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Leni Riefenstahl Poster

Biography

Jump to: Overview (3)  | Mini Bio (1)  | Spouse (2)  | Trivia (71)  | Personal Quotes (7)

Overview (3)

Born in Berlin, Germany
Died in Pöcking, Bavaria, Germany  (cancer)
Birth NameHelene Bertha Amalie Riefenstahl

Mini Bio (1)

Leni Riefenstahl's show-biz experience began with an experiment: she wanted to know what it felt like to dance on the stage. Success as a dancer gave way to film acting when she attracted the attention of film director Arnold Fanck, subsequently starring in some of his mountaineering pictures. With Fanck as her mentor, Riefenstahl began directing films.

Her penchant for artistic work earned her acclaim and awards for her films across Europe. It was her work on Triumph of the Will (1935), a documentary commissioned by the Nazi government about Adolf Hitler and the Third Reich, that would come back to haunt her after the atrocities of World War II. Despite her protests to the contrary, Riefenstahl was considered an intricate part of the Third Reich's propaganda machine. Condemned by the international community, she did not make another movie for over 50 years.

- IMDb Mini Biography By: Ray Hamel

Spouse (2)

Horst Kettner (22 August 2003 - 8 September 2003) ( her death)
Peter Jacob (21 March 1944 - 1947) ( divorced)

Trivia (71)

Robert Dassanowsky considers Lowlands (1954) to be Riefenstahl's cinematic statement on her rejection of Hitler and the Nazi regime.
In early 2000, the 97 year old Riefensthal spent several weeks recovering in hospital after suffering broken ribs and lung injuries after being involved in a helicopter crash whilst filming in Sudan.
She says she read Ernest Hemingway's "Green Hills of Africa" (1935) in 1955 and prepared immediately to visit the Sudan, which she did the following year, was accepted by and lived with the Nuba people for several months. She wrote three books, mainly photographic essays documenting the vanishing beauty of African people and cultures, from 1972 to 1997. Those are possibly her best refutations of accusations of her racist philosophy as the director of Olympia Part One: Festival of the Nations (1938).
Ms. Riefenstahl lied about her age in 1973 to be passed an official licence to go deep-diving in the Pacific Ocean. She started collecting images of the underwater beauty then, and she did not stop when a shark showed his appreciation of her by head-butting her 3 times, as documented on a TV documentary in 2002.
A film of her life is being developed by Jodie Foster, who will direct and star in the piece.
In an interview shortly before her death, she stated that if she had known that Triumph of the Will (1935) would have haunted her career, she would have never made it.
Biography in: John Wakeman, editor. "World Film Directors, Volume One, 1890- 1945". Pages 952-957. New York: The H.W. Wilson Company, 1987.
Holds the record for the longest length of time in between projects. After Lowlands (1954), it was 48 years before she directed another film, the documentary Impressionen unter Wasser (2002). She's also the oldest director to helm a documentary. She was 99 when she made the latter film.
A band called the World/Inferno Friendship Society has a song out called "Leni at the End of Time.".
(August 22, 2003) Married for the 2nd time to her boyfriend of 35 years Horst Kettner on her 101st birthday and just 2 weeks before her death.
Leni Riefenstahl didn't have great successes after the war.
When in 2000 Jodie Foster was planning a biographical drama on Riefenstahl, war-crime documentiers warned against a revisionist view that glorified the director. They stated that publicly Riefenstahl seemed "quite infatuated" with Hitler and was in fact the last surviving member of his "inner circle". Others go further, arguing that Riefenstahl's visions were essential to the success of the Holocaust.
In the 1930s, she directed Triumph des Willens ("Triumph of the Will") and Olympia, resulting in worldwide attention and acclaim. Both movies are widely considered two of the most effective, and technically innovative, propaganda films ever made. Her involvement in Triumph des Willens, however, significantly damaged her career and reputation after the war. The exact nature of her relationship with Nazi Party leader Adolf Hitler remains a matter of debate. However, Hitler was in close collaboration with Riefenstahl during the production of at least three important Nazi films, and a closer friendship is claimed to have existed.
It lasted till 1973 when she published several large sized photo volumes about the Nuba tribe in Sudan. Her works as a photographer attracted great attention In the following years she became a very esteemed photographer who besides the subjects in Africa also captured the underwater world with her camera.
The actress Leni Riefenstahl belongs to one of the most fascinating but at the same time most controversial personalities of the 20th century.
After the war, Riefenstahl was arrested, but classified as being a "fellow traveler" or "Nazi sympathizer" only and was not associated with war crimes.
For "Das blaue Licht" (32) she directed a movie for the first time, a field where she should go down in history during the time of the National Socialists.
After the "Der heilige Berg" Leni Riefenstahl became a demanded actress. She wasn't oversensitive and found her way in the rough scenery of the cold mountains extremely well. She climbed peaks, was skiing and defied the most adverse circumstances. The mountain movie became her great domain.
Riefenstahl was referred to in the series finale of the television show Weeds when Nancy questions Andy for naming his daughter after a Nazi to which he replied "she was a pioneer in film-making, I don't believe in holding grudges.".
Her first dancing performance followed in 1923. After performances at home and abroad her ambitious intention to devote her life to the dancing was finished because of a knee injury.
In the 2016 short film Leni. Leni., based on the play by Tom McNab and directed by Adrian Vitoria, Hildegard Neil portrays Riefenstahl preparing to give an interview in 1993. In her dressing room she is "visited" by herself as a young woman portrayed by Valeria Kozhevnikova at three stages/turning points in her life: as a dancer (1924), an actress (1929) and a director (1940).
Riefenstahl's filming merits are discussed between characters in the 2009 Quentin Tarantino film Inglourious Basterds.
Riefenstahl was portrayed by Dutch actress Carice van Houten in Race, a sports drama film directed by Stephen Hopkins about Jesse Owens. It was released in North America on February 19, 2016. To make her sympathetic portrayal acceptable to an American audience, the film dramatizes her quarrels with Goebbels over her direction of the film, Olympia, especially about filming the African American star who is proving to be a politically embarrassing refutation of Nazi Germany's claims of Aryan athletic supremacy.
When she saw the movie "Der Berg des Schicksals" in the cinema, she became involved completely to the world of the mountains. She wanted to experience this sight personally. She met the actor Luis Trenker and director Arnold Fanck who was interested in Leni Riefenstahl. As a result he wrote a script called "Der heilige Berg" (26) in which Leni Riefenstahl impersonated her first leading role.
She realised her first documentary "Der Sieg des Glaubens" (1933) in 1933, it followed "Triumpf des Willens" (1935) about the Nuremberg party conferences of the NSDAP and finally her masterpiece "Olympia" (36-38), in which she spellbound the audience with impressive pictures and slow-motion shots.
Besides directing, Riefenstahl released an autobiography and wrote several books on the Nuba people.
She began her artistic career as a dancer after she defied the opposition of her family. She took ballet lesson at the Russian ballet in Berlin and she studied modern dancing with Mary Wigman.
Riefenstahl was portrayed by Zdena Studenková in Leni, a 2014 Slovak drama play about her fictional participation in The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson.
Leni Riefenstahl was exposed to reproaches after the war because of her works between 1933 and 1945. However in the denazification procedures she was graded as a "hanger-on" or "not affected".
Throughout her life, she denied having known about the Holocaust.
In April 2007, The Guardian reported that British screenwriter Rupert Walters was writing a movie based on Riefenstahl's life which would star actress Jodie Foster. The project did not receive Riefenstahl's approval prior to her death, as Riefenstahl asked for a veto on any scenes to which she did not agree. Riefenstahl also wanted Sharon Stone to play her rather than Foster, which ultimately resulted in the cancellation of the project.
In 2011, director Steven Soderbergh revealed that he had also been working on a biopic of Riefenstahl for about six months. He eventually abandoned the project over concerns of its commercial prospects.
In 1978, Riefenstahl published a book of her sub-aquatic photographs called Korallengärten ("Coral Gardens"), followed by the 1990 book Wunder unter Wasser ("Wonder under Water"). In her 90s, Riefenstahl was still photographing marine life and gained the distinction of being one of the world's oldest scuba divers. On 22 August 2002, her 100th birthday, she released the film Impressionen unter Wasser ("Underwater Impressions"), an idealized documentary of life in the oceans and her first film in over 25 years. Riefenstahl was a member of Greenpeace for eight years.
Riefenstahl celebrated her 101st birthday on 22 August 2003 at a hotel in Feldafing, on Lake Starnberg, Bavaria, near her home. However, the day after her birthday celebration, she became ill.
Film scholar Mark Cousins notes in his book The Story of Film that, "Next to Orson Welles and Alfred Hitchcock, Leni Riefenstahl was the most technically talented Western film maker of her era".
Critic Judith Thurman said in The New Yorker that, "Riefenstahl's genius has rarely been questioned, even by critics who despise the service to which she lent it. Riefenstahl was a consummate stylist obsessed with bodies in motion, particularly those of dancers and athletes. Riefenstahl relies heavily for her transitions on portentous cutaways to clouds, mist, statuary, foliage, and rooftops. Her reaction shots have a tedious sameness: shining, ecstatic faces-nearly all young and Aryan, except for Hitler's".
She photographed the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich, and rock star Mick Jagger along with his wife Bianca for The Sunday Times. Years later, Riefenstahl photographed Las Vegas entertainers Siegfried & Roy.
Charles Moore of The Daily Telegraph wrote, "She was perhaps the most talented female cinema director of the 20th century; her celebration of Nazi Germany in film ensured that she was certainly the most infamous".
In 1993, Riefenstahl was the subject of the award-winning German documentary film The Wonderful, Horrible Life of Leni Riefenstahl, directed by Ray Müller. Riefenstahl appeared in the film and answered several questions and detailed the production of her films. The biofilm was nominated for seven Emmy Awards, winning in one category. Riefenstahl, who for some time had been working on her memoirs, decided to cooperate in the production of this documentary to tell her life story about the struggles she had gone through in her personal life, her film-making career and what people thought of her. She was also the subject of Müller's 2000 documentary film Leni Riefenstahl: Her Dream of Africa, about her return to Sudan to visit the Nuba people.
Pauline Kael, a film reviewer employed for The New Yorker, called Triumph des Willens and Olympia, "the two greatest films ever directed by a woman".[.
She was guest of honour at the 1976 Olympic Games in Montreal, Canada.
Film journalist Sandra Smith from The Independent remarked, "Opinions will be divided between those who see her as a young, talented and ambitious woman caught up in the tide of events which she did not fully understand, and those who believe her to be a cold and opportunist propagandist and a Nazi by association.
Gary Morris called Riefenstahl, "An artist of unparalleled gifts, a woman in an industry dominated by men, one of the great formalists of the cinema on a par with Eisenstein or Welles.
Riefenstahl began a lifelong companionship with her cameraman Horst Kettner, who was 40 years her junior and assisted her with the photographs; they were together from the time she was 60 and he was 20.
Writer Richard Corliss wrote in Time that he was "impressed by Riefenstahl's standing as a total auteur: producer, writer, director, editor and, in the fiction films, actress. The issues her films and her career raise are as complex and they are important, and her vilifiers tend to reduce the argument to one of a director's complicity in atrocity or her criminal ignorance".
Riefenstahl's books with photographs of the Nuba tribes were published in 1974 and republished in 1976 as Die Nuba (translated as "The Last of the Nuba") and Die Nuba von Kau ("The Nuba People of Kau"). While heralded by many as outstanding colour photographs, they were harshly criticized by Susan Sontag, who claimed in a review that they were further evidence of Riefenstahl's "fascist aesthetics".The Art Director's Club of Germany awarded Riefenstahl a gold medal for the best photographic achievement of 1975. She also sold some of the pictures to German magazines.[.
Riefenstahl survived a helicopter crash in Sudan in 2000 while trying to learn the fates of her Nuba friends during the Second Sudanese Civil War and was airlifted to a Munich hospital where she received treatment for two broken ribs.
Riefenstahl had been suffering from cancer for some time, and her health rapidly deteriorated during the last weeks of her life.Kettner said in an interview in 2002, "Ms. Riefenstahl is in great pain and she has become very weak and is taking painkillers". Leni Riefenstahl died in her sleep at around 10:00 pm on 8 September 2003 at her home in Pöcking, Germany. After her death, there was a varied response in the obituary pages of leading publications, although most recognized her technical breakthroughs in film making.
Film journalist Sandra Smith from The Independent remarked, "Opinions will be divided between those who see her as a young, talented and ambitious woman caught up in the tide of events which she did not fully understand, and those who believe her to be a cold and opportunist propagandist and a Nazi by association.".
Film critic Hal Erickson of the New York Times states that the "Jewish Question" is mainly unmentioned in Triumph des Willens; "filmmaker Leni Riefenstahl prefers to concentrate on cheering crowds, precision marching, military bands, and Hitler's climactic speech, all orchestrated, choreographed and illuminated on a scale that makes Griffith and DeMille look like poverty-row directors".
Shortly before she died, Riefenstahl voiced her final words on the subject of her connection to Adolf Hitler in a BBC interview: "I was one of millions who thought Hitler had all the answers. We saw only the good things; we didn't know bad things were to come.".
She was under house arrest for a period of time.
She was tried four times by postwar authorities for denazification and eventually found to be a "fellow traveler" (Mitläufer) who sympathised with the Nazis.
Riefenstahl said that her biggest regret in life was meeting Hitler, declaring, "It was the biggest catastrophe of my life. Until the day I die people will keep saying, 'Leni is a Nazi', and I'll keep saying, 'But what did she do?'" Even though she went on to win up to 50 libel cases, details about her relation to the Nazi party generally remain unclear.
Novelist and sports writer Budd Schulberg, assigned by the U.S. Navy to the OSS for intelligence work while attached to John Ford's documentary unit, was ordered to arrest Riefenstahl at her chalet in Kitzbühel, ostensibly to have her identify Nazi war criminals in German film footage captured by the Allied troops shortly after the war. Riefenstahl claimed she was not aware of the nature of the internment camps. According to Schulberg, "She gave me the usual song and dance. She said, 'Of course, you know, I'm really so misunderstood. I'm not political'".
Most of Riefenstahl's unfinished projects were lost towards the end of the war. The French government confiscated all of her editing equipment, along with the production reels of Tiefland.After years of legal wrangling, these were returned to her, but the French government had reportedly damaged some of the film stock whilst trying to develop and edit it, with a few key scenes being missing (although Riefenstahl was surprised to find the original negatives for Olympia in the same shipment). She edited and dubbed the remaining material and Tiefland premiered on 11 February 1954 in Stuttgart. However, it was denied entry into the Cannes Film Festival. Although Riefenstahl lived for almost another half century, Tiefland was her last feature film.
Riefenstahl claimed she was fascinated by the Nazis, but also politically naive, remaining ignorant about war crimes.
As Germany's military situation became impossible by early 1945, Riefenstahl left Berlin and was hitchhiking with a group of men, trying to reach her mother, when she was taken into custody by American troops. She walked out of a holding camp, beginning a series of escapes and arrests across the chaotic landscape. At last making it back home on a bicycle, she found that American troops had seized her house. She was surprised by how kindly they treated her.
Throughout 1945 to 1948, she was held by various Allied-controlled prison camps across Germany.
In the 1960s, Riefenstahl became interested in Africa from Ernest Hemingway's Green Hills of Africa and from the photographs of George Rodger. She visited Kenya for the first time in 1956 and later Sudan, where she photographed Nuba tribes with whom she sporadically lived, learning about their culture so she could photograph them more easily. Even though her film project about modern slavery entitled Die Schwarze Fracht ("The Black Cargo") was never completed, Riefenstahl was able to sell the stills from the expedition to magazines in various parts of the world. While scouting shooting locations, she almost died from injuries received in a truck accident. After waking up from a coma in a Nairobi hospital, she finished writing the script, but was soon thoroughly thwarted by uncooperative locals, the Suez Canal crisis and bad weather. In the end, the film project was called off. Even so, Riefenstahl was granted Sudanese citizenship for her services to the country, becoming the first foreigner to receive a Sudanese passport.
In 1960, Riefenstahl attempted to prevent filmmaker Erwin Leiser from juxtaposing scenes from Triumph des Willens with footage from concentration camps in his film Mein Kampf. Riefenstahl had high hopes for a collaboration with Cocteau called Friedrich und Voltaire ("Friedrich and Voltaire"), wherein Cocteau was to play two roles. They thought the film might symbolize the love-hate relationship between Germany and France. Cocteau's illness and 1963 death put an end to the project. A musical remake of Das Blaue Licht ("The Blue Light") with L. Ron Hubbard, a science fiction writer and founder of Scientology, also fell apart.
Riefenstahl's books with photographs of the Nuba tribes were published in 1974 and republished in 1976 as Die Nuba (translated as "The Last of the Nuba") and Die Nuba von Kau ("The Nuba People of Kau"). While heralded by many as outstanding colour photographs, they were harshly criticized by Susan Sontag, who claimed in a review that they were further evidence of Riefenstahl's "fascist aesthetics".
Riefenstahl heard Nazi Party (NSDAP) leader Adolf Hitler speak at a rally in 1932 and was mesmerized by his talent as a public speaker. Describing the experience in her memoir, Riefenstahl wrote, "I had an almost apocalyptic vision that I was never able to forget. It seemed as if the Earth's surface were spreading out in front of me, like a hemisphere that suddenly splits apart in the middle, spewing out an enormous jet of water, so powerful that it touched the sky and shook the earth".
In October 1944 the production of Tiefland moved to Barrandov Studios in Prague for interior filming. Lavish sets made these shots some of the most costly of the film. The film was not edited and released until almost ten years later.
Riefenstahl fell in love with the arts in her childhood.[10] She began to paint and write poetry at the age of four. She was also athletic, and at the age of twelve joined a gymnastics and swimming club. Her mother was confident her daughter would grow up to be successful in the field of art and therefore gave her full support, unlike Riefenstahl's father, who was not interested in his daughter's artistic inclinations. In 1918, when she was 16, Riefenstahl attended a presentation of Snow White which interested her deeply; it led her to want to be a dancer. Her father instead wanted to provide his daughter with an education that could lead to a more dignified occupation. His wife, however, continued to support her daughter's passion. Without her father's knowledge, she enrolled Riefenstahl in dance and ballet classes at the Grimm-Reiter Dance School in Berlin, where she quickly became a star pupil.
In 1954, Jean Cocteau, who greatly admired the film, insisted on Tiefland being shown at the Cannes Film Festival, which he was running that year.
Riefenstahl tried many times to make more films during the 1950s and 1960s, but was met with resistance, public protests and sharp criticism.Many of her filmmaking peers in Hollywood had fled Nazi Germany and were unsympathetic to her. Although both film professionals and investors were willing to support her work, most of the projects she attempted were stopped owing to ever-renewed and highly negative publicity about her past work for the Third Reich.
During the filming of Victory of Faith, Hitler had stood side by side with the leader of the Sturmabteilung (SA) Ernst Röhm, a man with whom he clearly had a close working relationship. Rohm was ruthlessly murdered on Hitler's orders a short time later during the purge of the SA referred to as the Night of the Long Knives. It has gone on record that, immediately following the killings, Hitler subsequently ordered all copies of the film to be destroyed, although Riefenstahl disputes that this ever happened.
The last time Riefenstahl saw Hitler was when she married Peter Jacob on 21 March 1944. Riefenstahl and Jacob divorced in 1946.
AAMPAS included Riefenstahl in the "In Memoriam" sequence of the 2004 Oscars, a decision that met with criticism from several quarters. Journalist Manohla Dargis wrote about the decision, "I don't know if they were trying to be controversial or fair-minded or if they're just stupid".
In 2007, the British singer-songwriter Bryan Ferry revealed that he was a big fan of her movies, along with Albert Speer's buildings, during an interview by a German newspaper, but he subsequently apologized for any offense caused by his comments after they caused an uproar.

Personal Quotes (7)

I filmed the truth as it was then. Nothing more.
[recalling at age 83 her 1936 film Olympia Part One: Festival of the Nations (1938), which identified her with Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party] "They killed me then. I am a ghost."
[In a 1993 interview, commenting on her work with the Nazi party] "Being sorry isn't nearly enough, but I can't tear myself apart or destroy myself. It's so terrible. I've suffered anyway for over half a century and it will never end, until I die. It's such an incredible burden, that to say 'sorry'... it's inadequate, it expresses too little."
I told Hitler that filming the party congress was too difficult for a girl. I told him the men are jealous and the problems I encountered affected my nerves. Hitler became very angry. He told Goebbels that when he gave an order, Goebbels was supposed to obey it. Hitler then told me that I must make a film of the congress in 1934 but I protested, saying that the same thing would happen. He... assured me that there would be no interference.
Really, if I start a work I forget food. I forget that I am a woman. I forget my dress, I only see my work. I forget because I am fascinated by my work.
I was never Hitler's mistress - although I was dazzled by him. These are nothing but lies. It is senseless to call me the queen of the Nazis. I have never spoken a word about politics. It is all lies and forgeries. If I had really been a Nazi I would have killed myself, like Eva Braun. I have never said that Hitler was handsome and intelligent. I am not an idiot. I have never seen mass executions and I have never seen a concentration camp.
If I, as so many other colleagues, would have worked for the sake of money, I could have become a millionaire. But money was of no importance to me. I worked on a film for years until I thought it artistically perfected. I was my own boss, nobody could tell me what to do. Had I ever had the impression that my freedom as a creative artist would be limited, I would have gone abroad.

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