Directed by Leni Riefenstahl
Filmed in 1934, Triumph of the Will is a grand and artful film, while very much a terrifying spectacle. Considered by most to be a propaganda film capturing the grandeur of the Nazi Party rally in Nuremberg, serving to support recruitment and unite Germany under the Nazi regime. Initially the film was very well received, winning international awards in Paris and at the Biennale in addition to the National Film Prize in Germany.
Hitler requested that Leni Riefenstahl film the rally after being impressed by her debut film Blue Light (1932). Triumph of the Will was entirely financed by the Nazi party, a production which included the use of 30 plus cameras and a crew of 120. It is rumoured that Riefenstahl was involved in the planning of the rally to ensure it was staged perfectly for filming but she has firmly denied this claim, insisting she merely filmed around the rally, that this was true Cinéma vérité. She did edit the film herself, and so certainly had a hand in controlling the final product.
There is little doubt that the resulting film served to enhance the emotional connection to a united Germany, to showcase the strength of the German armed forces and to glorify Hitler. From the opening scene as Hitler arrives through the heavens (like a God) to Nuremberg via plane, to the parades, to the prolific speeches from Hitler and his fellow party members atop the grand monuments overlooking the thousands to proud soldiers, to the joyous youth camp games, the film captures the rapture and prowess of a unified and seemingly invincible Germany.
The film is very repetitive at times, with lengthy scenes of obedient synchronized soldiers marching in unison with Nazi flags to Wagneresque music. It is haunting to see it now, the thousands of men marching, filmed at perspectives that served to enhance their numbers and obedience. It’s like they have all been programmed. Residents of Nuremberg hanging out of their windows feverishly waving flags at Hitler and his procession. You cannot count the number of Nazi flags in a given scene, from the ones in the soldiers’ hands to those decorating the landscape and monuments. The grandness of the receptions, the cathedral of lights, the hand held torches, the expanse of humanity, all captured in artistic glory. Its eerie to see now.
There is no doubt that Leni Riefenstahl is up there in the list of most talented female filmmakers of all time. Triumph of the Will, despite early praise, was soon followed by condemnation and criticism from the international community and did likely hurt a career that otherwise would have flourished given her talents. I watched an interview where she took the interviewer to her library of scrapbooks where she kept clippings from articles, good and bad. To her documenting both good memories as well bad memories was important. I wonder how she reconciled the film herself…
She completed her last film, Underwater Impressions, at the age of 100. She was an avid diver and shot many of the scenes herself, yes diving at 100. Well into her 90s, she was still learning new filmmaking techniques, keeping up with technology . She lived until 102.