Leni Riefenstahl :: Triumph of the Will

Header Photo: Triumph of the Will - Night footage. © Estate of Leni Riefenstahl, 2005.

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Triumph of the Will :: Details

  • Year made: 1934
  • Type: German documentary
  • Type: black and white
  • Length: 114 mins
  • Sound: mono
  • Language: German
  • Directed and produced: Leni Riefenstahl
  • Written: Leni Riefenstahl and Walter Ruttmann
  • Original music: Herbert Windt
  • Cinematography: Sepp Allgeier, Karl Attenberger and Werner Bohne

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    Triumph of the Will :: Review

    Designed by Nazis, for Nazis, and about Nazis. Triumph of the Will was filmed by the German Propaganda Ministry in 1934 and directed by Leni Riefenstahl. The film covers the events of the Sixth Nuremburg Party Congress. The original intention was to document the early days of the NSDAP, so as future generations could look back and see how the Third Reich began. In reality, Triump des Willens shows historians how the Nazi state drew in the masses through propaganda and also how Adolf Hitler had a unique and terrifying ability to entice crowds to his beliefs by the very power of his words.

    Setting the Scene

    The date of the Nazi Party Rally is given in September 1934.

    The film starts with a historical narrative:

      - 20 Years since the start of the “Worrldddd WWar” (World War I in 1914).
      - 16 years since Germany’s “crucifixion” (Germany’s surrender in 1918).
      - 19 months after the beginning of the “German Renaissance” (Hitlerbecoming leader in January 1933).

    Hitler returns to Nuremberg to review his faithful columns of followers.

    adolf hitler

    Hitler Presented as God-like descending from the Sky
    The opening shots are of stormy clouds suggesting Valhalla, the mythicalworld of German gods from tales of the Middle Ages. A small plane fliesover out of these clouds and over the historic German city of Nurembergwith its Reformation churches. The Reformation city connects the viewerto the early formation of the German nation.

    Out of the plane steps Hitler to cheering ordinary Germans, not dressedin Nazi uniform. In his car cavalcade into town he is shown as a lone figuregreeting the cheering townspeople.

    A stereotypical German mother holding her baby steps out of the crowdto shake his hand and give him flowers. Power is suggested by the half-profilesof Nazi troopers lined along some of the route. At Hitler’s hotel a carnivalatmosphere is evoked by the torch processions at night.

    The transition from night to morning is done by the camera lingeringon the Reformation architecture of the old German city of Nuremberg. Theopening shots of the morning blend Nazi symbols with these old buildingsof German history and culture. The Nazis are being closely identified withthe historic roots of the German nation in the Reformation.

    Going to the Rally

    Morning comes at one of the tent camps of the Nazi party followers.All the young men are represented as manly exuberant, wholesome, and inhigh spirits. The music is cheerful and uplifting. The association of puritywith the young men is suggested by the many camera shots of them cleaningthemselves.

    adolf hitler

    The group activities of the young Nazis are signs of unity and purpose(The Depression is still on in Germany and many young men are unemployedand living purposeless lives). This idea is that Hitler and the Nazis canlead Germany out of the hopelessness of the Depression and defeat in WorldWar I through renewed national purpose.

    The connection between the Nazis and the mythic German past is stressedby the peasant farmers’ costumes worn by the people greeting Hitler inthe morning.

    At the rally, Hitler’s Deputy introduces the speakers and pays tributeto the recently deceased President Hindenberg. This connects the Nazisonce again with the German past (Hindenberg is a respected World War IGeneral). The speakers proceed, but only colourful excerpts are taken fromtheir speeches that emphasise Nazi doctrine.

    Hitler reviews the “labour servicemen”

    adolf hitler

    Context: At the time in Germany, unemployment is about a third of theworkforce because of the Depression. Many young men are living purposelesslives. Hitler is perceived as doing something about this by creating publicworks programmes. They have special banners with Swastikas and wheat representingwork. They are marching with spades not guns on their shoulders. They haveshovels instead of rifles on their shoulders. They march with their shovels.Thisseems odd, but they have been doing manual labour on the public works programmesthat the Nazi Government has been organising over Germany to restore thedignity and confidence of the unemployed, many of whom are young men, suchas those shown

    The "labour servicemen" are asked where they are from to demonstratenation unity.

    They call out all the different towns and areas of Germany. Oddly,the first one called is someone from Friesanland, which is usually thoughtof a kind of joke place – the islands next to Holland, that are part Dutchpart German.

    Hitler tells the youth of Germany to forget about class distinctionsand think of themselves as his people

    The young men of the "labour servicemen" describe working in the swampsand in the sand. They say they are too young to have fought in the FirstWorld War, but they have served Germany doing manual labour on the publicworks programmes. They remember the men who fought in the various battlesof the First World War at Tanneberg, the Somme, etc. Hitler tells themthat getting Germans back to work after the Depression will bind the nationtogether, just as the "labour servicmen" are bound together almost as anarmy. In a reference to class conflict, Hitler says that work will bindpeople together from now on, not divide people.

    Context: The communists have made significant in roads into the unemployedworking class because of the Depression, so many unemployed workers dosee themselves according to class.

    triumph of the will

    Hitler and the Nazis make a strong appeal to young people. Many olderpeople already have their own ideas about politics and they are relativelyset. Thus older people are harder to persuade to strongly embrace Nazism.But the young are much more susceptible to influence from emotional triggerssuch as the rhythm of marching and drumming, belonging to a group of similaryoung men who look after each other. This appeal to German youth comesacross a lot in the shots that are shown. The young are also the ones whoare passing out of school into the hopelessness of finding work duringthe Depression.<

    Hitler praises manual labour and emphases the dignity of labour

    Context: Public works projects have started in Germany such as buildingthe motorways. Many Germans, in order to have a job, are doing manual labour.
    The rally images end with the arousing Nazi song.

    Military Review

    Emphasises power and reassurance. The Germans had not seen these imagesof military might before during the Weimar Republic after World War I.At the end, there are the eagles and Swatiskas that recall the Roman legions.This is an appeal to symbols of greatness.

    Night-time Speech

    triumph of the will

    Hitler emphasizes the common suffering of the Germany people and thedetermination to make the state do as the people want. Riefenstahl’s camerasare always moving. There is a sense of motion and that Hitler’s words arebeing carried out.

    The Daytime Review

    The movement of the cameras across the vast stadium filled with thousandsand the three lone figures walking across empty space. They pay tributeto the Nazi Party dead (the Nazis have been engaged in a street war withthe communists, with dead on both sides).

    The orchestrated and choreographed movement of masses of people aroundthe leader is emphasized. The impression conveyed is of a faithful bandof followers. One of them actually says this in his speech to stress whatwe have already seen.

    Context: Hitler addresses his followers the SA (Sturm-Abteilung or Brownshirts)  - a the Nazi working class army that he has just purged ofits members who did want a working class revolution. He talks of unitybut he has killed several of its leaders in the Night of the Long Knivesin June 1934.

    Marching through the Streets

    triumph of the will

    At the end of the rally there are large numbers of Nazis marching throughthe streets of Nuremberg. Reifenstahl's cameras capture the rhythm of andmovement of the marchers. The marchers are set against the Gothic and Reformationarchitecture of Nuremberg. Once again this highlights the historic connectionthatthe Nazis want to make between them and the history of Germany.

    Hitler's Closing Speech

    Hitler enters the room form the back, appearing to emerge the people.The Nazi legions with the names of each city that they come from belowtheir eagle standards come into the Room. Hitler, after one sentence introductionfrom his Deputy Hess tells his faithful band of Nazi followers how theGerman nation has subordinated itself to the Nazi Party because its leadersare the most racially pure of Germans. He promises that the new state thatthe Nazis have created will endure for 1000 years. Hitler says that theyouth will carry on after the old have weakened. Hess closes with the sycophanticchant, "Hitler is the Party, Hitler is Germany, Germany is Hitler". Thewhole room starts to sing arousing Nazi song. The camera focuses on thelarge Swatiska above Hitler and the film ends with this images of thisSwastika imposed on Nazis marching in a few columns.

    Triumph of the Will :: Short Review

    Triumph of the Will, also known as Triumph des Willens, is the legendary propaganda documentary of the Third Reich's 1934 Nuremberg Party Rally. Commissioned by Hitler in 1934 and directed by Leni Riefenstahl, this documentary covers the events of the Sixth Nuremberg Party Congress. The original intention was to document the early days of the NSDAP, so future generations could look back and see how the Third Reich began. In reality, Triumph of the Will shows historians how the Nazi state drew in the masses through propaganda and also how Adolf Hitler had a unique and terrifying ability to entice crowds to his beliefs by the very power of his words. Triumph of the Will was released in 1935 and rapidly became one of the better-known examples of propaganda in film history.

    Riefenstahl's techniques, such as moving cameras, the use of telephoto lenses to create a distorted perspective, aerial photography, and revolutionary approach to the use of music and cinematography, have earned Triumph recognition as one of the greatest films in history. Riefenstahl won several awards, not only in Germany but also in the United States, France, Sweden, and other countries. The film was popular in the Third Reich and elsewhere, and has continued to influence movies, documentaries, and commercials to this day, even as it raises the question over the dividing line between art and morality.

    Featuring a cast of thousands, including Adolf Hitler, Himmler, Goebbels, Hess, Goering and other top party officials, this film perhaps more than any other demonstrates the frightening reality that was the Nazi Party and the dangers that the future held for the rest of Europe.

    Triumph of the Will Propaganda Poster
    Triumph of the Will Propaganda Poster


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