Leni Riefenstahl :: Triumph of the Will

Header Photo: Triumph of the Will - Night footage. © Estate of Leni Riefenstahl, 2005.

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Triumph of the Will :: Details

  • Year made: 1934
  • Type: German documentary
  • Type: black and white
  • Length: 114 mins
  • Sound: mono
  • Language: German
  • Directed and produced: Leni Riefenstahl
  • Written: Leni Riefenstahl and Walter Ruttmann
  • Original music: Herbert Windt
  • Cinematography: Sepp Allgeier, Karl Attenberger and Werner Bohne

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    Triumph of the Will :: Review

    Designed by Nazis, for Nazis, and about Nazis. Triumph of the Will was filmed by the German Propaganda Ministry in 1934 and directed by Leni Riefenstahl. The film covers the events of the Sixth Nuremburg Party Congress. The original intention was to document the early days of the NSDAP, so as future generations could look back and see how the Third Reich began. In reality, Triump des Willens shows historians how the Nazi state drew in the masses through propaganda and also how Adolf Hitler had a unique and terrifying ability to entice crowds to his beliefs by the very power of his words.

    Setting the Scene

    The date of the Nazi Party Rally is given in September 1934.

    The film starts with a historical narrative:

      - 20 Years since the start of the “Worldddd WWar” (World War I in 1914).
      - 16 years since Germany’s “crucifixion” (Germany’s surrender in 1918).
      - 19 months after the beginning of the “German Renaissance” (Hitler becoming leader in January 1933).

    Hitler returns to Nuremberg to review his faithful columns of followers.

    adolf hitler

    Hitler Presented as God-like descending from the Sky
    The opening shots are of stormy clouds suggesting Valhalla, the mythical world of German gods from tales of the Middle Ages. A small plane flies over out of these clouds and over the historic German city of Nuremberg with its Reformation churches. The Reformation city connects the viewer to the early formation of the German nation.

    Out of the plane steps Hitler to cheering ordinary Germans, not dressed in Nazi uniform. In his car cavalcade into town he is shown as a lone figure greeting the cheering townspeople.

    A stereotypical German mother holding her baby steps out of the crowd to shake his hand and give him flowers. Power is suggested by the half-profiles of Nazi troopers lined along some of the route. At Hitler’s hotel a carnival atmosphere is evoked by the torch processions at night.

    The transition from night to morning is done by the camera lingering on the Reformation architecture of the old German city of Nuremberg. The opening shots of the morning blend Nazi symbols with these old buildings of German history and culture. The Nazis are being closely identified with the historic roots of the German nation in the Reformation.

    Going to the Rally

    Morning comes at one of the tent camps of the Nazi party followers. All the young men are represented as manly exuberant, wholesome, and in high spirits. The music is cheerful and uplifting. The association of purity with the young men is suggested by the many camera shots of them cleaning themselves.

    adolf hitler

    The group activities of the young Nazis are signs of unity and purpose (The Depression is still on in Germany and many young men are unemployed and living purposeless lives). This idea is that Hitler and the Nazis can lead Germany out of the hopelessness of the Depression and defeat in World War I through renewed national purpose.

    The connection between the Nazis and the mythic German past is stressed by the peasant farmers’ costumes worn by the people greeting Hitler in the morning.

    At the rally, Hitler’s Deputy introduces the speakers and pays tribute to the recently deceased President Hindenberg. This connects the Nazis once again with the German past (Hindenberg is a respected World War I General). The speakers proceed, but only colourful excerpts are taken from their speeches that emphasise Nazi doctrine.

    Hitler reviews the “labour servicemen”

    adolf hitler

    Context: At the time in Germany, unemployment is about a third of the workforce because of the Depression. Many young men are living purposeless lives. Hitler is perceived as doing something about this by creating public works programmes. They have special banners with Swastikas and wheat representing work. They are marching with spades not guns on their shoulders. They have shovels instead of rifles on their shoulders. They march with their shovels.This seems odd, but they have been doing manual labour on the public works programmes that the Nazi Government has been organising over Germany to restore the dignity and confidence of the unemployed, many of whom are young men, such as those shown

    The "labour servicemen" are asked where they are from to demonstrate nation unity.

    They call out all the different towns and areas of Germany. Oddly, the first one called is someone from Friesanland, which is usually thought of a kind of joke place – the islands next to Holland, that are part Dutch part German.

    Hitler tells the youth of Germany to forget about class distinctions and think of themselves as his people

    The young men of the "labour servicemen" describe working in the swamps and in the sand. They say they are too young to have fought in the First World War, but they have served Germany doing manual labour on the public works programmes. They remember the men who fought in the various battles of the First World War at Tanneberg, the Somme, etc. Hitler tells them that getting Germans back to work after the Depression will bind the nation together, just as the "labour servicmen" are bound together almost as an army. In a reference to class conflict, Hitler says that work will bind people together from now on, not divide people.

    Context: The communists have made significant in roads into the unemployed working class because of the Depression, so many unemployed workers do see themselves according to class.

    triumph of the will

    Hitler and the Nazis make a strong appeal to young people. Many older people already have their own ideas about politics and they are relatively set. Thus older people are harder to persuade to strongly embrace Nazism. But the young are much more susceptible to influence from emotional triggers such as the rhythm of marching and drumming, belonging to a group of similar young men who look after each other. This appeal to German youth comes across a lot in the shots that are shown. The young are also the ones who are passing out of school into the hopelessness of finding work during the Depression. <

    Hitler praises manual labour and emphases the dignity of labour

    Context: Public works projects have started in Germany such as building the motorways. Many Germans, in order to have a job, are doing manual labour.
    The rally images end with the arousing Nazi song.

    Military Review

    Emphasises power and reassurance. The Germans had not seen these images of military might before during the Weimar Republic after World War I. At the end, there are the eagles and Swatiskas that recall the Roman legions. This is an appeal to symbols of greatness.

    Night-time Speech

    triumph of the will

    Hitler emphasizes the common suffering of the Germany people and the determination to make the state do as the people want. Riefenstahl’s cameras are always moving. There is a sense of motion and that Hitler’s words are being carried out.

    The Daytime Review

    The movement of the cameras across the vast stadium filled with thousands and the three lone figures walking across empty space. They pay tribute to the Nazi Party dead (the Nazis have been engaged in a street war with the communists, with dead on both sides).

    The orchestrated and choreographed movement of masses of people around the leader is emphasized. The impression conveyed is of a faithful band of followers. One of them actually says this in his speech to stress what we have already seen.

    Context: Hitler addresses his followers the SA (Sturm-Abteilung or Brown shirts)  - a the Nazi working class army that he has just purged of its members who did want a working class revolution. He talks of unity but he has killed several of its leaders in the Night of the Long Knives in June 1934.

    Marching through the Streets

    triumph of the will

    At the end of the rally there are large numbers of Nazis marching through the streets of Nuremberg. Reifenstahl's cameras capture the rhythm of and movement of the marchers. The marchers are set against the Gothic and Reformation architecture of Nuremberg. Once again this highlights the historic connection that the Nazis want to make between them and the history of Germany.

    Hitler's Closing Speech

    Hitler enters the room form the back, appearing to emerge the people. The Nazi legions with the names of each city that they come from below their eagle standards come into the Room. Hitler, after one sentence introduction from his Deputy Hess tells his faithful band of Nazi followers how the German nation has subordinated itself to the Nazi Party because its leaders are the most racially pure of Germans. He promises that the new state that the Nazis have created will endure for 1000 years. Hitler says that the youth will carry on after the old have weakened. Hess closes with the sycophantic chant, "Hitler is the Party, Hitler is Germany, Germany is Hitler". The whole room starts to sing arousing Nazi song. The camera focuses on the large Swatiska above Hitler and the film ends with this images of this Swastika imposed on Nazis marching in a few columns.

    Triumph of the Will :: Short Review

    Triumph of the Will, also known as Triumph des Willens, is the legendary propaganda documentary of the Third Reich's 1934 Nuremberg Party Rally. Commissioned by Hitler in 1934 and directed by Leni Riefenstahl, this documentary covers the events of the Sixth Nuremberg Party Congress. The original intention was to document the early days of the NSDAP, so future generations could look back and see how the Third Reich began. In reality, Triumph of the Will shows historians how the Nazi state drew in the masses through propaganda and also how Adolf Hitler had a unique and terrifying ability to entice crowds to his beliefs by the very power of his words. Triumph of the Will was released in 1935 and rapidly became one of the better-known examples of propaganda in film history.

    Riefenstahl's techniques, such as moving cameras, the use of telephoto lenses to create a distorted perspective, aerial photography, and revolutionary approach to the use of music and cinematography, have earned Triumph recognition as one of the greatest films in history. Riefenstahl won several awards, not only in Germany but also in the United States, France, Sweden, and other countries. The film was popular in the Third Reich and elsewhere, and has continued to influence movies, documentaries, and commercials to this day, even as it raises the question over the dividing line between art and morality.

    Featuring a cast of thousands, including Adolf Hitler, Himmler, Goebbels, Hess, Goering and other top party officials, this film perhaps more than any other demonstrates the frightening reality that was the Nazi Party and the dangers that the future held for the rest of Europe.

    Triumph of the Will Propaganda Poster
    Triumph of the Will Propaganda Poster

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