(Triumph of the Will)
Director: Leni Riefenstahl
Production: Universum Film Aktiengesellschaft (Ufa); black and white, 35mm; running time: 120 minutes. Released March 1935. Filmed 4–10 September 1934 in Nuremburg at the Nazi Party Congress.
Producer: Leni Riefenstahl; editor: Leni Riefenstahl; subtitles: Walter Ruttmann; photography: Sepp Allgeier, Karl Attenberger, and Werner Bohne, plus several assistants; architectural designs: Albert Speer; music: Herbert Windt.
Awards: National Film Prize of Germany, 1935; Venice Biennale, Gold Medal, 1936 (most sources do not list this award for Triumph , though David Gunston in Current Biography states that Triumph did receive this award); Exposition Internationale des Arts et des Techniques (Paris), Grand Prize, 1937.
Kracauer, Siegfried, From Caligari to Hitler , Princeton, New Jer-sey, 1947.
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Barsam, Richard, Nonfiction Film: A Critical History , New York, 1973.
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Barsam, Richard, Filmguide to Triumph of the Will , Bloomington, Indiana, 1975.
Infield, Glenn, Leni Riefenstahl: Fallen Film Goddess , New York, 1976.
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Ford, Charles, Leni Riefenstahl , Paris, 1978.
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* * *
Triumph des Willens (Triumph of the Will) is one of the greatest examples of film propaganda ever made. Commissioned by Hitler, Leni Riefenstahl recorded the 1934 Nuremberg National Socialist Party rally, transforming it through innovative editing, montage, and lighting into a frighteningly impressive work of indoctrination.
Riefenstahl maintains that the film is an accurate record of a historical event. In the French periodical Cahiers du Cinéma , the director commented that:
In those days one believed in something beautiful. . . . How could I know better than Winston Churchill, who even in 1935–36 was saying that he envied Germany its Fuhrer? . . . you will notice if you see the film today that it doesn't contain a single reconstructed scene. Everything is real. . . . It is history. A purely "historical" film.What is surprising is that Riefenstahl was approached at all to create the film. Given the Nazi attitude's chauvinistic attitude towards women—that they should act as wives and mothers before anything else—the fact that Hitler retained a female director to make such an important work is very interesting. Josef Goebbels, Hitler's Minister of Propaganda, hated Riefenstahl, and according to the director made filming Triumph des Willens as difficult as possible.
The film was viewed as an essential and important propaganda tool. The recent Rohm Purge which had resulted in the assassination of Ernst Rohm, head of the Sturmabteilung (S.A. or brownshirts), and his top men, on 30 June 1930 had effected Nazi morale. The S.A. was responsible for maintaining order at rallies, and controlling political opposition. Hitler had a major distrust of the S.A. leaders and of the German military, whom he felt was dominated by the aristocracy. Rohm's murder divided the Nazi Party, who were unsure about Hitler's political direction. The film thus served as an important way of conveying to the world the Party's unity, and strength in the light of recent disruptions.
Out of the 96 propaganda films produced during 1933–45 by Goebbels's ministry, Riefenstahl's two films Triumph des Willens and the very beautiful Olympiad have proved the most interesting examples and the most influential works on post-war cinema. The importance of this period to the Nazi Party is shown from the opening statement of the film:
September 4, 1934. 20 years after the outbreak of World War I, 16 years after German woe and sorrow began, 19 months after the beginning of Germany's rebirth, Adolf Hitler flew again to Nuremberg to review the columns of his faithful admirers.
The aerial shot which tracks Hitler's arrival in his plane, and pans over the cheering crowds, military columns, and houses, focusing on a few happy, almost brainwashed looking people, creates the feeling that Hitler is a god descending from the heavens. This is emphasized by the shooting of scenes featuring Hitler from below using a low camera, which establishes the impression that the Fuhrer is an Olympian creature, larger than life. In contrast the cheering masses are shot from above, signifying that they are Hitler's minions—and are inferior to the Fuhrer.
The film's recurrent use of symbols: the swastika; the eagle; and flags, among them, help to control the audience by making it feel that it is participating in the action occurring on screen. The eagle, the symbol of the Party is most often seen silhouetted against the sky— again showing that the force and strength of the Party is divine.
Riefenstahl continuously intercuts images, alleviating the tediousness of the Party officials' speeches; emphasizing important words and phrases with relevant images. This technique is gleaned from Soviet propaganda films, particularly from the work of Eisenstein and Pudovkin, and is effective in retaining the audience's interest. The use of montage is also important because what the viewer sees on screen is a carefully created image rather than a natural reality.
The film emphasizes the god-like status of the Fuhrer; the importance of the Volk and folk history; and the military strength of the Nazis. Long sweeping shots of the Hitler Youth, the military, and the Labour Movement, symbolically carrying spades instead of rifles, show the support that the Party enjoys.
Lutze, Rohm's successor, is also promoted by the film. William L. Shirer in Berlin Diary commented that Lutze was an unpopular successor to Rohm, but in Triumph des Willens , the S.A. leader is seen being mobbed by his men. Only the Fuhrer receives the same kind of treatment in the film.
To shoot the film, Riefenstahl used a team of 16 cameramen with a further 16 assistants, using a total of 30 cameras. The two-hour film is a perfectly edited document of Nazi fantacism. Accompanied by an impressively stirring soundtrack, which includes music by Wagner, Triumph des Willens is an example of how film can be used to manipulate and indoctrinate the masses.
Its influence on post-war cinema has been long-lasting, and the contemporary advertising industry uses many of the techniques used to such great effect in the film to capture the minds and thoughts of the audience: the repetition of motifs, montage, and a use of emotive and stirring music to manipulate the audience.
Triumph des Willens won a state award, and the Gold Medal at the Venice Bienniale of 1935, and the French Grand Prix at the film festival held in Paris.