By TLB Contributor: Ken LaRive
What we thought as children we may no longer see or even understand today. So too, the ideologies and convictions that men and countries once held sacred in history; philosophies and belief systems once revered as sincere and honorable, might someday fall to dust, and soon after forgotten. Without looking and studying our past revelations and failings, we will be doomed to repeat them.
As we mature among the games of men we try to connect the past with the present and future. Taking pause we might ask the timeless question, “If we knew then what we know now, would the outcome have been any different?” Most likely, emphatically, it would.
Leni Riefenstahl was born in Berlin, Germany, in 1902, and died on Monday, the 8th of September 2003, in Poecking, Germany, just a few weeks after her 101st birthday.
She was blessed with a multitude of seemingly effortless and magical talents that sparked from her like a roman candle. Her charming and flamboyant wit, her wondrous creative visions and imaginings focused energy that would not be denied. She blossomed in everything she attempted to do. Her exuberance silenced every room she entered, and lines would form for days just to catch a glimpse of her arrival.
In that vivid flash of time nearly everyone in the free world knew her name. Long before Hitler’s 3rd Reich advanced into Europe and millions upon millions fell and suffered under their whim, Leni worked and created for the cause.
Her tragedy might seem moot today in retrospect of the horrible loss of humanity that coincided with her life. She was caught up in a machine that she helped grow by propaganda and party-line promotion. In that process, she broke new ground and mastered her art…
You will hear that she was a dancer, an actress, an artist, a photographer, a filmmaker, and a yes, a Nazi collaborator.
First discovered as a dancer, she was renowned throughout the country and choreographed her own solo dance recital she performed on both the German and European stage. As she grew into a beautiful woman she became the top actress of her time, staring in films that broke ground in a brand new artistic medium called “The Silver Screen.”
She was a natural, a quick study, and rapidly went from leading lady alongside the great Louis Tucker, to simultaneously work under the direction of the famous Arnold Fanck, who saw in her great directing promise.
In 1932 she became internationally famous as a woman producer, director, inventor of images, and also leading actress in her first feature film “The Blue Light”. It was an immediate success, and soon after “Triumph of the Will” was produced, her most controversial documentary about the Sixth Nazi Party Rally of 1934 Nuremberg.
She used her cinema-graphic genius to transform a murdering fascist’s regime into what appeared to be benign saviors. But who at the time could foretell the future, as Hitler received enthusiastic positive press around the world.
Though history is distorted about those times, where shock and pain have created predisposed taboo and history is written by the winner, some historians indicated that Hitler justified his future actions by blaming Germany’s financial failings on Jewish banker conspiracies, who, he contended, were controlling government.
In his book “Mein Kampf”, he outlines his hatred for those he felt stole from the Germans: businesses, money, and land. He thought that Germany was in the mess it was after World War One because the Government of that time let the Jews gain overwhelming power, and corruption was rampant and out of control.
He pointed out that European Jews were trying to turn Germany into a Jewish State, and that the German people would become, in essence, their slaves. As their economy floundered, the German people rallied to the cause. No one seemingly knew, not even the US, some say, of his contentions, or the drastic and radical steps he would take in the future.
Leni’s inventive timing and camera angles had never been seen before, and to this day is considered the greatest propaganda film-maker ever, setting the stage and influencing countless others throughout the world. This one singular work, “Triumph of the Will,” so early in her career, catapulted her to fame and fortune, but would haunt her to the day she died.
Her next film called “Olympia” has been rated as one of the best top-ten documentary films ever produced, and was the instant rave of America’s Hollywood and public, as much of what we see in our early cinema was copied from her original techniques. She artistically depicted, before Hitler’s decline in favoritism, the beauty and grace of Berlin’s 1936 Olympics German athletes as the superior Aryan race, artistically and psychologically compared to the ancient Greeks.
There should be no shame in being ambitious, especially when so talented. Her ability to create must have been a powerful force inside her, and though she never belonged to the Nazi party herself, she did know Hitler and his party leaders.
She must have been involved in some grand balls and extravaganzas, being so beautiful and able to promote the ideals of the party so vividly. Hitler’s Germany and Leni’s pictures were even displayed in our own National Geographic Magazine of that time.
With WWII at a close, Riefenstahl was put on the black list, as were many of our own artists here in America. What a blow that must have been for her! Loudly she defended herself, saying she was no Nazi Pawn, but her destruction was set.
She never quit trying to create, however, and continued the attempt to leave a luminous creative mark. She picked up the still camera and spent years photographing the North African Nubian tribes and rallied world acclaim in the productive effort and result. Her photographic book “Africa”, gave Leni Riefenstahl a new substance in both press and review; “Riefenstahl’s photographs preserves a mythic vision of the Eden before the Fall, a romantic lost world, captured in images as powerfully seductive as the artiest herself.”-V Magazine, Los Angeles.
At 71 Riefenstahl took up both scuba diving and underwater photography with the same verve, and her film-making has been called, “…pure dazzling.” One recent film called “Underwater Impressions,” shows the ocean world with a new glittering perspective, amazingly insightful and long-lasting.
But then, woven in her constant attempts to create, ghosts from the past continually followed and hounded her. Even the Gypsies, who she supposedly used for extras from a local prison camp, tried for years to sue her as responsible for their plight. She won these battles, but paid a great price in time and negative press.
To have so much talent, so much passion for the art, and so much standing in the way is pitiful to behold. Some have written that she never recanted; was never apologetic for her involvement, or admitted responsibility. Perhaps she thought she was morally justified, but her thoughts were obscured.
It might be speculated by a romantic that if she had been born in America she might have gone down in history as one of the best propaganda and documentary filmmakers of the genera, and after the war move from Silent to talkies unhampered. Of course those early propaganda and documentary films would be our own, and most likely she would now be considered a true American patriot.
Author’s note: Leni was caught up in the times of a world of flux and change. In some emphatic ways they were very similar to our own American plight today. Those who attempt to separate from the status quo in the present day by taking a stand for what they believe, like anti-war, anti-big government, anti-socialism and nationalism, are ridiculed, marginalized, ostracized, and humiliated. Surely we are accountable for what we do, but doesn’t that depend on whose side we give our allegiance, and who is in control and domination at the time?
Today, our liberal media under Government control instills taboo, lies and half truths, and disrespects those who might take an unpopular stand against their authority and agenda. It seems that taking a stand or not can have similar consequences in retrospect, and only with a crystal ball can we determine an outcome, and our accountability.
It is easy to look back with condescension for Leni today, but viewing the wide array of indicators we are grappling with, form an unaccountable Federal Reserve, International bankers, a ultra-liberal/nationalistic/socialistic mindset controlling our country, it seems that the same threats that overtook Germany is happening to America today.
There are many ways to control and dominate a country, and the same propaganda techniques created long ago can gain that powerful foothold without firing a shot. Losing liberty in increments, has seemingly gone unnoticed but for those who remember when collective voluntary servitude was in infancy. History repeats itself, and we should pay attention, and study it openly without fear. The more truth we demand, the clearer we can see ourselves, and our place in the future. As liberty diminishes, so too does truth.
We can indeed learn from Leni Rienfenstahl, if only to realize that element in her failed recognition, or misinterpretation for those she supported. But then, it must also be considered that she felt entirely justified, and consciously knew what her involvement might mean.
The last days of Leni Riefenstahl
See featured article here: http://www.examiner.com/article/taking-pause-for-leni-riefenstahl-s-triumph-of-the-will-of-nazi-germany