Triumph of the Will

“Triumph of the Will” was a 1935 propaganda piece of documentary film, directed by Leni Riefenstahl.  It was shot at the 1934 Nuremburg Rally, over the course of four days.  The Nuremburg Rally was the Nazi Party Convention.  It is interesting the filmmaker was a woman, at this point in time there were very few women in the film industry behind the camera, and this was a predominantly a male business.  Her work on “Triumph of the Will” was considered technically innovative and brought her International acclaim.  Interestingly enough, post war, Leni Riefenstahl was not convicted of any war crimes.  She was however imprisoned for 4 year for being a Nazi sympathizer.  Being associated with Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party significantly damaged her career and reputation.  Her subject matter was atrocious, but at the time no one but the inner circle would have known of the plans for genocide of the Jews.  She had an exceptional talent, because of her choice of films to create it cost her what would have been a brilliant career.

The scale of the film was phenomenal, there were 700,000 Nazi supporters, countless Sturmabteilung (Storm Troopers), Schutzstaffel (Protection Squadron), and Jugendbund (Nazi Youth).  The large crowds cheered as they watched the parade of prominent officials arriving for the festivities.  A sea of hands jut forward synchronistical in the Nazi salute with the yells “Heil Hitler.”  The faces of the men, women and children were jubilant and hopeful as their heroes drove by.  The reaction of the masses was almost a frenzy.  The film cut from the crowds to scenes of young men, exercising, and jovially playing in a bond of comradery.  The fresh young faces showed eagerness to serve their country.  The patriotism shown by the masses of citizens, soldiers, and youth (which could be seen as Boy Scouts with a warped sense of purpose) was convincing that the Nazi Party was the greatest thing that had ever happened to Germany.  

The film was a masterful piece of Cinema, the cost was $110K to make the film.  The previous film “Der Sieg des Glaubens” was a disaster, “Triumph des Willens” took a great deal of preparation and cooperation by the Nazi party members, and he military to secure its success.  Hitler’s personal architect was brought in to design the set in Nuremberg, he also served as the Event Coordinator.  Pits were dug in front of the platforms so Riefenstahl could get the camera angles needed.  Tracks were laid so the cameras could move and traveling shots of the crowds could be captured.  Party leaders and officials that ranked high were brought into the studio to reenact their speeches.  The technical crew had been assembled using the most talented in their fields, their numbers were also in epic proportions.  The crew consisted of 172 workers.  There were 36 cameramen and assistants operating teams of 16 with 30 cameras, and an additional 9 doing aerial photography.  The cameramen dressed in SA uniforms to blend in with the crowds.  In addition to moving cameras and aerial shots, Riefenstahl used long focus lenses to create a distorted perspective.  Music from the failed “Sieg des Glaubens” was repurposed for “Triumph of the Will”, composer Herbert Windt mixed the older score with the new score he had written for “Triumph of the Will.”

The film moves effortlessly through the crowds, it has the feel of having the view of a continuous vison of events.  The film scenes had been set and rehearsed, as much as 50 takes for some scenes.   The script is plotted out for a period of the four days of the Rally.  Opening shots is of the clouds above the city through the clouds we get a peek at the crowds below.   The shadow of the plane carrying Adolf Hitler creates cross over the marching military below.  This is the foreshadowing of the ongoing theme as Hitler and the Nazi party as the new religion.  Hitler’s plane lands and the crowd goes wild, like groupies at the first sighting of the Beatles.  The crowds line the street as the motorcade passes and it is something akin to the passing of the Pope.  To the German people Hitler is a combination of Rock Star and earthly deity (or emissary of such).  Day two opens with Nuremburg at dawn to the tune of Wagner’s “Die Meistersinger von Nurnberg.”  Richard Wagner was the composer of German opera, who brings to the world the famous “Ride of the Valkyries” which is used later in the film.

The use of Montage gives us a view of officials arriving at the staging area, speeches, a labor rally, some drills of the military men, ending the day with a torchlight parade.  Day three is much more of the same, a Hitler youth rally on a parade ground, and Hitler describing them in militaristic terms.  Basically a boys to men speech.  We see the cavalry and armored vehicles, more of the same showing the might of this great nation.  Day for is the conclusion of the conference and the films climax.  High ranking officials with a long wide view of the expansive troops (over 150,000) men.  The film ends with a parade to the Gothic styled Catholic Church of Nuremberg where Hitler delivers his final speech.  He tells the citizens that if they are loyal to Germany the need to become national socialists, they all salute with the Sieg Heil and the crowd sings a patriotic song as the camera focuses on a large Swastika emblazoned on a banner.  The swastika scene fades into a line of uniformed men in silhouette, marching in columns.

This film was so artistically executed that most people didn’t realize they were being manipulated.   Hitler, the German Messiah rose to heights, leading the German people toward White Supremacy, which he believed to be the truth and their right.  This film seduced and persuaded the German people to admire the Nazis.  Because that was the sole purpose and intent, it alone made this a successful film.  U.S. film director, Frank Capra is quoted as saying “Triumph of the Will ” fired no gun, dropped no bombs. But as psychological weapon aimed at destroying the will to resist, it was just as lethal.”    Like “Birth of a Nation” this film was visually brilliant, but the effect of the propaganda delivered upon the world an evil.  The division of stylistic good vs ideologically bad makes us ponder, Was this a good film or a bad film?  Did the good outweigh the bad? Can you appreciate something’s beauty when the message is so ugly and repulsive?


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