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Nietzsche and Leni Riefenstahl

I said:"Christopher Jones had an historic interview with Leni Riefenstahl, who died at age 101. He also admires Nietzsche (whom I regard as the canary warning of the downfall of the West). The film maker and the writer are linked in an obituary of her (The Economist, 9/13/03) which says: "She was an actress whose films for Arnold Fanck, steeped in the Nietzschean ideology of mountains, purity and a proximity to heaven, were among Hitler's favorites". Can Christopher explain all this? He replies:

"The Economist should have distinguished between "German Romantic" imagery and the ideology of the Nazi Reich. Also, I have a problem with the way Economist tries to insinuate a sinister overtone to the Bergfilme genre. (In a similar way, I would equate this with a general denunciation of westerns) A short history for WAISers:

Defying her father in 1918, Leni enrolled in the Berlin Art Academy and began to study ballet and modern dance. By 1923, Max Reinhardt had hired the highly acclaimed concert dancer for the Deutsche Theatre in Berlin. But while she was on stage, she fell and injured her knee. That led Dr. Arnold Fanck, king of the mountain pictures, to offer her the leading role in "Der Heilige Berg" which was a huge success at the box office. Mountain movies were very popular German films of the 1920s, a sort of Alpine equivalent of the western. So it must have been astonishing for the patriarchal Hitler that Riefenstahl herself had produced, directed, edited and starred in "The Blue Light", the first woman ever to do so. The film was immensely successful, and the 30-year old movie maker won the silver medal at the Venice Biennale in 1932. Apart from The Blue Light, Fanck made the movies, not Riefenstahl.

What Riefenstahl couldn't know at the time was that Hitler had just seen her last motion picture, "Das Blaue Licht" and that he was enthralled. According to Riefenstahl, Hitler remarked to his adjutant Obergruppenfuhrer Bruckner that he considered Riefenstahl's Dance at the Sea in her first film, "Der Heilige Berg" (The Sacred Mountain, 1926) one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen. I admit that Das Blaue Licht" was as close as anybody could get to a pure German Romantic tale replete with Teutonic imagery of the mountain and the forest.

Nevertheless, the Nietzsche analogy is interesting for exactly the opposite reasons that the editors of The Economist mean it: Nietzsche (as Cameron wanted to prove in his still unwritten study) was hijacked by the Nazis and unfairly denounced after the war as the philosopher of the National Socialists. In a similar way, Riefenstahl was denounced for every conceivable idiocy after the war (Did she really see the uniforms of the SS in the black skin of the Nuba? Are Star fish swastikas? Was she in an orgy with Hitler and the Nazi bigwigs?

This insanity was proved a lie in court. She was stamped a lifelong Nazi (when she never joined the party.) She was actually denazified twice. Contrast that with Herbert von Karajan, who was a card carrying member of the Nazi party and who explained his membership by simply saying he wanted to further his career! This highlights the general confusion between the Nazi ideology and German Romaticism which really began after the "Befreiungskrieg" (war of liberation) against Napoleon!

The biggest problem with Leni's life is the sheer scope of it. I hope this posting is a start but the subject is a fascinating look at one of the most amazing artists of the 20th century.

Ronald Hilton - 08.17.03