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(FESTIVAL OF SMOKE cont'd)

Of 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.  

We 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.  

Speer 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 own?  

Speer 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.  

Index of Papers   1  2  3  4  


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