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New on Video: ‘Triumph of the Will’

Triumph of the Will

Written by Leni Riefenstahl, Walter Ruttmann, Eberhard Taubert

Directed by Leni Riefenstahl

Germany, 1935

It is never easy to look at Leni Riefenstahl’s Triumph of the Will as anything other than what Dr. Anthony Santoro quite rightly calls a “supreme propaganda film.” As that, it is nearly unparalleled in the dubious annals of film history. Contributing to its difficulty in terms of analysis, however, is the fact that it is, at the same time, more than simply a notorious document of evil in bloom. For all the troublesome features that recurrently arise through the course of this film—the domineering presence of Adolf Hitler being just one obvious example—this is one remarkably well-crafted motion picture. Its status as the ultimate work of cinematic propaganda is, indeed, a direct result of just how superbly powerful, sadly persuasive, and expertly realized the documentary is, for better or worse.
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Leni Riefenstahl’s Impossible Dream: Tiefland, Fantasy and the Fuhrer’s Shadow

Part I. A Filmmaker’s Apotheosis

April 20th, 1938 marked Adolf Hitler’s 49th birthday. In the past five years, he’d rebuilt Germany from destitute anarchy into a burgeoning war machine, repudiated the Versailles Treaty and, that March, incorporated Austria into his Thousand-Year Reich. In Nazi Germany, fantasy co-mingled with ideology, expressing an obsession with Germany’s mythical past through propaganda and art. Fittingly, Hitler celebrated at the Ufa-Palast am Zoo in Berlin, Germany’s most prestigious cinema.

There, Nazi officials and foreign diplomats joined dignitaries of German kultur. Present were Wilhelm Furtwangler, conductor of Berlin’s Philharmonic Orchestra; Albert Speer, Hitler’s architect and confidante; actor Gustaf Grundgens, transformed from Brechtian Bolshevik to director of Prussia’s State Theater; and movie star Emil Jannings, Oscar-winner of The Lost Command and The Blue Angel, now an Artist of the State. Also Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels, who nationalized German cinema in
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[The Classroom] Hyperreality in ‘Inglourious Basterds’: Tarantino’s Interwoven Cinematic World in 1940s France

By modern standards, Quentin Tarantino would be considered an auteur; a director whose films reflect that his personal creative vision. But what exactly is that vision, and how is it reflected in his work? One major observation that one can make about Tarantino’s films is that he often incorporates a number of references, many of which refer to cinema, specific films, or pop culture. His films are laced with this intertextuality were the relationship between texts (or films) is constantly being redefined. This method of pastiche is one way that he draws attention to the fact that his film is a constructed piece of fiction, or a “simulation.”

His rational behind this is heavily influenced by French theorist Jean Baudrillard’s notion of “hyperreality.” Hyperreality in this case refers to the inability of consciousness to distinguish reality from fantasy, as the two become blurred into one. Baudrillard argues that
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