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(FESTIVAL OF SMOKE cont'd)

Riefenstahl began her life in public as a dancer. When a knee injury threatened her future in this field, she turned to films. She was attracted to mountain films, a genre made popular in Germany by Arnold Fanck. In 1926 she appeared in her first film, The Holy Mountain, under Fanck's direction. Several others followed. Having learned from Fanck how films were made she then turned herself to directing. In 1932 she released The Blue Light, her first film as a director, a fable set in the Italian Dolomites.  

Fanck, it seems, required performances upon rocks and ski slopes, the more dangerous the better, but not acting. Riefenstahl's "dancing" in The Holy Mountain is awful beyond belief. If it is true that Hitler found this dance the most beautiful thing he ever saw in a film, as Riefenstahl reports him saying, we can understand how the artistic tastes of these two drew them together. The Blue Light is nearly as awful. But Hitler, Riefenstahl says, admired this film too. It was another bond between them.  

According to Riefenstahl, it was she who initiated contact with Hitler. Soon after completing The Blue Light, she found herself attending a rally at which Hitler spoke, during one of the election campaigns that marked the last year of the Weimar Republic. So smitten was she by his performance, she wrote to him. Hitler at once invited her to meet him at Wilhelmshaven, on the North Sea coast.  

Riefenstahl's description of this first meeting sets the tone for what follows. It's as if she is imagining herself in a film with Hitler as her co-star and her book the draft of its screenplay.  

Hitler takes a break from his campaigning to walk with her on the beach. They talk about films. Hitler persuades her to stay for dinner: "I seldom get the chance to speak to a real artist." They walk some more on the beach, he speaks passionately about his mission to save Germany. 

"We walked silently, side by side until, after a long silence, he halted, looked at me, slowly put his arms around me, and drew me to him. I had certainly not wished for such a development. He stared at me in some excitement but when he noticed my lack of response he instantly let go and turned away. Then I saw him raise his hands beseechingly: 'How can I love a woman until I have completed my task?' Bewildered, I made no reply and, still without exchanging a word, we walked back to the inn; there, somewhat distantly, he said, 'Good night.' I felt that I had offended him and regretted that I had come in the first place." 

Her regrets notwithstanding, Riefenstahl lost no opportunity to exploit this all important connection. When Hitler became Chancellor, he asked her to make films for the Nazi cause. Riefenstahl has always made a point of stressing that her obligations in this matter were to Hitler personally, as if this made a difference to her moral situation. Though she says she tried to resist Hitler, in the end she could not refuse to do as he asked. (Riefenstahl throughout portrays herself as the reluctant victim of circumstances; when things go wrong for her, it is always someone else's fault.) Goebbels, Hitler's propaganda chief, was now in charge of all media activity in Germany, including film. In Riefenstahl's scenario, he made life as difficult as he could for her, while losing no opportunity to try and seduce her.  

In short order, Riefenstahl then made three films in a row featuring Hitler's Nazi rallies at Nuremberg, those of 1933, 1934, and 1935. They were given the same titles as the rallies themselves: Victory of Faith, Triumph of the Will, and Day of Freedom: Our Werhmacht. Hitler gave a reception for each one in turn. In 1936, Riefenstahl was contracted to film the Olympic Games, due to be held that year in Berlin. The assignment was backed by the Nazi government and it occupied her until the spring of 1938, when she released her film in two parts: Olympia: Festival of Nations, and Olympia: Festival of Beauty. Hitler again attended its première, a gala affair which was held, at Riefenstahl's suggestion, on his 49th birthday. She then toured Europe with the film, turning it into a propaganda triumph for the Nazi government. When she came to the United States, however, she found her films boycotted. 

Index of Papers   1  2  3  4  


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