"The systemic propagation of a doctrine or cause or of information reflecting the views and interests of those advocating such a doctrine or cause; materials disseminated by the advocates or opponents of a doctrine or cause." American Heritage Dictionary|
The 1930s and 1940s, which saw the rise of totalitarian states and the Second World War, are arguably the "Golden Age of Propaganda". Nazi control of the German film industry, operated by the Reich Ministry for People's Enlightenment and Propaganda headed by Joseph Goebbels is the most extreme example of the use of film in the service of a dictatorship. In this context the figure of Leni Riefenstahl, who was considered to be Adolf Hitler's favorite film director, was one of the most discussed, criticized and celebrated, protagonist of a controversy that still today remains unsolved. This essay wants to be an analysis of her best-known propaganda movie, ''Triumph of the Will'', commissioned by Hitler to chronicle the 1934 Nazi Party rally in Nuremberg , and of the intentions behind its production.
Bertha Helene Amelie (Leni) Riefenstahl was born on August 22, 1902, in Berlin. From her earliest years she studied painting, but her first passion was the ballet. When, after a promising career as dancer, giving solo dance concerts in many European cities, at the age of 24 a knee injury forced her to bow out, Riefenstahl had the chances to start her career in the cinema industry debuting as actress in a series of mountain films directed by Arnold Franck. During this period she learned the filmmaking techniques that influenced her career as director, acquiring the ability to build the cinematic tension characteristic of ''Triumph of the Will''. In 1932 she made her first effort as independent filmmaker with ''The Blue Light'', a mountain film that showed her masterful sense of camera positioning and photography. During the production of the film Leni Riefenstahl read the Main Kampf, giving an immediate positive response. Hitler himself, on the other hand, was fascinated by her talent, and saw in her the director who could realize the wagnerian atmosphere he wanted to obtain for his propaganda films. They had already met few times when in 1933 she accepted to direct the film of the 1933 party rally at Nuremberg. Yet, this first attempt to work for the Nazi party resulted in a complete failure for her: without the support of the Minister of Propaganda Goebbels who boycotted her work from the beginning, and with many strict compromises imposed by the party, her name did not even appear in the credits. Determined never to be put in such a situation again, when she was ordered in 1934 to realize a second film for the party rally in Nuremberg by Hitler, now ruling as Fuhrer of the Third Reich, , she tried to refuse asserting that she had no experience on filming parades and speeches and moreover she didn't know who or what was politically important. The answer was simply:''Is not important who is in the film. It is important that the film has the atmosphere.'' Seeing that Hitler would not change his mind, she imposed the condition on which she would make the film, including the freedom from Nazi party, complete power over the editing and the promise that it would be her last service to the governament. Being financed by the Nazi Governament, Leni Riefenstahl had at her disposal huge resources, with an almost unlimited budget and a staff of 172 people that included even 9 aerial photographers. Every cameramen was, except for some guidelines, almost independent in the creative choice of the subjects and, in order to don't stand out in the crowd, they were dressed as SA men. Albert Speer, as Hitler personal architect, was responsible to design the set and do most of the coordination for the event. Riefenstahl claimed that she had just two weeks to organize the production and, literally: "I just observed and tried to film it well. The idea that I helped to plan it...
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