Therein lies the reason for why Riefenstahl's legacy has been and will probaly always be controversial. It does express, indeed, captures, shapes and maybe moulds the pictorial Nazi attitude toward athletic prowess. There are no two ways about it. Our perception of Nazism, its frightening power, emanates from the best or worst propaganda film of all time, Triumph of the Will, and, to a lesser extent, the strength of the male human form in Olympia. Certainly there are many who believed this to be so for why is it that she never made another movie after the 2nd World War?
Riefenstahl's eloquently and fiercely defended herself and her professional reputation right up to her death. She was never a member of the Nazi Party, she never denounced anyone or uttered a single anti-semetic word; she didn't know anything about concentration camps (though some inmates were used as extras in one of her films); she simply wanted to make films to the best of her ability and it wasn't her fault that she lived in the times she did. It was hindsight that had consigned her work to the peripherals of the movie landscape and had treated her so badly etc etc.
They are powerful arguments but I don't think she was right. I for one think, aesthetically, Riefenstahl is the greatest film director of all time. In my opinion she makes Hitchcock look like an amateur and is even better at capturing moods in a film than a Fritz Lang or a Murnau. But I don't believe artists live in bubbles hermetically sealed from real life. She could have emigrated to the US and made movies in the early 1930s; if she didn't know about the atrocities of the Final Solution until the end of the war she could have found out about them. After all she lasted a day on the Polish front as a war correspondent before quitting at the atrocities she witnessed; surely it doesn't take a giant leap in imagination for her to have realised that they could have been responsible for other evils in other places and in other situations.
It is sad but it is inevitable that her legacy will always be tainted. Guilt by association and all that.
Putting this things to one side (and watching a Riefenstahl piece I always tend to feel enraptured at her work and uneasy in equal measures), Olympia sets the template for how sporting events should be filmed. She built pits by the pole-vault, for example, so she could capture the pole-vaulters against striking skies; she filmed pieces before events which were interspered into the coverage so they captured the 'feel' of an event; she caught the excitement, the pressure, the beauty of athletes competing on the greatest stage; she turned the coverage of a sporting event into art.
Amazon.com have quite a selection from the Berlin Games and Riefenstahl capturing varrious athletes forever through her lense, her vision. You can view them here.
TYPE: original photgravures.
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