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Riefenstahl, a confidante of both Hitler and Goebbels, had spent most of the past half century trying to shrug off her reputation as Hitler's favourite film-maker, and the Third Reich's most gifted and glamorous female propagandist.
Riefenstahl began her career as a dancer and actress. But it was her films of the 1934 Nazi party rally and of the Berlin Olympics two years later that brought her prewar acclaim and postwar infamy.
In numerous subsequent interviews, she sought to defend Triumph of the Will.
The black-and-white documentary vividly captured the Wagnerian grandeur and meticulous choreography of the Nazis' 1934 rally - and opens with Hitler descending in a plane from the skies above Nuremberg to a rapturous reception from Nazi supporters on the ground.
He was delighted and commissioned her to make a film of the 1936 Berlin Olympics, Olympia. In it, she used pioneering camera techniques, that included putting a camera on wheels and filming the shotput from the ground up. The films have haunted her ever since. Critics accused her of failing to apologise for her apparent involvement with the Nazis.
In 2002 she faced allegations that she deliberately allowed Gypsies who appeared in her wartime film, Lowlands, to perish in Auschwitz.
"You have to take responsibility for your past. She didn't. That is what people will remember about her," Irene Runge, head of Berlin's Jewish cultural centre, said.
But her biographer, Jürgen Trimborn, defended Riefenstahl. "She may have been an unscrupulous careerist, but she was also a brilliant artist. History will forgive her," he said.
She always insisted that she had never been a member of the Nazi party and knew nothing of Hitler's plans to wipe out the Jews. She also denied that she had had an affair with Hitler, but admitted that she had once gone for a romantic walk with him by the sea.
She was married briefly to a German major, but had no children.
"I had no political reasons for making these films," she said last year. "There was one Hitler and one government. Everyone shouted: 'Heil Hitler'. It was normal at that time. You have to put yourself in the past to look at it from the right perspective."
After the war, she spent three years under allied arrest but was eventually cleared of being a Nazi collaborator.
She turned her back on films and in the 1960s reinvented herself as a photographer, living with and photographing Sudan's Nuba tribe.
She also took up underwater photography. In 2002 she released her first film for half a century, based on her dives, Impressions Under Water.
Recently, there has been a renewal of critical interest in her work in Germany, with signs that rehabilitation might finally have arrived for her. She celebrated her 100th birthday in 2002 surrounded by celebrities, including the tennis player Boris Becker.
"She was a contradictory personality," Ms Runge added. "She was an artist, but she was also a propagandist for the Nazi system. Do I believe her denials that she was a Nazi supporter? Of course I don't."
In early 2000, the 97 year old Riefensthal spent several weeks recovering in hospital after suffering broken ribs and lung injuries after being involved in a helicopter crash whilst filming in Sudan.
She says she read Ernest Hemingway's Green Hills of Africa (1935) in 1955, and prepared immediately to visit the Sudan, which she did the following year, was accepted by, and lived with the Nuba people for several months. She wrote three books, mainly photographic essays documenting the vanishing beauty of African people and cultures, from 1972 to 1997. Those are possibly her best refutation of accusations of her racist philosophy as the director of Olympia.
Ms. Riefenstahl lied about her age in 1973 to be passed an official licence to go deep-diving in the Pacific Ocean. She started collecting images of the underwater beauty then, and she did not stop when a shark showed his appreciation of her by head-butting her 3 times, as documented on a TV documentary in 2002.
A film of Ms. Riefenstahl's life is being developed by actress, Jodie Foster who will direct and star in the piece.
In an interview shortly before her death, she stated that if she had known that Triumph of the Will would have haunted her career, she would have never made the film.