OF SMOKE cont'd)
these four films that Riefenstahl made under Hitler's auspices,
the first has apparently disappeared. The others, however, are
available in video format in the United States and two of them,
Triumph of the Will and Olympia, are highly regarded
in some film circles. To view them afresh after reading Riefenstahl's
book makes one doubly alert to the fraudulent nature of the
narrative she's now published. The films were, of course, designed
as propaganda for Hitler's government, and they betray this
motivation in the most obvious manner. In her book, however,
as in the many interviews she's given since the war, Riefenstahl
sets out to portray herself as a pure documentary film maker,
one who was ignorant of politics and had to fight to preserve
her integrity as an artist. Regrettably, many in academia and
the media have aided and abetted her in this fiction.
may surmise that to picture herself as one who, yes, was captivated
by Hitler's magnetic personality and so "had no choice" but
to submit to his will, but who knew nothing of what the Nazis
were up to, was an alibi suggested to Riefenstahl by another
Hitler favorite, Albert Speer, his war-time Minister of Armaments.
As the designer of the Nuremberg tableaux that Riefenstahl captured
on film, Speer was Riefenstahl's close collaborator in the production
of both Victory of Faith, and Triumph of the Will.
His hand was also to be seen in the props and staging of the
Olympic Games in Berlin.
escaped the gallows at the Nuremberg war crimes tribunal by
inventing what the German historian Matthias Schmidt has called
"the most cunning apologia by any leading figure of the Third
Reich." He presented himself as a non-political technocrat,
at heart a decent man, who in an honest spirit of contrition
accepted his part in Hitler's government, but who was ignorant
of the atrocities that others committed. Building on this self-portrait
in his writings and thanks to a successful television mini-series
based on them, Speer's popular image was elevated from the Chamber
of Horrors, where it rightly belonged, to the Hall of Fame.
Was it from Speer, one wonders, that Riefenstahl got the idea
of devising a similar script to account for her own carryings-on
in the Third Reich, perhaps hoping for a mini-series of her
flits in and out of Riefenstahl's narrative and is portrayed
by her always as a friend and ally right up to the end of the
war. Within days of his release from Spandau prison in 1966,
where he served the twenty year sentence handed down by the
allied court, Speer wrote to Riefenstahl suggesting they meet.
Later, they spent five weeks walking together in the Dolomites,
the location of many of Riefenstahl's mountain films. In these
airy surroundings the two survivors of the debacle of Hitler's
Germany talk about the past. It is typical of Riefenstahl's
memoirs that we learn nothing of substance about these conversations.
The set and the actors are there, but the scene is trivialized.