi (National Socialist German
Workers’ Party) rally, as a great number of Germans did; and as with a great
number of her fellow Germans, she was enthralled by Adolf Hitler’s rhetoric.
Shortly after she had a meeting with Hitler, who told Leni that he enjoyed her
work in Das Blaue Licht and elsewhere and would like her to film the upcoming fifth Nazi
party rally, in Nuremberg.

Whether she wanted to create the film for herself, or had
some sort of incentive or other motive behind its creation is unknown to me.
Certainly she must have known that it would be used as a propaganda piece for
the Nazi party and for her country; this isn’t something that we should be
upset over though, many great artists have created pieces for their countries
that are seen as propaganda.

Through the opposition of much of the Nazi party and with
the support of Hitler she was able to document the rally. The film that
Riefenstahl created out of the 1933 Nazi rally in Nuremberg was Der Sieg des
Glaubens (Victory of the Faith); which is a film that I haven’t seen personally,
but a film that I plan on seeing at some point in the future.

Shortly after its release the film was hidden away due to
Hitler’s orders to execute Ernst Röhm, the leader of the Sturmabteilung (the SA
or the brownshirts); as well as many of his lieutenants and other people
involved in the initial rise of Nazi power, and the rise of Hitler himself for
that matter. The incident is known as the Night of the Long Knives; during
which, over several days 90 people were murdered by the Schutzstaffel (the SS)
and the Geheime Staatspolizei (the Gestapo). Leni Riefenstahl’s feelings on the
situation are unknown to me, I’m not aware of her speaking a word about it
myself, but I can’t imagine that she was too happy over her work being hidden
away at the time.

Although the film had to be shelved, Adolf Hitler thought
positively of her and her work on Der Sieg des Glaubens and asked Riefenstahl to create another
film for the upcoming 1934 Nazi party rally in Nuremburg.

Leni Riefenstahl Directing

The film that Leni Riefenstahl created from the 1934 rally
was another breakthrough, this time both a cinematic breakthrough and an
artistic breakthrough. That film is Triumph des Willens (Triumph of the Will).  Riefenstahl shows her masterful control of
the camera here; thanks to her tremendous artistic vision, Leni was able to
create shots that had never been seen or even dreamed of with a camera. The
sheer technical detail and effort that went into making the film is incredible;
Leni used 30 cameras and had 120 technicians at her disposal; she had bridges
and posts built in the center of Nuremburg; all of the camera placements, the movements, the lighting gantries, everything was specifically set up to Leni Riefenstahl’s
exact specifications.

Triumph des Willens is truly a great work, one that Leni
Riefenstahl worked painstakingly to create to the absolute best of her ability,
to fully meet her vision in every possible way. She recorded just over 66 and ½
hours of footage of the rally. Of those sixty-six and one-half hours of footage
she edited the film into the brilliant 2 hour long documentary that we know
today. The film received many awards, including the 1935 Venice International
Film Festival Coppa dell’Istituto Nazionale LUCE award, the National Film Prize for 1934-1935, and the Medaille d’Or &
Grand Prix de France in 1937.

The film was lauded at the time of its creation around the
world and it has been highly praised by film enthusiasts, it is to this day praised by authorities of the cinematic and artistic realm, as it has from
its very first showing. It truly is a masterpiece in documentary and visual
filmmaking; no matter if it is considered propaganda or not, no matter if Leni
Riefenstahl meant for it to be a propaganda piece or not. The facts remain: The artwork and the mastery of Leni Riefenstahl’s work speaks for itself.