Riefenstahl, Leni

Riefenstahl, Leni
orig. Berta Helene Amalie Riefenstahl

born Aug. 22, 1902, Berlin, Ger.
died Sept. 8, 2003, Pöcking

German film director and photographer.

In the 1920s she was a dancer and actress in German nature films. After forming a production company, she made and starred in the mystical The Blue Light (1932). For Adolf Hitler she directed the propaganda film Triumph of the Will (1935), a documentary glorifying the 1934 Nürnberg rally. She was praised for the technical brilliance of Olympia (1938), her documentary on the 1936 Berlin Olympic Games. Detained by Allied forces after World War II, she was eventually cleared of complicity in Nazi war crimes, but her film career never recovered, and she worked principally as a photographer thereafter.

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▪ German director and actor
original name  Berta Helene Amalie Riefenstahl 
born August 22, 1902, Berlin, Germany
died September 8, 2003, Pöcking

      German motion-picture director, actress, producer, and photographer who is best known for her documentary films of the 1930s dramatizing the power and pageantry of the Nazi (Nazi Party) movement.

      Riefenstahl studied painting and ballet in Berlin, and from 1923 to 1926 she appeared in dance programs throughout Europe. She began her motion-picture career as an actress in “mountain films”—a type of German film in which nature, especially the mountain landscape, plays an important role—and she eventually became a director in the genre. In 1931 she formed a company, Leni Riefenstahl-Produktion, and the following year wrote, directed, produced, and starred in Das blaue Licht (1932; The Blue Light).

 With the support of the Nazi Party, Riefenstahl directed films that extolled the values of physical beauty and Aryan superiority. They include Sieg des Glaubens (1933; Victory of the Faith), a short subject commissioned by Adolf Hitler (Hitler, Adolf); Triumph des Willens (1935; Triumph of the Will), an important documentary study of the 1934 Nazi Party convention at Nürnberg that emphasized the unity of the party, introduced the leaders to the German people, and exhibited Nazi power to the world; and Olympische Spiele (1938; Olympia), a two-part film on the Olympic Games of 1936 that was praised for the effectiveness of its studio-created music and sound effects. Riefenstahl's films were acclaimed for their rich musical scores, for the cinematic beauty of the scenes of dawn, mountains, and rural German life, and for brilliant editing.

      Because her films had aided the Nazi cause, Riefenstahl was detained by Allied forces after World War II, and, although she was officially cleared of complicity in Nazi war crimes, she was blacklisted. In 1954 she completed Tiefland (“Lowland”), the production of which had been interrupted by the war, but her career as a filmmaker was effectively over. Die Nuba (The Last of the Nuba), a book of her African photographs, was published in 1973. Much of her later life was devoted to photography, and Korallengärten (1978; Coral Gardens) and Wunder unter Wasser (1990; Wonders Under Water) are collections of her underwater photographs; a documentary on marine life, Impressionen unter Wasser (Impressions Under Water), was released in 2002. At age 91, Riefenstahl was interviewed for director Ray Müller's highly praised documentary Die Macht der Bilder: Leni Riefenstahl (1993; The Power of the Image: Leni Riefenstahl, or The Wonderful, Horrible Life of Leni Riefenstahl), in which she reveals herself as an undeniably brilliant woman with profoundly mixed feelings about her association with the Third Reich. Memoiren (1987; A Memoir, or The Sieve of Time: The Memoirs of Leni Riefenstahl) is her autobiography.

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Universalium. 2010.

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