SPOTLIGHT | LENI RIEFENSTAHL
art by nacrowe
it is often assumed that innovation in the arts is coupled with an expansive worldview that further enriches humanity. think LEONARDO DA VINCI with his visions of helicopters and future mechanical technology or SHAKESPEARE writing plays that ultimately sought to comment publicly on the role and responsibility of leaders (MACBETH, HAMLET, RICHARD III, KING LEAR) for then-current and future monarchs.
LENI RIEFENSTAHL mastered the relatively young art of cinema by bending the documentary form to her, umm, will in the epic nazi propaganda films OLYMPIA and TRIUMPH OF THE WILL. the very vocabulary of film shots was altered after her involvement, introducing crane and various dramatic aerial shots that sought to showcase the grandeur and sheer scale of a 1934 rally in nuremberg. massive widescreen shots of thousands of soldiers acting in unison is commonplace now (think NORTH KOREA military parades) and part of the fascist lexicon.
watching her films is a lesson in appreciating the craft while recognizing but disregarding the political, social and cultural repercussions of the message. it is difficult, much like appreciating the works of CARAVAGGIO, BERTOLT BRECHT, CHUCK BERRY, EDGARD DEGAS, WILLIAM S. BURROUGHS, PAUL GAUGUIN, JAMES BROWN, WILLIAM GOLDING and MORRISSEY after knowing their crimes or dispicable worldviews. i believe it can be done.
the fact that RIEFENSTAHL was a lesbian who was more than complicit in the propagation of a corrosive worldview that impacted millions of people, including those that shared her own sexuality, heightens her hypocrisy in scale beyond those of the artists i mentioned, so in a purely utilitarian argument she is much worse. she is the ultimate hypocrite and complicit in the holocaust and history should judge her for that.
at the same time when i view her work i see someone that is interested in the human form, both individually as with the famous divers form OLYMPIA (reminiscent of EADWEARD MUYBRIDGE except her figures are in flight) or en masse as a proverbial singular body politic in TRIUMPH OF THE WILL (which is basically the most warped BUSBY BERKELEY routine ever). the fact that her work is so visually compelling only makes it that much more sinister, as the diving bodies are meant to showcase the superiority of the Arian race and the mass of synchronized bodies a sign of the singular power and vision of the state.
to not watch her films is a mistake. appreciate her craft and be mindful of its dire implications, if anything her nazi filmography is a case study in the power of film to shape consciousness, just not those that suit our better angels.
to make a connection to how this lexicon of images she created applies to today is too obvious. all i am saying is be aware of it next time you see a mass of people in a political video trying to sell you on conformity.