LENI RIEFENSTAHL’S ‘TRIUMPH OF THE WILL’ OR ‘TRIUMPH DES WILLENS.’ (1935)
‘THE BANNED MASTERPIECE OF NAZI CINEMA’ REVIEWED BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©
‘A devastatingly brilliant piece of film-making.’
HALLIWELL’S FILM GUIDE.
TIME OUT FILM GUIDE.
‘The Party is Hitler—and Hitler is Germany just as Germany is Hitler!’ Rudolf Hess.
‘It is our will that this state and this Reich shall endure through the coming millennia.’ Adolf Hitler.
‘As soon as our own propaganda admits so much as a glimmer of right on the other side, the foundation for doubt in our own right has been laid.’ Adolf Hitler.
‘We want to be a united nation, and you, my youth, are to become this nation. In the future, we do not wish to see classes and castes, and you must not allow them to develop among you. One day, we want to see one nation.’ Adolf Hitler.
‘The concept of labor will no longer be a dividing one but a uniting one, and no longer will there be anybody in Germany who will regard manual labor any less highly than any other form of labor.’ Adolf Hitler.
This is a much-praised and much-lauded piece of film-making, although you’ll find that its fans are quick to point out that their praise is all for the technical aspects of the film only.
Leni Riefenstahl, Hitler’s pet movie director- Hitler was a big movie fan- has certainly made a fantastic documentary, and all without benefit of much of the modern film-making paraphernalia of today which might possibly have made her mammoth task a bit easier.
On the other hand, critics are reluctant to praise the content of the movie for fear of appearing to be a Nazi sympathiser, so as I’ve said the critiques mostly just praise the lady’s undoubtedly superior technical prowess and nothing else.
The film is Ms. Riefenstahl’s record of the Nazi Party’s 1934 Nuremberg Rally or their ‘sixth Party Congress,’ as it’s referred to by Hitler in the film. As an exercise in film-making, it seems to have no equal, being regarded as one of the most outstanding documentaries ever made.
As an exercise in Nazi Party propaganda, however, it was never surpassed, not even by Leni Riefenstahl’s own film record of the 1936 Olympic Games, which were held in Berlin and which she immortalised in her two-years-in-the-making 1938 movie ‘Olympia.’
Never mind all the hype for now, though. I’m happy to just tell you what’s in the damn film, lol, just in case other reviewers confine themselves to going into transports of ecstasy about things like montage, camera angles and light, things which I confess I find a little boring myself. As a reviewer, I’m mainly interested in the more human element of things.
She first shows us Hitler’s plane in motion above the clouds en route to Nuremberg and, I must say, I do wonder how she managed to capture such fabulous images of life-above-the-clouds.
Hitler was the first leader of a country to travel from place to place within his country by aeroplane, a fact which already imbued him slightly with godlike-status. She knew what she was doing, this dame, filming him descending from the clouds like Zeus on a thunderbolt!
We then see Hitler travelling by open-topped car through the city of Nuremberg which, after the war, became home to the Nuremberg War Crimes Trials, the exact opposite of a Party propaganda rally, if you like. For now, however, the city resounds to the heavens with cheers as Germany’s ‘saviour’ stands ramrod-straight in his open-topped car to greet his people.
The undisguised joy on the faces of the cheering crowds has to be seen to be believed. Right arms extended in the Nazi Party salute, men, women children and even babies are thrilled beyond words to catch a glimpse of their idol.
They carpet his path with flowers and reach out to touch him as if he’s Elvis Presley on tour or something. Housewives and young women look like they’re getting ready to fling their flannel drawers at him, which is kind of hilarious. A less likely-looking matinee idol would be hard to find.
We see some lovely aerial views of Nuremberg, which must have been a very beautiful city back then with its gorgeous old buildings and cathedral spires. Then we’re treated to the sight of probably hundreds of thousands of young shirtless Aryan males camping out waiting for the rally to begin.
They engage in healthy open-air Aryan pursuits such as wrestling and athletic-type games while they wait. Could they be any blonder or more healthily, aggressively Aryan? I doubt it, lol. Hitler would certainly approve.
There’s a huge amount of marching in formation in the film. If there was one thing the Nazis knew how to do well, it was marching in formation. Always a useful skill when you’re setting out to establish your One Thousand Year Reich.
The SA (Sturmabteilung)- The Night Of The Long Knives had already happened by then- and the SS (Schutzstaffel) are in evidence during the marches and there are thousands upon thousands of standard bearers of Nazi emblems and flags with swastikas on them, marching, marching, interminably marching.
The Wehrmacht- the German military- are in there somewhere too. It must have been a golden age of lucrative industry for the manufacturers of swastika flags and other Nazi Party memorabilia. Exit through the gift shop much…
The marchers goose-step past the watching Hitler with their arms extended and heads turned to the right to see their Fuhrer. That kind of thing, doing three or four contradictory movements at once, is hard to do. They look like machines marching in unison, especially with their legs going a mile a minute like that like something out of a cartoon.
When the speeches get underway, Hitler’s toady Rudolf Hess, who later disgraced himself by flying off to Scotland without Hitler’s permish to try to broker a peace between the Reich and Britain, introduces Hitler with lots of lavish, nonsense clichés such as ‘Germany is Hitler and Hitler is Germany.’
Very, erm, intense, Hess, you smirking jackass you. He leads the crowd in a rapturous chorus of ‘Sieg heils!’ so loud that it probably woke God himself up from his nap. I’d describe the toadying Hess as being the Wayland Smithers to Hitler’s Mr. Burns, except that that would be an insult to the characters from THE SIMPSONS that we know and love.
Hitler talks at great length about Germany’s youth and how they’re the future of Germany. That was true at any rate, I suppose. Thousands of these ‘Jugend’ obligingly cheer back at him with the terrifying light of fanaticism in their eyes.
‘We want to be a united nation, and you, my youth, are to become this nation. In the future, we do not wish to see classes and castes, and you must not allow them to develop among you. One day, we want to see one nation.’
Then he goes on to talk about how no-one belongs to the Reich who is not prepared to work their asses off for said Reich, doing jobs such as farming the land and building the Autobahns.
Cue a couple of hundred young men wielding shovels, all echoing his words back at him with adoration and ferocity. The rallies wouldn’t have done the shovel industry any harm at all, either. How fast can you deliver one million shiny new shovels, please?
Party luminaries such as the trench-coated Minister for Propaganda Joseph Goebbels and the portly Hermann Goering all get up to say a few words (or cupla focal as we say in Irish), but it’s mainly Hitler talking, banging on for hours while not seeming to say very much, if you know what I mean. He was really, really good at that.
He says generalised rubbish like ‘Germany is behind us, Germany is before us, Germany is beneath us,’ but I bet if you asked him if he had an actual plan of action for any specific problem that needed fixing or issue that needed addressing, he’d have said: ‘A plan? Oh dear me, no, who needs a plan when you have rhetoric, tons and tons of rhetoric?’
In many cases, Hitler left it to his staff to come up with the plans of action to carry out his wishes. Look, for example, at the way he left it largely to the odious little bespectacled Himmler, pictured here in the film in his long black overcoat, to work out the details of the Final Solution.
Infamous Jew-hater Julius Streicher gets his spoke in here too, by the way: ‘A people that does not protect its racial purity will perish.’ Leni Riefenstahl declared after the war that she was unaware of Hitler’s ‘genocidal’ or ‘anti-Semitic’ policies. I ain’t sayin’ nuthin.’
The rally looks spectacular at night, with the torchlight parades and processions, the fireworks lighting up the blackness of the night sky, the always rousing drumbeats and stirring music and the artificial mist-machines making the place look mystical and shrouded in mystery and glamour. The 1934 Nazi Party rally passed into mythology largely due to Riefenstahl’s superb camera-work. Amazing what you can do with a bit of smoke and mirrors.
You’d be hugely attracted to it all if you didn’t know about the worm that sat at the heart of the Third Reich’s inwardly rotten apple, devouring it from the inside. Movietone News would broadcast footage of this and other Nazi Party Rallies around the world.
The ones featuring clear evidence of Germany’s total re-armament- the tanks and the planes of the Luftwaffe- must have been terrifying for England and the other countries worried by the rise of Nazism.
There were limitations placed on Germany’s army, navy and air-force in the Versailles Treaty of post-World War One Europe, but Hitler pretty much tore that up. He was a law unto himself, that fella. I don’t know why we even bothered having a Versailles Treaty if Hitler was just going to use it to wipe his backside on.
Well anyway, we know how the story ends, don’t we? Hitler was only in power from 1933 to 1945, a mere twelve years in the scheme of things, but he and his precious Party managed to do quite a lot of damage in this short time, with their concentration camps and their plots to wipe out the Russians and wipe the Jews off the face of the earth. Certainly there were six million Jews who never lived to see the post-war Europe. That’s Hitler’s real legacy, but hey, thanks to one Leni Riefenstahl, he’s got this amazing film too.
AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY OF SANDRA HARRIS.
Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, film blogger, poet and book-and-movie reviewer. She has studied Creative Writing and Film-Making. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, womens’ fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra’s books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:
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