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Ms. Bowles
Posts: 20

Questions to Consider:

1. What makes Triumph of the Will a powerful propaganda tool? What impact did specific scenes or images have on ordinary Germans who were designated at Aryan? What impact did specific scenes or images have on Germans who were not considered Aryan or were different from mainstream German culture?

2. What responsibility does Leni Riefenstahl have for what happened during the Nazi era and the Holocaust? Should she be held responsible for what the film contains and the very powerful effect that it had on audiences? Was she simply doing what she was commissioned to do effectively, or did she serve as an enabler for the Nazi regime?

3. How should Leni Riefenstahl be remembered? In retrospect, can we believe Reifenstahl’s assertion that she, personally, was“apolitical” and did not believe in the Nazi ideology? Should her legacy as a filmmaker and artist always be tied to her propaganda work for the Nazi regime? Can the artist be separated from the art when the art has such profound and dark consequences?

Word Count Requirement: 500-750 words

Sources to Reference:

Please refer to the ideas, either using a description, quote or paraphrasing, from at least two of the sources in your response and please respond in some way to at least two of the question sets.

Clips from Triumph of the Will (1935):

  1. Beginning of the film to Hitler’s arrival at his hotel in Nuremberg (0:00 through 9:08)
  2. The Hitler youth preparing for their rally (12:23 through 17:57)
  3. The labor ceremony of loyalty; Hitler addresses the Reich Labor Corps (31:23 through 35:56)
  4. Hitler addresses the Nazi youth rally and does a motor tour of the crowds (45:36 through 51:31)
  5. The parade of stormtroopers with the flags and insignias from regions throughout Germany (1:01:08 through 1:04:52)

Excerpt from Leni Riefenstahl: A Memoir, New York: Picador, 1992.

The Mass Psychology of Fascist Cinema (Tomasulo,1998).

Clip from The Wonderful Horrible Life of Leni Riefenstahl (1993). (1:03:55 though 1:32:04)

Rubric to Review: LTQ Rubric

Boston, MA, US
Posts: 10

The Power of Propaganda: Leni Riefenstahl's Triumph of the Will (1935)

The film, Triumph of the Will, was one of the most powerful propaganda tools, of The Nazi Party’s fascist regime. Made by Leni Riefenstahl, the film personifies Hitler as a powerful figure, curating an image of nobility, and authority. The aerial views of the party’s members, accompanied by optimistic music, portray the fascist leader as someone who will lead the nation to world domination. Aryan Germans were targeted as an audience for this film, for the usage of nationalistic ideologies fueled the plans of The Nazi Party. Through footage of the rallies of The Hitler Youth, to the parades, filled with stormtroopers, bearing the Nazi symbols, Riefenstahl curated an image of superiority, making anyone who went against it, feel left out, and separated from the “correct” side of society. As much as these clips led Aryan Germans to feel that they were a part of the superior, mainstream, German culture, they also made non Aryan citizens feel displaced. The clearly anti semitic chants of the rallies, and the symbols on the flags, that came to be understood as anti Jewish images, were focused on, to make any non Aryan citizens feel as if their life was wrong. The images and ideas, curated by Riefenstahl, in her film, creates two distinct emotions, of fear and nationalism, that are complete, polar, opposites.

Leni Riefenstahl’s horrific film, of The Nazi Party, in their early days, became known as one of the starting markers for their hate fueled rule. Though the high dedication to nationalism that the German citizens had, and the obviously anti semitic chants that they bellowed through the streets of Germany, were very clearly fueled by hatred, Riefenstahl was ensured that she would not offend anyone, by Hitler, himself. In an excerpt, from Leni Riefenstahl: A Memoir, she recalls a conversation with Hitler, who ensured her creative freedom of the film, and promised protection of her work. Through these seemingly thoughtful statements, Riefenstahl followed any orders of Hitler, and other Nazi leaders, such as the focus on their images, for it would make it “possible to emphasize the contributions of each person with few words” (Riefenstahl, 163). Through this particular scene, Riefenstahl unknowingly glorified the men, that would go on to kill over six million Jewish people, in the following years, of their regime. Though Riefenstahl did not know the future progressions of The Nazi Party, there were most certainly areas of trigger, that could have signified any potential development, into a regime that would create monstrous devastations, all around the world. Many former Nazi soldiers have been persecuted, following the conclusion of WWII, even if they are found decades later. Though Riefenstahl was following the orders of her filmmaking, Nazi soldiers were following the orders of Hitler, with both contributing to the allowance of the hateful progression, of The Nazi Party. Leni Riefenstahl enabled The Nazi Party, to gain new heights, and new support, even if she was not aware of her action’s consequences. Retrospectively, Riefenstahl should be held accountable for her actions, just as any individual involved with the murders of the Jewish people.

Leni Riefenstahl should be remembered as someone who glorified The Nazi Party, even though she was unaware of their future progression, at the time of filming. There are many points of uncertainty, regarding Riefenstahl’s “apolitical,” beliefs, and her claims to have not been in support of the Nazi ideology. In the text, The Mass Psychology of Fascist Cinema, by Frank P. Tomasulo, he points out how Riefenstahl’s justification for her film was too simplistic. “In content, the film emphasizes upbeat and patriotic themes that convey a renewed sense of national identity and unity following a period of economic and political instability. This is precisely the mood one would expect in a motion picture depicting the annual rally of a partisan political party: how-ever, Leni Riefenstahl's insistence that ‘there is no tendentious commentary for the simple reason that there is no commentary at all. It is history-pure history’” (Tomasulo, 102). To assume that Riefenstahl had no opinion on The Nazi Party’s ideologies, is ignoring the fact that she produced a film, that was glorifying them. Separating the art from the artist is a huge topic of discussion, but there are certain rules that need to be considered, when taking this into account. The Nazi Party’s inexcusable actions, were glorified in this film, regardless if Riefenstahl believed their ideologies, or not. Riefenstahl’s artistry should be tied to her propaganda, for she contributed to the further progression, glorification, and popularity, of The Nazi Party’s ideologies. Due to Triumph of the Will, portraying such dark, hate rooted, ideologies, Riefenstahl cannot be separated from her work, just as any member of The Nazi Party, cannot be separated from the party’s actions, whether they carried them out, or not.

Boston, MA, US
Posts: 10


Triumph of the Will is a powerful propaganda film through the techniques used in filming and the subliminal messages it sends to viewers about Nazi ideology. I watched four out of the five clips from Triumph of the Will, and the overarching feeling I think German Aryans would have gotten is an immense sense of pride and confidence in their country. If I was a young Aryan during Hitler’s rule, watching the clip of Hitler youth preparing for their rally would have inspired me to also try to join such rallies and serve my country. It overlaps with The Child Army documentary we watched in class, because it basically seduces kids with awesome summer camps and war games, and promises them a life that makes them feel like they matter. Conversely, if I were a non-Aryan German, seeing this film would have made me scared for my life. The amount of people attending and the sheer might of the rallies would have intimidated me a lot, because these people are generally all supporting the Nazis/Hitler, who are the reason “my” people (Jewish/other minorities) are being pulled out of schools, targeted by the law, and erased from society as a whole, among many other horrible things. There are children chanting their loyalty to the Fuhrer, hordes of people attending these pro-German, anti-Jewish rallies, and tons of soldiers waving flags of the Nazis, who loathe the Jewish people; it is definitely quite daunting to see these events.

Although Leni said she did not mean to influence what happened during the Nazi era/Holocaust, her movie was definitely a powerful propaganda tool. She was commissioned by Hitler to make this film glamorizing the Nazi Party and their actions, so she knew what she was walking into when she said she would create this “documentary” for him. This film, as stated in The Mass Psychology of Fascist Cinema (Tomasulo,1998), “essentially promulgated fascism and the NSDAP as the bases for renewed German nationalism and patriotism,” which is a statement I agree with. Although Leni is now dead, if she were still alive, society could definitely use her actions as a teaching model of what not to do. She should be held responsible because the techniques used in filming added to its impact and power as propaganda. For example, she used a telephoto lens to make it seem like the masses at the Nuremberg rally were united together and solidly behind their chancellor. As the article says, “she created, rather than merely documented, an event that would not have occurred in quite the same way without the presence of cameras and microphones.” It is not that big of a jump to say that her skills in filmmaking were a key factor in swaying the masses in favor of the Nazis.

However, it is not entirely her fault, because the efforts of the Nazi Party were the main factor that led to the Holocaust. Leni was both doing what she was commissioned to do (paint the Nazi Party in a positive light) and enabling the Nazi regime. As cbgb1946 said, “To assume that Riefenstahl had no opinion on The Nazi Party’s ideologies, is ignoring the fact that she produced a film that was glorifying them.” She claims she is “apolitical,” but the fact that she agreed to do this project shows that her actions do not align with her supposed beliefs, which seems illogical and brings me to question her character. This third question set is difficult for me to answer, because I feel that in some cases, the artist can be separated from the art, but I also think there are times when they shouldn't be, such as this situation. Leni can certainly be praised for being an amazing filmmaker and creating impressive art, but her “mistake” of creating Triumph of the Will is still something that must be recognized and condemned. I say “mistake” because I also think that Triumph of the Will was an amazing creation and a useful teaching tool for modern society. The creation of this movie was not the only reason the Holocaust happened, and I think that if it was never made, the Holocaust would have still happened one way or another because of the atmosphere of the world at the time. Triumph of the Will was simply one out of the many catalysts for it.

Boston, Massachusetts, US
Posts: 10

Leni Reifenstahl’s argument of innocence banks on two ideas: that she was fulfilling a job and completely apolitical, and that she was unaware of the scale of the horror that the deeds of the Nazis and Adolf Hitler would encompass.

During her life after the Holocaust, Leni Riefenstahl claimed that she was completely apolitical, and had no awareness of the harm that the Third Reich would bring. This may be true, but the Nazi party was based on ideas of nationalism and antisemitism. While she could not have been aware of the Holocaust, she was aware of Hitler’s powerful antisemitism. And yet, she still chose to support and spread this. Additionally, the Nazis were a political party, so it is irrational to claim neutrality when you are working to advance the power of and support for a politician and a political party. If you phone bank for a political candidate, you can’t say that you don’t support them.

Her claim that she was merely fulfilling a job is the same defense that many Nazi officers used during the Nuremberg trials after the Holocaust. In Triumph of the Will, Riefenstahl goes beyond the job of a documentarian and crosses into the side of propaganda. Her portrayal of Hitler not as a person but as a star, as a god, as a celebrity, and as a symbol contributed to the public’s idolization of him. In his 1998 article The Mass Psychology of Fascist Cinema

author Tomasulo says:

“True to form, the documentary establishes a “cult of personality” around its “star,” a mystical aura associated with Nature, religion, and a “folkish” family-based patriotism. The film spectacle often connects its heroic leader with the sky, the earth, and animals; Christian and pagan religious connotations abound; and flags, parades, torchlight rituals, and military-national symbols dominate the mise-en-scene. Indeed, all the signifying: mechanism of the cinema–camera angles, editing, music, set design, lighting, and narration–are marshaled to appeal to the irrational character structure of its malleable mass audience.”

Tomasulo also writes:

“Although hundreds of thousands of people attended the Nuremberg rally, Riefenstahl’s telephoto lens often magnifies those numbers by compressing and welding the crowds together cinematically, thereby conveying the ideological point that the masses are closer together (united) and solidly behind their chancellor.”

In these quotes, the author displays how Reifenstahl’s manipulation of filming techniques gave the easily influenced and manipulated German audience the perception of Hitler’s mass support and association with something bigger than himself. This only made dissent more difficult.

Even if you believe that you can separate the art from the artist for people like Kanye West and Sherman Alexie, Riefenstahl’s situation is completely different: She contributed to the public’s widespread support of the Nazis and the Holocaust.

Triumph of the Will is an unabashed glorification of Hitler and to continue to praise it and its creator is to continue to praise Hitler, Nazis, and Nazi sympathizers. Leni Riefenstahl was not a bystander like the rest of the German population: She actively took part in spreading hate and popularizing the Nazi party. Let’s stop calling this art and recognize it for what it really is: propaganda.

Boston, MA, US
Posts: 10

An Intentional Masterpiece

Triumph of the Will is a powerful propaganda tool because of the sheer artistry with which it was created. Commissioned in 1934 by Adolf Hitler, the film was meant to be a depiction of the Nazi Party congress of 1934, but it became a much broader symbol of Nazi power. In “The Mass Psychology of Fascist Cinema,” Frank P. Tomasulo writes how the film intended to set “facism and the National Socialist Party as the bases for renewed German nationalism and patriotism.” With this in mind, the far reaching effects of the film become far more obvious. For the German people who had recently undergone a deep strike to their pride during and after World War I, instability and uncertainty ran deep throughout society. The rise of the Nazi party was carefully curated to provide a strong leader to an unsure nation. The Nazi party was a way to restore pride to Germany, and Triumph of the Will emphasizes this with its enormous nationalist displays, strong rhetoric, and uplifting music which easily instilled a sense of unity amongst German citizens. Thus, the film was an accessible and alluring piece of propaganda which helped further cement and validate Nazi power in Germany

Leni Riefenstahl crafted the film with meticulous attention and obsessiveness. Despite claiming to know little about Nazi ideology when asked to make the film, she carefully curated footage into a perfect depiction of Nazi values, demonstrating that she actually held a strong understanding of the Nazi vision and the ideologies involved. A masterpiece rarely comes about by accident; most often there is strong emotion, thoughts, and talent behind it. In “The Mass Psychology of Fascist Cinema,” Frank P. Tomasulo describes how Riefenstahl used her camera to portray rallies and other events in a way that amplified their size and suggested unity under the Fuhrer, including a multitude of shots that show a strong and straight backed Hitler, with a blurry and moving audience, which suggested a nation in need of guidance. Tomasulo points out the carefully crafted religious imagery that depicted Hitler as godlike and messianic, as well as maternal and youthful imagery that repeatedly appears. In Leni Riefenstahl: a Memoir, Riefenstahl emphasizes her demand for creative freedom over the film, which suggests that the careful, subtle, and (scarily) mesmerizing imagery of Nazi values was crafted of her own desire to depict the Nazi regime in this way. Her autobiography does describe pressure and threats directly from Hitler, which may have influenced the shape the film ultimately took. This, however, cannot be used to excuse the immense influence Triumph of the Will had in spreading Nazi ideology and glorifying the Nazi regime. It is often easier to believe that someone of such talent was coerced into participating in such a horrible and oppressive regime rather than partaking through their own will. Unfortunately, many choose to believe this about Leni Riefenstahl rather than opening their eyes to the reality that she may have actually deeply believed in what she was creating.

Posts: 10

Propaganda within Germany

Propaganda is a tool that began to gain popularity within governments during WWI, when it was used to aid war efforts. Since then it has been used in nearly every aspect of society, from protests to politics. Triumph of Will was a trend setter of propaganda films, and its effects can still be seen today. The power of the film stems from the camera angles, the setting, and the actual speakers. The camera angles are used in a way to make people seem bigger, with the camera often below the people they are recording. This pairs up with the grand setting, with large flags for the nazi party and the stadium-like feel of the recording. The speakers within Triumph of Will are also very good speakers, adding to the power of the video. In fact, in The Mass Psychology of Fascism Cinema exposes some of these concepts; “The fascist aesthetic valorized and derived pleasure from ‘situations of control, submissive behavior, extravagant effort, and the endurance of pain’”. As mentioned above, the way that Adolf Hitler speaks, directly using words like submissive and talking about how they must endure what is happening for the younger generation. The scenes within the film itself are meant to project power to the people that the nazi regime likes, but at the same time projects that power against people that are not seen as aryan. This can be seen within the film via the scene with the stormtroopers. To an ‘aryan’ German, they would most likely feel some sort of national pride seeing a strong, united Germany. However a non ‘aryan’ person would most likely be thinking about how so many people are starting to be turned against them via propaganda and government lies. The actual producer Leni Riefenstahl should be held accountable for the amount of Germans this propaganda tricked. As this film became almost mandatory to watch, this film, and by proxy the creator should be at least financially punished. One could argue that this film boosted the nazi message to such an extent that it was one of the major contributors to the holocaust. Riefenstahl should be considered an enabler, as she accepted the job most likely fully knowing that she was making a propaganda film. If she was just filming the event, the symbolism within the film and the way it was filmed would be much more different. She should be remembered as someone who should not be respected because of her actions. If she truly was apolitical, why would she make a film entirely promoting a far right government? Despite me saying all of this, we should still consider that she is a human, and could have made a mistake. I do believe that one should be separated from their art, but at some point art becomes an extension of oneself, and someone with her track record most likely believes in the art she is making. She created the baseline for German culture during the years that the nazis had power, and should be blamed and punished for it.

Boston, MA, US
Posts: 10

Triumph of the Will was such a powerful propaganda tool because it was made into an exciting and cinematic film. In The Wonderful Horrible Life of Leni Riefenstahl, Riefenstahl explains that she wanted her film to be more interesting than Nazi Party news reels, and she succeeded: she used multiple angles, rotating/moving shots, contrast between Hitler and his massive crowd, and, perhaps most affectingly, music. Although Riefenstahl maintained for her entire life that she did not support the Nazis, but was rather apolitical, her film absolutely glorified Hitler and his party. I think the very beginning of the film is a great example: Riefenstahl opens with moving shots of clouds, from several different angles, taken from inside Hitler’s plane. These clouds make the plane seem mystical, and the music that accompanies them makes it sound as if a hero is returning home after a grand and successful adventure. Then, the plane lands, and Hitler steps out to meet a roaring, excited crowd, further cementing him as the hero of the movie. For Aryan Germans, I think it would have been exhilarating to see a large, celebrating crowd full of other Aryan Germans; it is easy and fun to be swept into public events like parades, and Nazi nationalism and antisemitism further united their supporters, whether they were in the movie or watching it. For Aryan Germans who did not support Hitler and the Nazis, I think this scene would have been deeply unsettling, and for non-Aryan Germans, particularly Jewish Germans, this scene would also have been terrifying. Riefenstahl filmed four of Hitler’s speeches, and in each one, he chanted “One people, one Riech, one Führer!” This chant called for the eradication of anyone the Nazis didn’t consider German, and thus, it is extremely violent. For non-Aryan Germans, I think hearing this chant and then watching thousands of people scream, cheer, and salute Hitler would be deeply disturbing, upsetting, terrifying, and uneasy.

In The Wonderful Horrible Life of Leni Riefenstahl, Riefenstahl defends herself by saying that “it would have been very difficult, or impossible” to get out of making Triumph of the Will, and that she only tried to make a good film. However, I don’t think this excuses or explains away her glorification of the Nazis. I think it is fair to say that Riefenstahl didn’t truly have a choice in whether or not she made the film, she did have control over all the cinematography and the editing, and while Hitler wanted a great film, she could have created one that was great, in Hitler’s eyes, but not nearly as effective as propaganda. For example, Riefenstahl explains, again in The Wonderful Horrible Life of Leni Riefenstahl, that she and her crew worked very hard to get permission to build an elevated camera lift on one of the huge flagpoles. She describes the resulting shot as incredible (paraphrase), but I think this is an excellent example of a shot that was both unnecessary to create a Hitler-satisfying movie and an impressively effective propaganda tool.

In light of all this, while it is important to remember that Riefenstahl did not have a choice in creating the film, I do not think that she can be separated from Triumph of the Will, because of the film’s terrible affect and legacy: some Germans later said that Riefenstahl’s movie was the phenomenon that finally convinced them to support the Nazis, and the film raised morale, excitement, and dedication among Nazi Party members. As cbgb1946 explains, “though Riefenstahl was following the orders of her filmmaking…Riefenstahl enabled The Nazi Party, to gain new heights, and new support.”

Boston, Massachusetts, US
Posts: 10

Triumph of the Will: The Dangers of Propaganda

Triumph of the Will, by Leni Riefenstahl was one of the most popular propaganda tools during Nazi Germany for many reasons. To any ordinary German, it was a right of passage to watch this film one way or another. The nazi regime made sure that this film was featured nation-wide to highlight Germany’s newfound domination. The film was so powerful because of how well it was filmed. The features of the Hitler Youth in marches and rallies, along with the amount of Nazi soldiers and symbols, made many excited to be part of a movement that was united and powerful. After the disappointment that many felt during the years of the Weimar Republic, watching this film would've given many Aryan Germans an overwhelming sense of pride and power. Contrary to the feelings of Germans, being a non-Aryan German must’ve been very scary, especially after this film came out. The book burnings shown in the film demonstrated that Germany had no tolerance for anyone who went against their ideas, or was naturally by birth not the ideal German. The chants and visulas highlighted throughout the film were very clearly anti semitic, and many non- Aryan interpreted this as a warning of what was to come. When Germans saw this film, it reinforced their us vs. them mentality, making people feel like this God like character, A.K.A Hitler as portrayed in the film, was their savior. This type of mentality is so dangerous, because once people feel safe and powerful, and thankful to a leader for those feelings, they will blindly fall into anything that that leader wants them to do. In the text, The Mass Psychology of Fascist Cinema, tells us that “films constitute one of the most modern and scientific means of influencing the populace”, As well as “The film spectacle often connects it's heroic leader with the sky, the earth, and animals…torch light rituals…and military symbols.” With this information, we can see how in our daily life that films do influence us, and things become especially powerful if you watch it with other people, and your whole nation loves it. The film portrayed Adolf Hitler as a worldly god-like figure, and with such strong imagery and amazing film making, it is easy for people to gain a new or reinforced view of their leader.

Leni Riefenstahl should by no means be held to any responsibility for what happened during the Nazi era and the Holocaust. Riefenstahl is an artist, and was paid to make an amazing film. At the time, Adolf Hitler had commissioned her to make this film. Her leader, the man with the utmost power in Germany, had commissioned her to make a film. It had no right to be anything short of great. Leni Riefenstahl explains to us that she couldn't have known that Hitler’s regime led to the death of more than 6 million people, and that she deserves no fault in the matter. To the same point, it is arguable that the Holocaust would've still happened if Hitler wasn’t its leader. These anti-semetic ideas were shared among many men that had the same goal as Hitler, and we cannot be certain that it wouldn't have happened. Furthermore, blaming one film for any aspect of the events that transpired seems very black and white. Before this film, there was no shortage of people that were devoted to Hitler. Sure, the film must've changed more people's minds, but it is stupid to think that those minds were only changed because of the film. There were so many rallies and speeches that took place, that Germans would have gotten the ideas acquired by the films just by looking through their windows. Leni Riefenstahl was an enabler of the Nazi regime, but then again it can be argued that so was everyone that never stood up for the people that suffered at the hands of Adolf Hitler. This filmmaker was just doing her job well, and that is all she saw it as. Along with this reasoning, the first concentration camp was built long before the release of this film, which demonstrates that this plan was in motion, and that it was meticulously planned so no one could've done anything to stop it.

Boston, Massachusetts, US
Posts: 10

The Power of Propaganda

The Triumph of the Will is a powerful propaganda tool through its representation of the soldiers, Nazi Youth, and community in general. Riefenstahl’s movie impacted all Germans as they saw this new form of togetherness and nationalism that Hitler was creating in society. Some specific scenes that impacted ordinary Germans who were designated as Aryan would be during the labor ceremony of loyalty. Here, Hitler addressed the Reich Labor Corps and they all chanted in unison. This would impact Germany's thoughts because they would see how connected the Nazi Party made all parts of society, and make them feel the need to be a part of this togetherness. One scene that would affect those who were different from mainstream German culture would be the parade of storm troopers with the flags and insignias from regions throughout Germany. They could see the mass of people marching and following the orders of Hitler, and fear that they are not a part of this ideal society he is portraying. It shows how much he has gained popularity and support. The scene during this clip where it is just Hitler and two others standing on each side of him shows the importance he has on the Germans. Along with this, is the fact that he is standing above all the rest showing the control he has over the masses. This would make ordinary Germans feel a sense of pride, because they finally have someone giving stability to their country. Whereas it would make someone who is different from mainstream German culture fearful because of the power this man now holds. Leni Riefenstahl’s movie had a large impact on German society, as it made more ordinary Germans determined to follow Hitler. However, Riefenstahl herself has less of a responsibility for what happened during the Nazi era and the Holocaust. She was paid to complete a movie by Hitler. She had tried to resist as stated in her memoir. She goes on to say, “I can do it only if I can be free after completing this project and do not have to make any more films to order.” Meaning she did not feel the need to be connected to this film, nor did she have a bias towards Nazi Party. She was a filmmaker, and she was simply doing what she was commissioned to do effectively. She did not feel a connection to the film. Riefenstahl made an influential film, but the blame for the movies’ popularity should not be placed on her. Leni Riefenstahl should be remembered as a woman who was commissioned to make a movie for Hitler, and created an influential piece. One might say she could have tried to make the movie bad to highlight Hitler in a worse light. This is true, but she was a filmmaker, an artist; her safety could have also been compromised. Her legacy as a filmmaker and artist should always be tied to her propaganda work for the Nazi regime. Society should not forget the horror her work enabled. However, Riefenstahl can be separated from her work. She was an artist who influenced many after her. This movie had profound dark consequences, which should not be forgotten. However, society should also not forget her influence on the film industry as well.

Boston, Massachusetts, US
Posts: 10

The Power of Propaganda--Leni Reifenstahl's Triumph of the Will

Leni Riefenstahl’s film Triumph of the Will was an effective form of propaganda due to the cinematography and specified clips during Nazi rule. This film seems surreal like it is a work of pure fiction. The large scale of Germans shown in the clips of parades and speeches seems unfathomable, but it is all true. All of those Germans held onto every last word that exited Hitler’s mouth. This film helped the Nazi party manipulate those who were considered Aryans. The thousands of people shown heiling Hitler, all resting their hopes and dreams onto someone they considered to be God. The film accentuates the “excitement” of being an Aryan, being a part of something bigger than yourself. It hid all of the atrocities happening behind the sound of the bands playing at the parades and marches conducted by the Nazi party. The clips exhibiting these events conveyed a sense of national pride that indoctrinated many into this cult-like party. In the film from 45:34-51:00 the amount of Germans worshiping Hitler would have made many do the same. Every person feels the pressure to fit in, to listen to what others think and so this part was particularly persuasive. This film paints a pretty picture of what was happening in Germany at the time. The same clip that would have made Aryans proud and filled with excitement must have filled the jewish with pure fear and dread. Those who raised their hand to heil Hitler became someone to avoid, someone to fear, someone to hide from. This film was not the truth and Leni Riefenstahl knew this.

Although Leni Riefenstahl was pushed into making this film she knew that she did not have the knowledge about the politics of the time to create a piece of art that accurately depicted what was happening. In an excerpt from Leni Riefenstahl: A Memoir, New York: Picador, 1992 the filmmaker told Hitler, “I am completely unfamiliar with all the subject matter. I can't even tell the SA from the SS.” After little convincing she agreed to do the film, but this was only due to selfish reasons. In the excerpt mentioned above Riefenstahl stated, “Despite everything, once the decision was made, I felt a sense of relief, and tremendously encouraged by the thought that I would be completely free after this project and be able to do whatever I wished.” Now, if she had said no, she would have been punished that will never have been known, but she agreed to create a piece of propaganda for the Nazis party and she should be held accountable. A man by the man Jean Moulin lived during the very time as this filmmaker and when asked to lie for the Nazi party he refused. As a French civil servant he was tortured and forced into a barn and then in there he had to make a decision; whether to give in or stay true to his morals. Moulin chose the latter and tried to end his life in fear that he would not be able to withstand the torture, but thankfully he survived and was then released. Now, Riefenstahl did not have to go to the lengths of Jean Moulin, but she should not be let off the hook just because she felt like she had no other choice. Triumph of the Will was one of if not the most effective pieces of propaganda used by the Nazis and she created it. And then one should question how she could have created such an effective film if she herself did not also fall into the manipulation of the Nazi party. No matter how she was commissioned Riefenstahl was an enabler of the regime and should be remembered as such. There is always the question can the artist be separated from the art, but in this case they can not. This film was not just about the Nazi party, but one that glorified it and whether or not the director believed in the ideology she can not be remembered as solely a German filmmaker. She is and will always be the woman who made Triumph of the Will.

Boston, Massachusetts, US
Posts: 10

Leni Riefenstahl's: Woman, Artist, Nazi

Leni Riefenstahl is first and foremost an artist. She created art before her time with the Nazi’s with movies like Blue Light and afterwards. However, her involvement in Triumph of the Will means she was an active participant in the Nazi regime and enabler of the Holocaust. Her high talent led to Hitler seeking her out specifically to make this movie. In her memoir, Leni tries to paint a picture that she was coerced into making this film. While true, her reason for hesitancy was not a fear of the anti-semitism it may contribute to, but rather out of a fear of disappointing Hitler and ruining her own reputation as an artist. When asked why she couldn't do this film, her reasoning ranged from being “unfamiliar with the subject matter” and not knowing what’s “politically important or unimportant”. Nowhere does she mention moral obligation. This is further supported by her reaction to the footage of the other filmmaker. She was appalled at how unartful it was and wanted to do a better job, not appalled that a movie was being made to glorify the Nazis.

This makes it clear that Riefenstahl was knowledgeable of the high political stakes of her film, and thus must be held accountable. The film was a masterful display of propaganda, with its triumphant music, mixed closeups of emotional faces with huge crowds, and powerful speeches. Words alone might be effective, but they don’t permeate the consciousness as well as visuals. The visuals of TOTW are more effective at convincing Germans to trust the Nazis than the vile anti-semitic imagery of Der Sturmer. There is only positive, uplfiting imagery and themes of peace and prosperity - but without Jewish people. This is more appealing to mothers and fathers who wouldn’t want to be outwardly violent, as Der Strumer called for, but would be ok being bystanders to something like the Holocaust as long as it achieved peace. While Leni could argue she was just reflecting the culture of the time, she’s actually contributing and shaping the pro-Nazi sympathies among Germans. Movies are especially potent at shaping culture because they are social gathering places, meaning people weren’t just digesting this image individually and interrupting its truth value. Rather, everyone would’ve left in an excited frenzy, raving about the movie, functioning in a similar way to the rallies themselves.

This film is also effective because it has the illusion of being independent of the Nazis and thus more credible. Other media was clearly commissioned by the Nazi party, leading to criticism by some Germans. However, this film says “made by Leni Riefenstahl '' in the beginning, and paints the Nazi movement as a grassroots, workers led movement. Yes, Hitler does speak and figure prominently in the film, but he never seems like he’s soaking up this power and feeding his ego. His speeches are always directed at calling upon the power of the common man. In this way the film is NOT a glorification of Hitler, but a glorification of ordinary Germans, which would be pleasing to Germans wary of a dictatorship. In one scene, a group of turf marshes, furnaces, and other low level workers stood around and listed their homelands, stating that they are all “reclaiming the north sea” by way of the Nazi party. Such uplifting of the common man would’ve deeply appealed to Germans watching this film, who were tired of intellectuals dominating culture and leadership in Weimar Germany.

The scene where Hitler addresses the Hitler youth, calling upon them to be one peace-loving people, with no division would come across as ironic and cruel to Jewish youth. They were not allowed to participate in the Hitler Youth and knew German unity and peace called for their death. Hearing sentiments like this in real life may hurt, but having these sentiments in a film, that can be rewatched hundreds of times, cuts permanent wounds.

In conclusion, Riefenstahl was an active contributor to the Nazi regime whose film moved the populace further under the thumb of Hitler and the Nazis. She cannot be treated politically by history, because in a fascist regime, art is not just one person’s perspective: it is the perspective that everyone is expected to adopt. Yes, Hitler used Leni, but she had ultimate freedom in the content of the film - something she explicitly demanded before taking on the project. As souplover said, “Leni Riefenstahl claimed that she… had no awareness of the harm that the Third Reich would bring. This may be true, but the Nazi party was based on ideas of nationalism and antisemitism. While she could not have been aware of the Holocaust, she was aware of Hitler’s powerful antisemitism. And yet, she still chose to support and spread this.”

Thus, the impact it had on leading to the Holocaust is her responsibility and legacy.

Boston, Massachusetts, US
Posts: 10

The Power of Propaganda: Leni Riefenstahl

Triumph of the Will was such a powerful tool of propaganda because it showed a powerful and prosperous Germany unified under the Nazi cause. During the post-World-War Weimar years, Germans were humialated by the terms of the treaty of Verssallies. German society was fragile and unstable due to hyperinflation and disoriented from the sudden end of the war. The unificaiton demonstrated in Triumph of the Will appealed to even the many non-radical minded Germans who were seeking societal stability. Germans who gave in to the turbulant times and turned to extremism in the form of joining paramilitary groups or turning to antisemitism to provide a scapegoat for losing the war would’ve felt validated by seeing the strength of the Nazi party and country in the film. Such stength coujld be seen in scenes like Hitler’s adress to the Nazi youth rally, where viewers saw the way Hitler was able to captivate the crowd with his speach about obediance. To Aryan Germans, this scene was sure to demonstrate the reach of Hitler and the Nazis. Seeing so many people gathered must have added to the preassure to conform. The way the scenes were displayed also added to the effectiveness of the propaganda. In a time where movies and cinematography was really simple, Leni Riefenstahl’s advanced editing and filmwork also would have helped to captivate audiences. Not having seen such advanced film, Germans could be easily persuaded by the grandiocity and emotion Riefenstahl was able to portray through her work. For instance, she uses camera pajns, rapid switching of angles and thematic music to characterize large parades of Nazi troops.

Leni Riefenstahl’s work persuaded many to join the Nazi cause which ended up leading to the atrocity of the Holocaust. She doesn’t deserve to share blame for the Holocaust, but she does deserve to be acknowledged as responsible for the After the end of World War II, Riefenstahl maintained that she didn’t beleive in Nazi ideology and didn’t intend for her film to propagate such hate. “I just wanted to do something different,” Riefenstahl says in German during an interview shown in, The Wonderful Horrible Life of Leni Riefenstahl, “It would have been difficult if not impossible to get out of it.” Since Riefenstahl coordinated the film long before the Holocaust, if her assertation that she was unaware of the Nazi plans and didn’t intend to advance an ideology that championed antisemitism was true, she doesn’t deserve to share blame of the Holocaust. With that being said, Riefenstahl’s work should not be separated from herself as an artist. The Triumph of the Will was a large factor in adding to popularity and loyalty to the Nazi party. By gaining the overwhelming majority of (public) support from individual Germans, Hitler and the Nazi party were able to advance antisemetic policies and facist ideology, and eventually kill 6 million Jewish people.

By contributing to Nazi power, Riefenstahl acted as a bystander. While not having the courage to stand up against Hitler- a powerful dictator capable of harming one or their loved ones for uncooperative behavior- doesn’t necessarily qualify her to take blame for the Holocaust, it does make it necessary to think about her and her work in the context of the violence and hatred it caused.

Boston, Massachusetts, US
Posts: 10

The Power of Propaganda--Leni Riefenstahl's Triumph of the Will (1935)

Triumph of the Will was a propaganda film made during the rise to power of the Nazi party in Germany and as such tremendously impacted the people of the time period. The primary reason it was so effective at drawing in Germans was likely due to the superior craftsmanship of the artist Leni Riefenstahl, who both used a great amount of movement in the film in contrast to many other films of the time, and also took advantage of the angles she was presented with, displaying the actions of the Nazi party with unprecedented, and perhaps unwarranted, grandeur. In spite of Riefenstahl’s defensive claims that the film’s development included no political undertones and that the whole endeavor was an editor’s hellhole first and foremost, the film did contain a lot of content glorifying the party. In The Wonderful Horrible Life of Leni Riefenstahl, she argues that the film “was in tune with the times” and that 90% of people in and out of Germany including herself believed in the claims of peace that were being thrown around by the party. There were still many times where the sheer scale of the Nazi rallies was broadcast alongside Hitler's words and the constant resounded notions of work, loyalty, and unity. This likely made Germany appear, at least to those who were Aryan or “natural-born Germans”, as some indestructible force representative of human cooperation. Some scenes however, such as those in which the military roam the streets, could be very alarming and telling to populations who the party saw as inferior or a threat, like Jews, intellectuals (those who remained), and communists.

Though each individual should make up their own decisions on how Leni Riefenstahl’s work should be interpreted, it is definitely arguable that she isn’t entirely to blame for her creation. While the impact of the film cannot be understated and it certainly caused far more trouble than good, Riefenstahl argues that “Work and peace are the only messages in ‘Triumph of the Will’”, adding, “there’s nothing about anti-semitism or race-theory”. When she speaks about her process when making the movie, she mentions that when making the film she put care and attention to the way in which each and every scene looked especially when condensed from a much longer rolling tape. As a woman who, she maintains, was not a member of the party, she still gave her best effort when instructed to create the film, likely because both she felt it was a way to prove herself and her talent, and also because she felt that if the result was lackluster, who knows what would become of her? These are the Nazis, after all. They are far from the kind of people who can be reasoned with when it comes to claims of inaccurate portrayals of their party. Leni Riefenstahl’s determination and work ethic is also notable in that she produced such a work from up to “20 hours” of work a day as she claims. It is hard to remove her entirely from her art however, especially when she so frequently defends it as being a work of art, and challenges her critics to “make the film” themselves, or in other words, try to create something better than what she made. Ultimately, it’s most important to ensure that these extremist parties with their false promises never rise to power in the first place, as everything that follows will simply see innocent people perform horrendous acts in fear of social ostracism or even the loss of their life.

Boston, MA, US
Posts: 10

Riefenstahl's Responsibility

“One people, one Führer, one Reich, one Germany.” These were the words that the 52,000 men of the Reich Labor Corps chanted in unison as they stood before Adolf Hitler, and the words that struck all who saw this film, Triumph of the Will (Riefenstahl 1935). The most powerful thing about the film is that it contains no historical or contextual commentary throughout it. According to The Mass Psychology of Fascist Cinema, the cinematic nature lies not in the filmmaking but in the history itself (Tomasulo 1998). Something as awe-inducing as the rallies held by the Nazis had never been seen in all of history, and this is one reason why the film gained such traction. The scenes with Hitler speaking to the Germans hold the most power of all because they show how easily he captured the entire country.When people saw these scenes they were struck with fear and awe simultaneously. People who were deemed as “Aryan” felt a heightened sense of inspiration while watching the film. They can see themselves being represented in such a grand way, the entire country of Germany idolized them, and put them on a pedestal. All of the media in Germany was angled to antagonize Jewish people and anyone else who was not “Aryan.” While these groups were terrified for their future and for the safety of their lives, this fear is a double edged sword. Hitler, Goebbels, and the Nazi party also used propaganda to instill fear in the nationalist Germans: the fear of “the others.” Triumph of the Will would not have been as powerful as it was without Leni Riefenstahl. The cinematographer originally wanted to refuse the commission for this film, eventually claiming that she was apolitical during that time. If she was apolitical, it would mean she had no perspective on the Nazis. In other words, she really was not against the Nazis. Taking no side does not absolve her of responsibility, just as abstaining from voting in an election does not exonerate anyone either. She eventually agreed to the film, having been heavily pushed by Hitler. Just as everyone, she was afraid of Hitler’s power, but another reason that she ultimately decided to take on the film was that her partner spent half of her budget doing it badly. While she waited to hear back from Hitler about her refusal she looked “ at Walter Ruttmann's footage, and received a new shock. What I saw on the screen was, to put it mildly, useless” (Riefenstahl 1992). She decided that there was no other course of action than to continue the film herself. For any other film it would be a smart choice to ditch the dead weight, but based on the circumstances and the subject of the film, was this decision selfish? No matter what her intentions were for continuing the film, it cannot be understated how much her film contributed to Nazi power. Riefenstahl painted the Nazis as powerful and grand, despite seeing the obvious red flags, and this was ultimately her choice to do so. When an artist’s work is so intertwined with something like this, it is almost impossible to judge their art apart from them. Today, it is easier to separate art from the artist if what they produce does not intersect with their other actions. For example, despite Kanye West’s behavior, people find it easier to still support his art which is extremely different in nature. Leni Riefenstahl does not have enough non-propaganda art to separate her from her work, especially when her most influential work was her most problematic. No matter what angle the situation is seen from, Riefenstahl had a heavy and helpful hand in the Nazi’s rise to power, and does not get any excuse or pass.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights
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Triumph of the Will is a film that inspired millions of Germans to give their support to the Nazi party and was very influential in giving the Nazi party the amount of power that they eventually ended up with. It is so powerful because it shows the Nazis as a uniting force which will reinvigorate the German people and bring Germany back to its previous glory and beyond. Throughout the film it shows the happiness that the Nazi party brought to its people and none of the harmful aspects of its control. This led people to believe that the Nazi party had only done good things, especially because of the lack of outside news sources they had which would tell them otherwise. This was their only source of information about the Nazi party, so in their view it was much better than we now know it was. Scenes of rallies and parades would encourage those who were not considered Aryan not to fight back, because it made the German people who were considered Aryan seem very unified in support of the Nazis and therefore very difficult to convince of the harm that was being done.

Although she had no way of knowing what the Nazi party would turn into, Leni Riefenstahl still definitely holds some responsibility for the rise of the Nazi party. There were still plenty of warning signs in the beginning, and her work could even be considered one of them. The very fact that the Nazi party deemed it necessary to make a propaganda movie to convince the German people to support them and to fill it with only the best representations of the Nazis is in and of itself a warning sign that their motives are perhaps not in the best place. The amount of influence that this movie had on the German people means that Leni Riefenstahl absolutely holds some of the responsibility. However, I would say her responsibility is only to the rise of the Nazis, and not their later actions, because although their rise facilitated their later actions, Leni Riefenstahl was clearly not in support of the Holocaust and nothing in the movie promotes it.

Leni Riefenstahl’s memory should not be devoted solely to the influence she had on the German people and the rise of the Nazis. Although this should definitely always be considered when discussing her, she did so many things of note other than making Triumph of the Will and they should not be pushed to the side. Her influences on modern filmmaking are immense and the film industry would likely not be the same without her, so she definitely has done a lot of good as well and should be remembered for that. The assertion that she was completely “apolitical” is likely not true and the fact that she made the film in the first place means that she was most likely in support of the Nazi party. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean that she supported the Holocaust or hated Jewish people, as at this point the Nazi party’s intentions were not entirely clear. In conclusion, Leni Riefenstahl’s work should be connected to this movie and its impact, but that should not be the only thing that is remembered about her. We shouldn’t disconnect the art from the artist in this scenario because the artist had a key role in the creation of the art and therefore both the art and the artist are critical in the harm caused by the art, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t other, better aspects to the artist that shouldn’t be discounted.

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