September 11, 2003
Leni Riefenstahl

There's a obituary article about Leni Riefenstahl by Jonathan Petropoulos for the WSJ.

Her involvement, however involved it was exactly, in various Nazi atrocities, and her complicity in the horrors she observed and navigated around, is dealt with in this article, but the last two paragraphs present a surprisingly positive picture of this woman:

Ms. Riefenstahl had such charisma, intelligence, and talent that she won over many who were anything but Nazis. She was honored by a retrospective of her work at the Film Museum in Potsdam in 1999. When she turned 100, those attending her birthday party in Feldafing on Lake Starnberg included renowned mountain climber Reinhold Messner and Las Vegas animal trainers Siegfried and Roy.

The woman who charmed Hitler, danced with the Nuba, took up scuba diving in her 70s, and was rescued from a helicopter crash in the Sudan at age 97, possessed bedazzling qualities. No wonder Jodie Foster is working on a film about her. It's unlikely to be the last. Leni Riefenstahl, with her strength, talent, complexities, and problems, will continue to fascinate in the years to come – probably for longer than her 101 years.

That's a slightly odd way to end an article about one of the most important and influential propagandists of the Third Reich.

Nazi Germany was, among other things, a detestably criminal regime, but it wouldn't have been remotely as evil as it was had it not succeeded in making use of so many of the brightest and best Germans of its time – best in the sense of most effective and most attractive and glamorous. Making use, that is to say, of people like Leni Riefenstahl. And she, like so many other talented contemporaries, let it happen. That's the most important thing about this woman, and that should have been there in the concluding paragraph, it seems to me. She did a great deal more for Hitler besides charming him. Next to the word "fascinate", I'd like to have seen another word like "appal".

Here's another link, to a site with some photos of Riefenstahl, including some of her with Mick Jagger and his then wife, whom she'd been photographing. Well well, I never knew that. It figures. Master of stadium impact, Neuremberg Rally equals rock concert, etc. etc. I guess she was always more concerned about appearances than about morals.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 09:43 PM
Category: Movies