The Triumph Of The Will- Propaganda Or Documentary?

 

One of my earlier blog posts was about director Leni Riefenstahl, who is responsible for the most famous propaganda movie about the Third Reich- The triumph of the will. Scenes of marching masses and swastika flags have become part of our cultural knowledge thanks to Riefenstahl’s film lens. Therefore, I have decided to watch the whole film yesterday- not an easy thig to do I can tell you. The movie itself is rather boring from a modern perspective. It covers five days of the Nazi party rally in Nuremberg in 1934, with which Hitler wanted to show the nation how strong and united the new political leaders of Germany are. The film becomes much more interesting, however, considering that it is made as if was a documentary.

triumph of the will image

Credit: stedwards.edu

Riefenstahl herself always claimed that it was a pure historical document of its time; as if she just placed the camera and let it roll. Obviously, that is not case which makes the movie so seductive and ultimately dangerous. According Riefenstahl biograph Steven Bach, some of the scenes in the film were filmed after the actual party congress in a studio in Berlin. The fact that “The triumph of the will” does not have a voiceover was a reason for the director to claim that the movie could never be a propaganda film since it only shows actual pictures. Riefenstahl seems to forget, however, that she is a master of cutting images and putting the right music over them. The film doesn´t need any voiceover to express Riefenstahl’s adoration for the Führer. Camera shots of Hitler are always taken from below, which created an image of majesty and superiority- the so-called “Hitler myth”. Right from the beginning, it becomes clear that Hitler is the only protagonists of the film, adored by its followers and the masses. At the start of the film, we see him arrive in an airplane to Nuremberg, descending from the clouds. As Bach points out, this creates a good like image. With Wagner’s music, those sequences become very dramatic, creating an emotional environment.

 

 The film was very important to Hitler and his party because of its closest and most powerful members had just been killed a few month before. Ersnt Röhm was the leader of the SA paramilitary group and Nazi- member since the first hour. For Riefenstahl´s first film about the Nazi party rally in 1933, Hitler and Röhm still divided the stage being equally important for the movement- a fact that didn´t work for Hitler´s “one leader only” mentality, due to which he assassinated Röhm. The documentary in part had the purpose to underline that the party was still behind Hitler, united under one single leader. All theses aspects must have been known to Riefenstahl, which make it very difficult to believe that the movie is supposed to be a simple documentary. Interestingly enough, it was not only awarded with prices in Germany and Italy, but also with the gold medal at the world fair in Paris in 1937. The triumph of the will had a huge impact on modern propaganda movies and it never lost its attraction, which ultimately make it very dangerous up to this day.

 

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