Leni Riefenstahl, a director and actor of abundant of films has become one of the sole artists recognized completely with the Nazi era. Her directed film, Triumph of the Will is a leading film, which was conducted during the Nazi era and is considered to be the greatest propaganda film to date. Riefenstahl nevertheless, did and continues to proclaim the film to be a documentary based on ‘pure history’. In response to Riefenstahl, Susan Sontag’s article, Fascinating Fascism, indicates the film to be nothing more than ‘pure propaganda and fascist.
Robin Wood author of the article Fascism/Cinema, concurs with Susan Sontag’s response. While exquisite use of film techniques may guild viewer to presume otherwise, Susan Sontag asserts Riefenstahl’s affiliation with the Nazi and in particular the Nazi leadership. Additionally, Susan narrows in on the consistent illustration of fascist themes, establishing, Triumph of the Will to be fascist and purely designed to promote and perpetuate the era of Nazi ideology. Susan Sontag’s claim of fascism is purely focused on the film itself, even though there were other things, which rose fascism.
Throughout the entirety of Triumph of the Will there is no narrative voice (one reason Riefenstahl claims it to be a documentary), it begins with written text declaring documentation of rebirth of the German nation sixteen years subsequent to the demise of World War I. This says Sontag, gives Riefenstahl the least amount of benefit or advantage for asserting the film to be unbiased or merely not propagandist. Rather, the film noticeably serves an already well existing social conversion of the Nazism in Germany.
As Riefenstahl would put it, the ‘unplanned ceremonies, marches, parades, procession and architecture of the stadium and the halls had proposed entirely for the convenience of the cameras. Thus when Sontag claims that “the document (the image) is no longer simply the record of reality; ‘reality’ has been constructed to serve the image” she is not wrong. Respectively, throughout Triumph of the Will there are numerous scenes that aid in the illustration of Sontag’s argument of the films propagandist and fascist nature.
To commence, Riefenstahl has one focal point and one focal point only, Hitler. He is the only figure that matters, the figure of Germany, the man that gives Germans existence. Revealed from the sky soaring through a plane the film generates Hitler to be a divine figure sent from above to reestablish ancient Nuremburg, to liberate the people of Germany using a racial awareness movement. Not only does Riefenstahl utilize this motif in the beginning, she uses continuously during the extent of the film.
Another instance of Hitler being godly like is when Hitler takes the platform to give a speech, the camera angle is shot from below bestowing him an undeniable aura of godliness. Furthermore, the structures created to house the rallies are evocative of exclusive reality to constructing new worldly order of the profound German nation. What seems to appear at first glance as images of picturesque scenery-buildings surrounded by mist turns out to be a sensational viewpoint set upon the viewer.
Evidence revealed throughout the above paragraph shows what Sontag means when she implies the film itself to be fascist. The word fascism is simply defined as, “a governmental system led by a dictator having complete power, forcibly suppressing opposition and criticism, regimenting all industry, commerce, etc, and emphasizing an aggressive nationalism and often racism” (Dictionary. com). This definition correlates with the above facts presented by Sontag, it is ascertainable Riefenstahl meant to illustrate Germany as a known fascist state and have Hitler stand as the divine leader.
The divine leader, Hitler, desired to uphold total control over the German population and did just that by demanding closure of government and publicly advocating concerns of race. Having said that, Hitler’s attainment of power intrinsically went unchallenged, driving way to the Holocaust that followed. In order to bring forth additional definitiveness to the claims of the films propaganda and fascism, comparisons on visual style between two films, Triumph of the Will and Night and Fog documentary by Alain Resnais must be drawn upon. Alain Resnais film Night and Fog, is established as a French documentary composed in 1950s.
Composed 10 years subsequent to the allied liberation of Nazi camps, it features Auschwitz and Majdanek. Alain Resnais documentary captures the atrocities of the concentration camps, while Leni Riefenstahl seizes celebration of the Nazi Party congress in 1934. Contrasting the past with present, Resnais utilizes images from Riefenstahl’s film Triumph of the Will to show a shift from war to post-war. These two films composed in completely different eras with contrasting reasons, divulge upon comparison that films can be used to deliver feelings and central ideas.
The film Night and Fog begins alike Triumph of the Will, high above the clouds moving towards land at a rather slow tilt. However the meanings are contrasting, Resnais reconstructs the viewpoint of Hitler’s victims, while Riefenstahl attempts to resemble Hitler’s ‘god’s eye’ point of view. This particular shot is crucial, displaying the simultaneous significance and the hopelessness of the serving victims of such a massacre.
Night and Fog also incorporate low angle filming where the camera seizes to move similar to Triumph of the Will appearing to have been crushed. Triumph of he Will is shot entirely from the Germans perspective during the war where Hitler was attempting to make a better Germany. Throughout the duration of the film there are inspiring speech after speech, parade after parade, and people hailing everywhere. It shows that during this time the German people were to be proud and inspired as to what Germany was evolving into. It gives us a sense of the other side’, the side many of us did not see. Whereas, Night and Fog speaks for what actually went on, on ‘the other side’. The film presented what occurred behind the scene, what the Nazi regime was truthfully up to.
Starting with a shot of the deserted concentration camps, leading into horrifying images as to what was done to the Jews. The living conditions were revealed, the painful experiments doctors conducted and the way dead bodies were being dumped. This film is an overview as to what happened inside the camp, while Triumph of the Will is a view from the outside. However, moving forward with the comparison it is implied in both films that the low angle shots are to show the strength of the Nazis and the superior power of Hitler.
Resnais’ film brings what was the past to the present reality, demonstrating social transformation from the 1930s. Contrasting these viewpoints, Riefenstahl aided Nazis in building a fascist state, whereas Resnais presented the abominable outcome of what Hitler’s fascism led to. In order to understand the difference between a propaganda film and a documentary definitions are as followed.
Propaganda is defined as, “ideas or statements that are often false or exaggerated and that are spread in order to help a cause, a political leader, a government, etc”(Webster. om). Whereas a documentary is defined as,” a work based on or re-creating an actual event, era, life story, etc. , that purports to be factually accurate and contains no fictional elements” (Dictionary. com). To start off, Riefenstahl always ignored the great amounts of criticism her film Triumph of the Will brought to the table. Continuing from that thought, Riefenstahl died unwilling to admit the guilt she endured over the creations of the propaganda film and the killing of millions Jew that went along with it.
This film, Triumph of the Will, is considered to be propaganda to the individuals who experienced genocide or those who stood by the occurrence of the Holocaust. Triumph of the Will made the marches and parades seem as though it was a normal day thing, it was simply just fun and games, hailing to a Godly figure. Meanwhile the Holocaust was far from what Riefenstahl presented it to be. On the other hand, Night and Fog is considered to be a documentary due to the truthfulness it reveals.
Not only does Night and Fog display the perspective of the victims it shows us the truth behind the Holocaust, the truth exposed without censorship. The analysis Susan Sontag’s makes of Triumph of the Will merely proposes that the use of staged events and techniques demonstrates a false reality that became the myth of a fascist state. Susan proves that whether or not Riefenstahl claims the film to be propaganda she still had the intent for it to be propagandist with the fascist nature. The respect Riefenstahl acquired for Nazi ideology and the father, Hitler surfaces a propaganda film different then any other.