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Triumph of the Will (1935)


What beautiful flags!
What beautiful flags!

Genre: Documentary (Germany)

Starring: Adolf Hitler, other high-ranking Germans

Directed By: Leni Riefenstahl (Olympia)

Overview: In 1934, Nuremberg was host to a Nazi Party rally.  This film captures the event in all its infamous glory.

Often, when we experience an old story told within a new historical context, the lesson we draw from it changes entirely from what it was intended to be.

A perfect non-film example would be taken from a song I heard recently, a cover of Bill Wither's 'Ain't No Sunshine' as performed by the Jackson 5.  There's a spoken introduction and it goes like this:

You ever want something
That you know you shouldn't have?
The more you know you shouldn't have it,
The more you want it.
And then one day you get it.
It's so good too...

A simple truth, but add the context that this intro was narrated by a very young Michael Jackson, and  the above quote becomes a creepy prediction of infamy.

In similar fashion, Triumph of the Will is important in whatever reality (or alternate reality) because of its context.  Had Hitler been correct in his declaration that 'Germany would reign a thousand years' we could today look back at this prediction made almost 75 years ago and been impressed by the works of a man who was rightfully named Time Magazine's Man Of The Year

However, the nation this successful man had built up so quickly revealed a dark side, a nation that ended up being concerned with conquest and genocide rather than the righteousness and fight against the Imperialist Plutocracies that it preached. 

While watching Leni Riefenstahl's documentary, you may be impressed by the context that Hitler chose a woman to document these times, you may be moved by the parade car he stood and saluted in, you may be struck with awe at the panoramic visions laid out before you of disciplined droves of hundreds of thousands of the strong, able-bodied men saluting in unison; most likely you'll cringe at hinting declarations from Hitler and his officers about the importance of a pure race, or the excising action one must take against those who will cause the Reich to rot.

In context, this film becomes less boring than it ultimately is, since speech after speech at a podium facing impressively laid out soldiers quickly becomes tedious. For as interesting a man Hitler is, and for animated as he becomes in front of people, this film fails in being enticing on its own merit, and we find ourselves drawn to it much like we do when slowing down for an accident.

 Wow, they're so devoted! I bet they're GREAT guys!
Wow, they're so devoted! I bet they're GREAT guys!

Overall Rating: 72% (A Full Viewing In One Sitting? An Exercise In Willpower)

Two hours of the same thing is too much, and for as genuinely entertaining as a parade followed by a triumphant Nationalistic speech is, whether we're watching well-dressed youth in a stadium, well dressed soldiers in a grand hall, or well-dressed labourers on a vast field, the sights and sounds all end up bleeding together in one sour puddle that looks just like the same thing we saw twelve minutes ago, and I feel the only reason this film is important is because humanity is full of sick misery-watching rubber-neckers.

For as much as I thought I would be one too, I guess I'm not. Triumph of the Will is a very interesting half hour of footage repeated four times, and though the artist capturing the event was more than skilled, she only had so much to work with.

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