Triumph of the Will (1935)
One of the most infamous movies in cinema history, "Triumph of the Will" is a fascinating propaganda film about Nazi Germany. Shot by one of the first female directors, Leni Reifenstahl, the movie concerns the 1934 Nuremberg Party Rally.
The streets fill with people in all sorts of costumes and uniforms, all raising their arms and hailing Hitler as their leader.
Near the end of the film, after Hitler has given his last speech, it is said about the Führer that he is Germany. The crowd goes wild, the music swells, we see the insignia of the Nazi Party and then it fades to black.
Modern eyes are trained to be disgusted by the sight of the Nazis, we hate them because we now know that they were wrong. We have hindsight and we cannot fully grasp what it would have been like to be a Nazi, nor do we entertain that notion.
What Reifenstahl's film does is open the door back into history, prejudicially without bias. Sure, the film was made under the consent of Hitler whose only intention was to make himself look good, but the film becomes much more than that because of the history that follows afterward. The people of Germany in "Triumph of the Will" are a happy people, full of hope.
You can tell that Reifenstahl loved her country because of the haunting sweeps she takes of the streets. There is silence in the air as Hitler descends to the rally. The camera takes very long shots of the clouds. When the plane lands, and the growing crowd bursts into cheers, Hitler emerges from the plane and my stomach turns.
We've been trained to hate the sight of the man. We've been told time and time again that he was one of the worst people that ever lived; but the sight of him as a man, walking out of a plane and saluting the throngs of people desperate to get a glimpse of him reminds us that Hitler was only that: a man. It takes a little bit before we're even comfortable with seeing the man on screen without thinking horrible thoughts towards him. Indeed, this seems like a very natural reaction and I doubt that anyone could see the film without it.
But Hitler has hope as his people do, he hopes in himself. An avid public speaker, he can whip the crowd into a frenzy as he talks about Germany's solitude under his reign.
Much of the movie lives up to its title, it feels like a triumphant, marching song that blares out the virtues of the Third Reich. We get many, many shots of the banners and flags as Hitler speaks at different events.
Another large part of the movie is the youth that is shown. I can't think of a single German citizen that appears on screen that looked elderly. Hitler even makes this point in one of his speeches: the youth will inherit the kingdom of Germany. We are shown the virile and extravagantly energetic face of Germany: its young people.
But more than its propaganda, "Triumph of the Will" is a very well made movie and considering the year it was released, it's astonishing to see some of the techniques used. Leni Reifenstahl, who was a dancer and an actress, doesn't shy away from showing the most overtly flattering shots of every possible location.
The Nazis appear as humans as does Hitler; and for that fact alone, though the film may be hard to digest for some, "Triumph of the Will" is, indeed, a triumph of the screen.
Posted by Micah Jones