Leni Riefenstahl, shown above directing her infamous movie “Triumph of the Will”, is dead.
Much can be said and was said about her and by her. Of her most infamous works she said “I was only interested in how I could make a film that was not stupid like a crude propagandist newsreel, but more interesting. It reflects the truth as it was then, in 1934. It is a documentary, not propaganda.” The films certainly were more interesting but Frau Liefenstahl was either too naive or not willing to not miss the point, even though she explicitely expresses it: “the truth as it was then” - that, and nothing else, is the essence of what propaganda is about. Propaganda is not about the truth; it is about the truth as it is, and that means as it is intended to be.
Frau Riefenstahl was a Nazi propagandist, maybe not of the absolutely worst kind, but a very talented and remarkable one nevertheless. Her unwillingness to face that and post-war Germany’s willingness to except that to a certain extent exposes maybe the only unsolved problems with Germany’s past. Contrary to what the media want to make you believe there is nothing to be discovered any longer about the war and the genocide of Jews, Homosexuals, mentally handicapped persons, Socialists, and Communists.
But Germany has never dealt with those people who supported the Nazi regime in a different way, not by building bombs or by ordering genocide or by fighting wars. There still is a lot to be discovered about how you create a regime like that. The lessons that we could learn extend to our everyday lives - especially when countries go to war selling that very same war on the basis of what very obviously is the truth only insofar as it supports the war, a truth disconnected from facts, a truth that is connected to spinmeisters and liars who dress up as statesmen.
Germany has never really dealt with Nazi Germany’s artists - the ones which were only too willing to put their artistry into the service of a regime that knew about the power of images and sounds even though then mass media were almost exclusively non-visual. Artists like Ernst Jünger, the writer, Arno Breker, the sculptor, Herbert von Karajan and Wilhelms Furtwängler, the conductors, and Leni Riefenstahl, the film maker and photographer, helped create Nazi Germany’s face to an extent that never got acknowledged. They never paid a price for that - and how could they? As an artist, you can always claim you were only working on art and nothing else.
It’s amazing how Frau Riefenstahl got away with it so easily. Granted, her career was more or less over after the war. But did she go to jail like people like Albert Speer? You could maybe (note the maybe here) how people like Karajan got away with it. Conducting Beethoven’s Fifth in itself is not an act of Nazism - even though getting a thoroughly brown nose is. But making movies which are as explicit about Nazi ideals as any movie can be? It’s like making explicit pornographic movies with the idea of making a movie about sex and then claiming you were never interested in arousing people. Like Ernst Jünger, another very talented proto-fascist, she was left off the hook, and like Herr Jünger she lived until she was 100 years old - reminding the second German democracy of the legacy it never wanted to deal with.
So Frau Riefenstahl finally is dead. She was a talented photographer and film maker. But she sold her sold to the devil. Maybe now she can have another toast with Hitler - the person she admired so much. May she rot in hell.