Thursday, July 14, 2016

All Lady July - Book Review: "Leni Riefenstahl: A Life" by Jurgen Trimborn

There once was a female director and she revolutionized the way that we film documentaries. Directors STILL use the shots and techniques she used even though it has been a long time since she made any films, or since they were viewed at large. She was a, what I like to refer to as, a Nancy Drew. That once she set her mind on something she was impossible to stop, and somehow she was good at everything too. Why don't we talk about her all the time in film classes and hold her up on the "look at this lady who did something even better than her male counterparts and was totally ahead of her time" pedestal? Probably because of most of her films were made for, Adolf Hitler.

(I have so many little flags in the book about interesting things about her, but I'm just going to broad stroke it for you and if you're interested in finding out more about her I assure you there is so much more to hear about)

So Leni always wanted to be in the spotlight. She saw a ballet when she was 16 and was like "I want to do that" and despite being WAY too old to start training she actually got really good..until she pushed to hard and was plagued with injuries. Then she saw a mountaineering movie (which is a fad in film that kind of makes me laugh, how many movies about mountaineering adventures can you make?) and decided that she was going to be an actress and star in those films....and she was did. With no experience. And that's when she caught Hitler's eye....

So, she makes, most famously, Triumph of the Will which is basically a documentary party rally. There are clips on youtube, but basically if you've ever seen any History channel programs on Hitler you've seen pieces of it. (Though, re watch a couple minutes now thinking about it as a film making perspective and not as a Nazi propaganda show and see how it looks from that perspective). She also made a documentary on the Berlin Olympics.

After things went south for the Nazis she was hauled into court several times but never served any time. She was convinced of her innocence saying that she hadn't committed any crimes, she just made movies and that she did it under duress (not actually true). Also, there is proof of her filming at an execution site on the Eastern front. The film has been lost, but there is a picture of her there so...

Leni was a complicated woman. She did do some good things (she did help a couple of Jewish friends get out of the country or off certain lists that you wouldn't want to be on) but the damage that her films did (glorifying Hitler and the cause) was vast. I give this book a high 3 out of 5 stars because it was something that I knew nothing about and it was well written but it went a little long and Leni as singular subject matter was grating at my nerves by the end.

As a side note, there are a few biographies out there. From the reviews that I read from the others, this one is apparently the most evenhanded. At least one of them all the reviews started with something like "Well this author obviously hates her". And that doesn't really make for great reading.


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