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Wednesday, March 14, 2007


Mark Holland

I tried to watch 'Triumph of the Will' once and had to give up part way through too. Like you say, I found it very hard to watch. Not because it was boring though but because it was so incredibly scary. "Here come the 14th Black Forest agriculture brigades." All these presumably sane, normal people going round the bend.


the critics are too often viewing the films through modern and ideological glasses. "the corruption of their origins" indeed! is that supposed to pass as aesthetic criticism? so very "exhibition of degenerate art" don't you think?
the films were thrilling at the time and portions are still deeply impressive and sontag's judgement is valid. name greater documentaries please.
as for people who wish to edit them down, cleanse them, well they are the same sort who like colorized films. they don't count.


So why isn't Eisenstein called "Stalin's Director"?

Is it more politically correct to send Georgians and Ukrainians
to Siberia to die by the millions, to collectivize and starve the
peasants, to kill off the political elite in a reign of terror
and torture? (For that matter, why isn't Gabriel Garcia-Marquez
"Castro's Novelist" or Maradona "Castro's Football Player")

Judith Thurman forgets that Olympia was about the Olympics.
3 1/2 hours? That's nothing - I've had to sit through dozens
of hours of ice skating just to keep my marriage together, and
don't even talk about synchronized swimming or ribbon twirling.
And some confused souls think that the typical 3 1/2 hour baseball
game with commercials is too long.

But yes, Riefenstahl was a genius - watch the documentary on her,
"The Wonderful, Horrible Life of Leni Riefenstahl". Okay,
her dancing was horrid but I guess popular in those early
years, and her later work in Sudan is superb, while her
later underwater work is at least admirable. But her
2 documentaries are as ground-breaking as Citizen Kane or
Man With The Camera (Dziga Vertov). Yes, her answers to
political questions aren't very satisfying ("I was a dumb,
naive girl"), though of course we now know Gunther Grass'
aren't satisfying either ("I was a a dumb, naive kid so I
chose to keep it quiet for 50 years"). Maybe if she were
a rocket scientist firing missiles at civilians she could
have been rehabilitated as a US space program architect.
Maybe if she were an Austrian SS officer she could have been
Secretary General of the UN. But instead she'll always be
"Hitler's Director". As the joke goes, "build one bridge,
they don't call you 'The Bridge Builder', climb one mountain
they don't call you 'The Mountain Climber'... but screw one


"Here come the 14th Black Forest agriculture brigades."

If you found that scary rather than boring Thank God one lives in Brighton.


Bloody hell I haven't closed Italics Yes I have. Sorry.


Bugger that didn't work either. I shall now retire from the fray.


Schickel misplaces Sontag's emphasis when he writes "Why Riefenstahl's work would continue to impress critics -- even Sontag, Riefenstahl's most implacable critical enemy, calls them the two greatest documentaries ever made." Yes, that's technically a accurate quote, but it misses two important elements of Sontag's attack of Riefenstahl. One is that she does not take seriously the notion that "documentary" and "propaganda" are discrete phenomena: "Anyone who defends Riefenstabl's films as documentaries, if documentary is to be distinguished from propaganda, is being ingenuous. In Triumph of the Will, the document (the image) not only is the record of reality but is one reason for which the reality has been constructed, and must eventually supersede it."

So, Shickel's problem is with Sontag's definition of documentary -- she clearly understands this is not, precisely, "nonfiction", but unlike many of the clueless defenders of documentaries, she maintains strong doubts that there is such a thing as non-propaganda.

The other problem is that Schickel assumes the films "impressed" Sontag. Sontag admired Riefenstahl's technical skills, to be sure, but she also writes, "they are not really important in the history of cinema as an art form." Furthermore, she draws a straight line between their technical and emotional power and their fascist underpinnings. Riefenstahl is, for Sontag, a lot like Wagner, obsessed with beauty and rareification and nobility and disinterested in humanity.


I sat through them both at college (London) in the late 60s. The Slade School of Fine Art's cinema dept showed films to its students, of course, and the showings were open to other students. (Saw my first Marx Brothers film there, too.) Before 'Triumph of the Will', we had 'Schickelgruber Doing the Lambeth Walk', which is footage from 'Triumph of the Will' re-edited to that tune. Thorold Dickenson (director of 'Gaslight', but by then teaching at the Slade) said that this was the finest piece of editing we would ever see - and he'd invited director Len Lye's widow along to hear him say so. He was right, I think.

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