Leni Riefenstahl

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Research Assessment on a Personality in the Twentieth Century: Leni Riefenstahl a) Describe the major influences that led to the rise to prominence of your chosen personality in her nation’s history. The major influences that led to Leni Riefenstahl’s rise to prominence includes a fateful event that kindles her fascination with film, the continual influence of mountain (Berg) films and acclaimed director Dr Arnold Fanck as well as her first début as a director and producer. In 1925 Leni Riefenstahl injured her knee whilst dancing in Prague which threatened to end her dancing career. Fatefully, it was this injury that introduced her to mountain films as she came across an advertising poster for Berg des Schicksals (Mountain of Destiny) a mountain film directed by Dr Arnold Fanck on her way to the doctor. Riefenstahl was very intrigued by the film and was so impressed that she returned each night for a week to see Fanck’s Mountain of Destiny. She was “spell bound” by the “vivid, lifelike images of majestic mountains” and as she watched, her own “mountain film destiny” was revealed. The themes of the struggle to survive and natural beauty featured in such mountain films would later appear as a major influence in Riefenstahl’s own work as a director both from the technical and artistic point of view. Only 18 months after the day she became aware of mountain films and her new career, Riefenstahl appeared in her first film directed by Dr Arnold Fanck. Fanck was to become more than her lover and director, he was to become her mentor and one of the main influences on her directorial career which was to be the pinnacle of her success. Working on Fanck’s films as an actress allowed her to learn various aspects of filmmaking such as the roles of the director, cinematographer and technician. Furthermore, Fanck enjoyed experimenting with certain methods using the camera and editing techniques in new and innovative ways. From Riefenstahl’s film career we know that she too was fond of experimenting and may have been inspired by Fanck. As he encouraged her when mentoring “to avoid the accepted, routine ways of seeing and to find new points of view”. She later experimented with filters, telephoto lenses, tracking as well as underwater filming and slow motion in her coming films highlighting the influence of Fanck who encouraged her experimentation. When editing his films such as Der beilige Berg, Fanck allowed Riefenstahl to assist in the very important process of montage, a technique Fanck used avidly in his films and something Riefenstahl would later also use frequently. As she studied the technique through its inventor Sergei Eisenstein who used montage, lighting and editing in his film, Battleship Potemkin (1925) making him also an important influence. Riefenstahl describes how involved she was in learning about filmmaking with Fanck, stating, “Day and night, at every free moment, I’m in the printing lab learning to develop and copy. I’m learning editing and how to assemble the many, many short scenes.” If there was any doubt about Fanck’s influence on Riefenstahl as she rose to prominence one does not need to look any further than the first of Fanck’s films Riefenstahl saw, as much of the imagery in Mountain of Destiny is reflected in all of the films throughout Riefenstahl’s career as a director. The wealth of knowledge gained from Fanck was then translated into Riefenstahl’s first film as director, producer, star and writer, Das Blaue Licht (The Blue Light). Her first directorial début was to be a decisive influence on her career path. While she had, according to Rainer Rother, “become an interesting phenomenon under [Fanck’s] direction” she was nothing more “compared with the true stars of silent film”. This all changed when she became the director of The Blue Light in 1932. The film at its completion met international adulation and while reviews were mixed none could fault Riefenstahl on technical mastery. One such...
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