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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, Massachusetts, US
Posts: 22

Riefenstahl is Responsible

Ultimately, everyone who chose to stand by during the Holocaust bears responsibility for the horrific events that occurred in Nazi-occupied territory. Thus, Riefenstahl must bear even more responsibility, as she not only chose to stand by, but agreed to directly work for the Nazi party (even if she never officially joined it) in making the movie Triumph of the Will. By making a film that convinced many to join the Nazi party, she directly increased its strength, resulting in an increased loss of life. I believe that Riefenstahl should have been held accountable beyond just de-Nazification. A film that promotes a political party rooted in oppression can never be apolitical.

However, I can believe that Riefenstahl may not have been aware of the horrors Hitler intended to inflict on millions of people, and that she viewed the film as a commitment she had to fulfill rather than a duty to Hitler. But her descriptions of her reticence to make the film seem hyperbolic, especially when followed by descriptions of how hard she worked to make Triumph of the Will the best it could be. How could one make such a convincing piece of propaganda without at least partially believing in what they are spouting? I believe that Lena was an enabler. She personally did not perpetuate violence on others, but she took actions that allowed Nazis to do so more effectively; she helped to consolidate their power.

I think that the effective ban on Riefenstahl ever making a film again was a very solid base of punishment. Preventing her from doing what she loved seemed to cause her deserved anguish. But it bothered me greatly to see and read about a woman who had done so much damage scuba-diving and traveling around the world skydiving and photographing when so many millions died under a regime she supported, as evidenced by the telegram Lena sent Hitler after he conquered Paris. I believe that she should have faced jail time or house arrest, for while the entire nation of Germany could obviously not have been arrested, someone so public facing more severe punishment would have further driven home the consequences of directly enabling genocide.

I think that artists should be held responsible for their work. Even if it is an unintentional choice that provokes violence, it can cause future artists to think twice before making a similar mistake, and costing human lives.

For the next poster: Do you think artists should be held responsible if their art causes acts of violence, even if it is unintentional?

Boston, MA, US
Posts: 21

The Environment

To begin I am going to respond to the question that Wyverary asked. I do believe that artists have a responsibility to uphold social peace. Artists are given a platform and with that comes the responsibility to share work that it's going to benefit all. They are given this responsibility to inspire, educate, and create peace. By no means does this mean that artists should not share their voice but, I do believe that they should have an awareness for the social, economic, and political climate around them. This is necessary in order to share work that is not going to create controversy or damage the world in any way. With this being said artists should be held responsible if their work causes violence because they should have an awareness when putting out their work. Especially someone who was living in the time of Holocaust.

Like I said before artists as influencers have the responsibility and privilege to uphold peace. With this being said I believe that Leni is partially responsible for the tragedy of the Holocaust. Obviously, it was many people who carried out many evil acts to amount to the biggest tragedy the world has ever faced but, everyone who was not part of the solution, or who was not a victim is a perpetrator because they stood by and let it happen especially some of them encouraging it like Leni did.

In a sense I believe that she did not fully know what her film was going to turn into what it was. But, at the same time she should have had more awareness and not have gotten involved and that closely tied with Hitler in the first place. I think it would be unfair to say that she knew what was going to happen when she created the film, and that she didn’t know what was going to happen in the film. I believe it is right to call her a perpetrator because like I said before she is part of the bigger picture problem. In saying this I believe that it is only just if she is punished. I think her punishment should have to be making artwork that embodies peace, love and unity. This could hopefully reverse a bit of the damage that she did.

Question: Should an artist be aware of the political, social, and economic environment they are creating art in?

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