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Reality and the Triumph of the Will, Essay Example

Pages: 2

Words: 425

Essay

Triumph of the Will is a compelling example of how film can be used to subvert reality.  The film’s narrative places Hitler in the central role of benevolent and beloved leader, a characterization that owes much to Riefensthal’s camerawork.  With seventy-six years of hindsight, it is clearly a propaganda piece; however, it is doubly effective for the reality that it doesn’t show:  there are no shots of concentration camps, starving Jews, or the everyday Germans who struggled against fascism.  Instead, Riefensthal presents us with “an ideal presence” (Sontag) that speaks to the fictional Germany Hitler wished to create.

Like Triumph of the Will itself, biographies of Riefensthal tend to gloss over the brutal and fascist regime that Riefensthal’s film helped to popularize.  The film is consumed entirely by its subject–Hitler’s power– and gives no true sense of either its director’s presence or the real thoughts that might underlie the identical expressions of fervent joy on the faces of the gathered throng.  One of the its strongest visual messages isthe depiction of Hitler as a figure of  power.  His arrival in an airplane, when coupled with the aerial shots that show the sheer size of his army and the crowd, demonstrates that Hitler is the sole reason for the gathering, a unifying figure who can bring the common people to a state of  ecstasy.  The highly-planned and highly-edited film purports to be a documentary, but as Reifenstahl herself states, “the ceremonies and precise plans of the parades, marches, processions, the architecture of the halls and stadium were designed for the convenience of the camera” (Sontag).

As a piece of propaganda designed to give visual weight to the power of the Nazi party and demonstrate Hitler’s status, Triumph of the Will is a huge success.  The film (and by extension, the filmmaker) is adept at manipulating the audience’s viewing experience through the juxtaposition of religious imagery, the enthusiasm of the crowd, and physical instruments of the Nazi party’s regime such as buildings, flags, and airplanes.  However, from an ethical standpoint, any tendency to accept The Triumph of the Will as a straightforward documentary without any bias or agenda is an act of falsity, for the version of the ‘truth’ created by Reifenstahl serves only to demonstrate that the Nazi party had the resources and determination to stage a massive event for the sole purpose of hiding the truth of their regime.

Works Cited

Sontag, Susan. “Fascinating Fascism.” The New York Times Review of Books, 1975, Feb 6. Web. 2011 Sept 27.

Triumph of the Will. Dir. Leni Riefensthal. Universum Film AG, 1935.

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