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Boston, US
Posts: 205


In class you will have already watched portions of Triumph of the Will (1934), a film by filmmaker Leni Riefenstahl.

In case you missed any portion of the film, here is what we should have watched by Friday May 7

The times noted are visible on the time count on the video. Feel free to watch more of this film if you

choose (it’s approximately 1 hour 30 minutes total) but definitely make sure you watch all 5 of these

clips at minimum.

  • Clip #1: from the beginning of the film to Hitler’s arrival at his hotel in Nuremberg 0:00 through 9:08
  • Clip #2: at “Camp Nazi” the Hitler youth preparing for their rally. (Don’t miss look-alikes Draco Malfoy and Rolf from The Sound of Music.) 12:23 through 17:57
  • Clip #3: the labor ceremony of loyalty; Hitler addresses the Reich Labor Corps 31:23 through 35:56
  • Clip #4: Hitler addresses the Nazi youth rally and does a motor tour of the crowds 45:36-51:31
  • Clip #5: Hitler reviewing the parade of storm troopers with the flags and ensignias from regions
  • throughout Germany 1:01:08 through 1:04:52

(1) Excerpt from the amazing film on Leni R: The Wonderful Horrible Life of Leni Riefenstahl (dir: Ray Mueller, 1993). You can find this film (which in its entirety is 3+ hours long) online at I only ask that you watch this portion, from 1:01:20—> 1:32:04

(2) A few pages from Leni Riefenstahl’s massive autobiography: Leni Riefenstahl, excerpt from Leni

Riefenstahl: A Memoir, New York: Picador, 1992.

(2) Leni Riefenstahl’s obituary: Alan Riding, "Leni Riefenstahl, Filmmaker and Nazi Propagandist, Dies at 101," New York Times (September 9, 2003)

We’ve now had a look, albeit a partial look, at Leni Riefenstahl’s monumental documentary film, Triumph of the Will (1934). Many of you no doubt recognized pieces of this film because so much of it has been used subsequently in virtually every film—documentary or fictional—about the Nazis and the Holocaust.

Virtually everyone who writes and talks about this film considers it to be a work of propaganda. Many critics and scholars, however, consider Riefenstahl [note spelling: everyone gets it wrong!] one of the greatest documentary filmmakers of the twentieth century. It seems contradictory. After all, a film is a film, right? It’s up there on a screen. It can’t reach out and grab us. Right?

Riefenstahl, who died in 2003 at the age of 101, considered herself to be first and foremost an artist. She was creating a work here for hire. Lots of trouble for her, she suggests. (You’ll read a bit about this in the excerpt from her autobiography.) But the results—the film--didn’t trouble her. In fact, she was enormously proud of it. She did her job. She did it well. You will hear what she had to say about it in the excerpt you will watch, as part of this assignment, from The Wonderful, Horrible Life of Leni Riefenstahl (1993) and in the small section of her autobiography that she devoted to the film.

And it may interest you to know that even though Riefenstahl later asserted that she did not support the Nazis, a new document that has come to light recently contradicts that. In a telegram Riefenstahl sent to Hitler after the Nazis conquered Paris in 1940, she wrote: “Your deeds exceed the power of human imagination. They are without equal in the history of mankind. How can we [the German people] ever thank you?”

Many Germans cited seeing Triumph of the Will as an event that persuaded them to support the Nazi government. By the time it was shown, the Nazis had been in power more than 2 years. Clearly the film made an indelible impression. After the war, Riefenstahl was required by American forces (who occupied the area where she was living) to go through “de-Nazification” following charges that she was a Nazi and/or Nazi sympathizer.

I’d like you to reflect thoughtfully on this film—from its design and execution to its effect on audiences, from its maker’s intent (based on what she tells us as well as what we independently can conclude from her remarks and her actions) to the maker’s response to its reception. You must read through the readings listed above and incorporate them into your post.

And then consider the following questions:

  • If Triumph of the Will was indeed hypnotic and compelling viewing, encouraging many to follow the Nazi party, what responsibility does Riefenstahl have for what happened during the Nazi era and the Holocaust?
  • How do you assess what she said about her motives for making the film and her awareness of what unfolded as a result of the film?
  • Should she be held responsible for what the film contains and the very powerful effect that it had on audiences? To quote Isaac, “Is she a perpetrator, bystander, or enabler?”
  • If Leni bears some responsibility, should she have been punished? If yes, then what sort of punishment? If not, then why not?
  • In short, what responsibility does an artist have for her work and the reaction it provokes? And should an artist be held responsible for its consequences?

Finally, take a look at the post that precedes yours (the first poster in the thread (after my initial prompt) gets to pick any question that is posted later and respond to it). That post will contain a question related to the position that that writer took. Your task is to respond to the question the person preceding you has raised.

And after you have responded, it’s your turn. Post an open-ended question about the position you have just taken. The person who posts immediately after you should address the question you posed.

This is a bigger question that applies to many artists, politicians, writers, activists, etc., not solely to Leni Riefenstahl. Support your position with references to what we saw on the screen as well as with references to the information contained in the readings and the film clip.

Boston, MA, US
Posts: 21

The Power of Art

I think that despite what Riefenstahl says, she is partially responsible for what happened during the Nazi era and the Holocaust. She was an artist, she knew the power of her work and she filmed Triumph of the Will as well as Camp Nazi in a way that glorified Hitler and the entire Nazi power.

In all honesty I think that everything Riefenstahl said in her autobiography is very twisted to make her appear “innocent”. The way she phrases and paints the picture makes it seem as though she was just this innocent girl who just wanted to make whatever movie she wanted to and was practically forced by Hitler to work for him. This doesn't match any of the other evidence or accounts about her and her work for Hitler. I think it's extremely ignorant of her to have claimed that she had nothing to be guilty about. Leni Riefenstahl was not an idiot, she was very smart the way she filmed and directed her movies and she knew what impact they would have.

I think that she should be held accountable and responsible for what the film contains as well as the effect that it had on audiences. I think that Riefenstahl was, in a way, all three. She was a perpetrator because she made these films out of her own free will and she made them perfectly to suit the “glory” of the Nazi party. She was a bystander because she stood by Hitler and the Nazi party and did nothing to stop them or to even stop and consider the wrongs that was happening. She chose to simply ignore it all and claimed that she never knew about a lot of the horrors, when in reality it was impossible for her to not know. She was an enabler because these films brought a lot of attention and praise to the Nazi party as well as Hitler, and she allowed and wanted that to happen.

I’m honestly not sure what sort of punishment Riefenstahl should have gotten. I don’t think that her actions are quite on the level of a Nazi soldier, but I also don’t think that going to a de-nazification camp was enough of a punishment. I think that the investigation on her shouldn’t have been dropped, and that she should’ve maybe been imprisoned or on probation.

I think that an artist has a lot of responsibility for their work and the reaction it provokes. One of the biggest parts of art is the reaction and the viewers. Art is in the eye of the beholder, therefore the artist in a way sometimes must target their art for the audience. With propaganda like Riefenstahl made, that is blatantly going to have strong reactions from the audience, and one should be held responsible for such strong art like that. Art is powerful, and one must not abuse that power.

My question for the next person is, do you believe what Riefenstahl says in her book, and if not, why do you think she wrote a book to just bend the truth?

Earl Grey Tea
Boston, MA, US
Posts: 22

Responsibility of Artists

In making Triumph of the Will, Leni Riefenstahl did a service to the Nazis and encouraged many Germans to follow the Nazi party, whether she was politically involved herself or not. The film was a clear glorification of Hitler and the party. Riefenstahl’s interview was enthralling because of the way she had twisted questions and got so defensive. When asked if filmmakers had immense public influence in days before radio and television and if artists like herself had a special responsibility, she simply said no. Germany was already for Hitler and nothing she did would have changed this. In other words, Riefenstahl believed that because so many Germans were Nazis, the responsibility of those, with the power of influence, to resist and be an upstander was entirely absolved.

Hitler wanted his film to be made by a real artist. According to Riefenstahl, she had no political motivations in making Triumph of the Will, and this is even why she didn’t want to do it at first. It was purely an artistic endeavor. It clearly was a piece of propaganda, and it should be recognized as one today. Nevertheless, Riefenstahl claimed that the film is not propaganda, because if it were, there’d be a commentator to explain the significance and value of everything. In Riefenstahl’s eyes, there was no way of telling that Hitler was a bad person back then. There was no way of telling who would assure Germany the right kind of future. She expressed regret in making the film, but only because it made her own life harder after the war. Otherwise, she has no regrets because she believes she had nothing to do with the Nazis.

But even when an artist is making art just for the sake of making art, don’t they make many choices? Riefenstahl made a lot of artistic choices in Triumph of the Will, and they all came together to make a piece of propaganda. It was Riefenstahl’s responsibility to question how her artistic choices could come across. For example, beginning the film in a heaven-like sky or making Hitler look larger than life. She made choices as an artist. This is a fact. It was her responsibility to ask herself why she made the choices she did. She would have ultimately discovered that the effect of her choices were political. For months, Riefenstahl sat and edited the film for over twelve hours a day. You would think she had some time during this to reflect on it, to wonder what might happen as a result of it.

In her glorification of the party, Riefenstahl was an enabler for Hitler and the Nazis and absolutely bears responsibility. However, I don’t know what she could have been imprisoned for. The most important thing to understand is that up until her death she continued to live in her own delusion that she played no part in helping the Nazi party. She shouldn’t have won awards for any of her work. I think she should have been investigated more and she should have been treated more after the war like someone who aided Hitler, not just asked in interviews what she believed her role to be, because it’s clear she never accepted the political influence her film had. All artists have a responsibility with their own work in the sense that they must understand the political impact of it. They should be prepared to be held responsible for the consequences of their work.

@madagascar question: I don’t think Riefenstahl lies in her book, which is the scary part. Obviously I don’t believe most of what she’s saying, but I do think she is telling it the way she sees it to be true. I think she wrote at least this portion of the book in an attempt to defend herself or try to convince people she holds no responsibility for what happened.

My question: Does a film have to have commentary to be propaganda, or can propaganda also be conveyed through artistic choices?

Boston, Massachusetts, US
Posts: 20

Artists and Responsibility

Riefenstahl defintly played a role in the Nazi regime becoming so powerful because she glorified and portrayed their military in ways that made the Nazi party look “wonderful”. Many people saw her film, Triumph of the Will, and reported supporting the Nazi power afterwords. Through this film, they boys in the military seem so happy, and innocent which changed many Germans' mindset. Riefenstahl had to understand what she was doing because the way she created these scenes was not accidental. She definitely has a responsibility for what happened during the Nazi era and the Holocaust because she persuaded many people to support what the Nazis were doing which makes her at fault.

In her book, Riefenstahl claims that her film was not propaganda because there was no commentary and that she did not actually want to create this film at first. I do not believe any of what she said because it is clear she knew what impact her film would have on people. It clearly is propaganda because this film encourages people to join the Nazi military because she made the young soldiers look so happy and like they were having so much fun and mentioned nothing about the innocent lives who were murdered. She persuaded people to support the Nazi party without any words, just through film/art which shows how it is propanganda. I believe that she only wrote this autobiography to protect herself as she was deemed a Nazi after the war and was ordered to “de-Nazi” and her life became so difficult. She was only trying to save her reputation and if she truly didn’t support the Nazis or wanted to make this film then she would not have in the first place.

Riefenstahl should take some responsibility for her actions. I think she needed to admit her mistakes instead of making excuses for them. I believe that she was an enabler because she encouraged the Nazi party and supported it. Instead of using her power and voice to stop the Nazis, she created a film that glorified them, encouraged them and even encouraged Germans to also follow them. She should receive some form of punishment because she definelty enabled the Nazi party and created more damage. She should be jailed and prosecuted for being an accomplice in many murders. She encouraged the behavior of the Nazis which resulted in millions and millions of lives lost. She may not have directly murdered them, but she supported and encouraged it which is equally cruel.

Artists should understand how their art will affect people whether it be positive or negative. We should create societal standards where we do not support art that encourages such messages as Riefenstahl’s film. If an artist is supporting crimes then they should be punished because it is cruel to glorify and encourage someone's murderer/s. Artists should have limits to what they are allowed to create and share to the world because their art could be leaving negatives impacts and mindsets on people just like Riefenstahl and German citizens during the Nazi era.

To answer @Earl Grey Teas question: Does a film have to have commentary to be propaganda, or can propaganda also be conveyed through artistic choices, I do not think that commentary has to be included in something to be propaganda. There are many images that were used in the U.S. to encourage people to join the military just by using art such as Uncle Sam pointing at you. Riefenstahl’s film is another example where propaganda does not have commentary because there is no commentary yet people were persuaded by her film to support the Nazis showing how it was effective even with no commentary.

My question to the next person is: Why do you think so many Germans were persuaded by Riefenstahl’s film? What made it so convincing?

Boston, MA, US
Posts: 19

The Fine Line Between Artists and Propagandists

Leni Riefenstahl makes it seem as though she was forced to film after the contact she had with Hess, “Hess wrote that he was surprised (she) had put Walter Ruttmann in charge of this year's Party rally film when the Führer had insisted that (she) alone was to make the film. Hess asked me to contact him as soon as possible. This amounted almost to a threat.” Walter Ruttmann filmed some footage, but it all was low quality and useless according to Leni Reifenstahl. She said she had no choice “other than to discard Ruttmann’s footage and to film only during the Party rally in Nuremberg.”

Riefenstahl complained to Hess and then traveled to Nuremberg and begged Hitler to “not force this project on (her)”. She describes her encounter with Hitler and makes him seem very charming and convincing. Eventually, she says that “Hitler became insistent…‘you can and you will do this project.’ It sounded almost like an order.”

She reports that Hitler replied “‘Out of the question, The Party will exert no influence on you. I have discussed this with Dr Goebbels.” when she asked if she would have complete freedom in her work. He tries to make it seem as if her work is not being influenced and that she is not being pressured in any way. He says that it will be like a documentary and she is convinced. In her autobiography, it seems like she genuinely believes that the film was not propaganda, but rather “documentary events” with no plot because “a plot, of course, could be inappropriate.” Contrary to her beliefs, no real plot was needed to make the film propaganda. It was when she took measures to make the events seem more exciting or when she selectively showed certain things that made the film propaganda. For example, she writes, “I had a brainwave concerning Hitler’s speech to the Hitler Youth on the Champ de Mar, and by sheer persistence I managed to get my way. In order to liven up the potentially monotonous shots of countless speeches, I had circular tracks built around the podium. The camera could circle Hitler at a suitable distance while he spoke. This resulted in new and lively images.”

Later, Hitler invites her to Munich-Harlaching and tells her that he would “not want (her) to have any unpleasant repercussions from (her) work, or make any new enemies.” He insists that they do some filming outside of what actually happened, turning the film into less and less of a documentary. Leni Riefenstahl becomes visibly very upset and she refuses to comply with his suggestion. He became very angry at her.

She continued to work on the film. She was exhausted and “no longer view her work objectively nor could (she) tell whether or not the film was turning out well. (She) re-edited it daily, changed sequences around, spliced in new scenes, cut out others, and shortened or lengthened them until (she) felt they were just right.”

Leni Riefenstahl does have some responsibility for what happened during the Nazi era and the Holocaust. Despite her beliefs, her film was not a documentary. The large amount of editing and the way in which she chose to film portrayed the Nazi party as something it was not. It most likely inspired many Germans to support the Nazi party and blinded them to reality.

I do believe that she was put in a difficult situation. It would have been much easier for her to create the film and get it over with than refuse to create the film and anger Hitler. However, it is unclear whether or not her reports are completely credible. She published her autobiography in 1987, so it is not unreasonable to assume that she took a different stance and adopted (or pretended to adopt) different beliefs after most of the world had generally come to a consensus that the Nazi Party’s ideology actions were abhorrent. I find it difficult to believe that she was unaware of what unfolded as a result of the film.

I think that she should have been held responsible for what the film contains and the powerful effect it had on audiences. She should have been put on trial like many of the other people associated with the Nazi Party were. I think that the pressure she was put under needs to be considered, but I also think that the way in which she chose to film does. I think at the very least she should have publicly announced that the film was heavily edited and that it did not portray realistically what happened. She should admit that it is, in fact, propaganda. If her film actually was a documentary, she would have been a bystander. Since her film can be categorized as propaganda, she is actually an enabler. Her true intentions are unknown, so it is difficult to determine what the consequences should have been for creating the film.

I think artists are only partially responsible for the reactions that their work provokes. Art is up for interpretation and not all works are clearly conveying a certain message. I think that if a work is clearly conveying a certain unacceptable message, then the artist is responsible for the reactions it provokes. If the art is more abstract and the observer extrapolates a particular idea, the artist is not responsible.

To answer @dennis12: “Why do you think so many Germans were persuaded by Riefenstahl’s film? What made it so convincing?”, I think that so many Germans were persuaded by Riefenstahl’s film because it was like a highlight reel of Nazi Germany. After experiencing the depression, Germans were desperate. The film showed children having fun, eating lots of food, and enjoying themselves at the Nazi youth camp. It showed smiling children and inspired soldiers. It portrayed Hitler as a strong and reasonable leader. It did not portray reality. People believed it to be true because they wanted it to be true.

My question: Do you think that Leni Riefenstahl’s autobiography is an accurate account of her experiences? If not, how so and why?

Boston, MA, US
Posts: 17

No Bystanderism in This Type of Art

I understand that Leni Riefenstahl was passionate about her work as a filmmaker, and probably simply wanted to strengthen her network (no LinkedIn back then). However, the choices she made were not as apolitical as she claimed. She acknowledged that Hitler was ascending to power, and that's why she participated in creating films that were outside her particular genre.

If Riefenstahl had chosen to accurately report everything that was happening in a true journalistic fashion, then she could've argued neutrality. However, she had a bias towards Hitler which she made no effort to eradicate. This is why she holds the weight of responsibility when it comes to the establishment of the Nazi party and its relative popularity.

Art moves people, and people create change. If Riefenstahl had used her gifts for advocacy then who knows what would've happened.

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