Film: Victory of the Faith / Der Sieg der Glaubens (1933)

February 5, 2016 | By

VictoryOfTheFaith1933Film: Good

Transfer:  Poor

Extras: n/a

Label:  Archive.org

Region: n/a

Released:  n/a

Genre:  Documentary / Propaganda / WWII / Third Reich

Synopsis: Leni Riefenstahl’s precursor to “Triumph of the Will” was this shorter synthesis of the Nazi party rallies in Nuremberg, circa 1933.

Special Features:  n/a

 


 

Review:

In 1933, Leni Riefenstahl made the move from dancer, actress, and fiction film director to documentaries, launching her new career as the Third Reich’s premiere propaganda filmmaker with her hour-long chronicle of the fifth NSDAP party rally, held in Nuremberg in 1933.

Many events of the events – Adolf Hitler’s arrival, his speech from a hotel, and assorted militia marches through city streets at massive assemblies at the Zeppelin air field – were recaptured in greater detail and technical finesse in what’s regarded as the ultimate propaganda film, Triumph of the Will (1934), and while Victory of the Faith should’ve been a viewable precursor to its bigger and better remake, it vanished from circulation when, as legend has it, Hitler ordered all copies of the film destroyed, chiefly due to the greater inclusion of Ernst Röhm, Nazi party co-founder and leader of the SA brownshirts.

Röhm, the SA, and Hitler’s own faction and loyalists were reportedly involved in a party power struggle, and Hitler wanted to remake himself from a racist street thug to an international statesman, so the best way seemed to arrest and knock off Röhm, eliminating the competition and consolidating power to one top man. References to Röhm, in classic totalitarian fashion, were erased, but a copy of the film was made during Riefenstahl’s visit to Britain.

Discovered after being stored for 60 years, Faith is part curio, part historic document of the regime’s early years as well as glimpse into how Hitler and the Nazi party created a new and improved image for domestic consumption.

Faith lacks the finesse of Triumph, and it feels like a hastily cobbled production where a suggestion to film the rally was made at the last minute and a compact camera crew was dispatched to Nuremberg to grab whatever they could for a short film. The real interest for cineastes lies in how and where Riefenstahl vastly improved upon the concept of a propaganda film in her next effort, but for WWII historians, it’s the awkward moments and the inclusion of Röhm and his SA which show a rougher side to their ideological mania.

The format is pretty much the same – speeches by party members were also included in Triumph – but there’s a rawness to the clunky footage which makes Faith a more believable documentary as a snapshot of selectively assembled moments from the rally, where no one looks especially impressive. That’s due in part to the way Riefenstahl presented Hitler in branded headshots, flattering lighting with exquisite cloud backdrops, and moving cameras with matched sync sound from (presumably) line feeds from the sound system.

In Faith, Hitler’s arrival consists of a plane landing, fast cuts, and he’s off to the parade ride to the hotel; in Triumph, his arrival is preceded by an elaborate montage in which his plane descends from the clouds and delivers its deific cargo with mystery. Faith, however, contains footage of erecting the grandstands where crowds will observe the parade in front of the cathedral. Prior to Hitler’s arrival, there’s the SA troops that enter the city, and Riefenstahl often cuts to little children giving the Sieg Heil and bearing little swastika-branded flags. There’s also a train arrival in which the engine is swastika-branded on the bumpers pistons and side panels.

Riefenstahl does devote time to covering Hitler’s drive through the streets of Nuremberg, but the angles are less favourable, lacking the mystery which milked the sequence to epic length in Triumph, where he was often shot from behind, and seen frequently as a figure in medium or close-ups, with heavy emphasis on his hand in the more compact Sieg Heil salute. There are some POV shots as the camera moves with the officials through the streets, but in Triumph there’s a dedicated set of camera cars, many visible in shots, that show how much of the ride was captured from various angles to allow Riefenstahl to assemble a longer and tightly structured sequence with refined visuals that place the audience close to but never on equal footing with the Fuhrer.

Camera crews were present to capture the pre-Hitler arrival of SA members and assorted officials, but a major contrast in Faith lies in what sometimes resembles behind-the-scenes footage, like cars are shown backing up and officials mingle with party elites such as Goebbels; or the arrival of two dignitaries from Mussolini’s fascist government.

The often informal nature of the footage – likely the quality Riefenstahl was stuck with – shows a less organized machine, especially when officials are seen moving after being told where they should be standing versus their precise placement in Triumph; and the cutaways between speeches which, instead of showing approving visages of officials, capture the tedium, boredom, or irritation with the events. Wind also mucks up Hitler’s greasy hair part and he attempts a dignified side-part readjustment, and there’s a moment when he makes it clear to a trumpet player to ‘knock it off’ so he can step forward and address the Hitler Youth.

The footage may look crude, but it also reveals small moments where Hitler was clearly getting high off the crowds instead of being an living, breathing icon, and being filmed like an officious live-action version of the Hitler busts that’s adorned stamps and coins of the era.

The looseness of the footage shot in location as it happened makes the staged cutaways Riefenstahl used near the end more glaring, especially his address to a mix of SS and infantry men. Riefenstahl’s camera tracks right-to-left several times on a specific troop, shot at dusk before they likely retired with the rest of their division.

Several sequences also contain the Greek God headshots of ideal Aryan men and boys which Riefenstahl would use to punch up the Hitler Youth assembly in Triumph, but there’s also small details missing from the latter film: uniformed SS are seen in both films, but Faith has a horn player with a giant skull and crossbones flag dangling below, bearing the oft-seen motto “Germany Awakens.”

The Sieg Heils aren’t more pronounced in Faith, but they’re more disturbing because Riefenstahl interpolates more medium and deep focus shots of huge crowds performing the salute instead of wider shots that reduce the mob to a mass of moving figures and human props – a visual choice that’s perhaps in line with the ‘sea of flags’ which architect Albert Speer designed and was captured in a striking (and now famous) telephoto lensed shot in Triumph.

Speer’s architecture is also shown, but it isn’t treated as a striking component of the rally. There’s no ‘cathedral of light’ nor custom shots that convey epic images via locked camera; much of what was filmed is handheld, but Faith does feature footage which shows row upon row of party faithful, neatly packed into wide rows to fill the air field (plus a passing Zeppelin). It’s not as candid nor as revealing as the ‘behind-the-scenes’ material, but the scope and madness of assembling 200,000 + men and women is no less affecting. (It’s also surprising to see a rare shots of women among the Hitler Youth gathering, as Riefenstahl completely omitted female party members from Triumph.)

Hitler’s speeches follow the same structure as in Triumph, babbling on about the leap from a struggling movement to a reality; treating the rally as a celebration of what was impossible a decade before; and recycling keywords of being the ‘blood of our blood, the flesh of our flesh’ and being the country’s future where class and selfishness remain banished.

He addresses more or less the same batch of divisions, but Faith features a troop of pilots on the field in place of the motorized division in Triumph. Also present are the same mass-usage of standards featuring the swastika flag, the phrase “Germany Awakens,” and an ornate, gilded frame appropriated from Mussolini’s fascists (which borrowed the design from ornate, wreath- inflected Roman standards). The obsession with flags is equally prominent in Faith, including lowering flags in place of the North American 1 minute of silence tradition; and the SA bigwig barking orders for the men to raise the flags and stand tall, as flags were both visual props and an object that kept each bearer busy during the proceedings. (Trying to keep a flag erect while ‘party whips’ stood nearby at precise monitoring points ensured no one would dare fall asleep or had a single moment to relax during the down time on the field.)

Triumph certainly benefits from greater attention and pre-planning to capture optimum audio. The first chunk of Faith features an original score by Herbert Windt (who would also score Triumph and the two-part Olympia) and re-recorded marches for the street parades, which covers sonic deficiencies until someone actually speaks. Hitler’s address in a cathedral (with the swastika draped over a podium) is echoey and the footage is dimly lit, and unlike the recorded sounds of huge cheering masses punched up with drum rolls for the parade and air field sequences, Riefenstahl had to settle for a room full of maybe 10 to 20 voice actors whose bellows and Sieg Heils sound completely canned in the final mix.

She must have realized that once Hitler wanted to remake the film and make a definitive advert for the party, no cost would be spared, hence the efforts to acquire the best footage and sound, and make sure even silent footage when integrated into the film maintained an even tempo, as material within Faith stems from under-cranked silent cameras which are sped-up in the final edit.

None of the cited picky details that compare Faith with Triumph are meant to diminish the importance of the film – it is a unique record of the party before an important (and lethal) purge – but it is a lesser if not different ‘documentation’ of an annual rally that was self-aggrandizing, ingratiating, and couldn’t have been half as inspirational year after year where masses of ordinary grunts were mere props for an ego maniac and future mass murderer.

Faith is an important historic artifact than an important cinematic work in Riefenstahl’s canon, and it perhaps indicates the first and last time she would settle for a loosely planned shooting schedule which robbed her of the choices she needed to create something more artful (Olympia) and terrifying (Triumph).

Although given a home video released on DVD, the film is available for free (in a heavily compressed form) via Archive.org. That edit features main titles shot off a screen, and a recurring 2003 copyright A&M bug. It’s also followed by an odd trailer which repurposes outtakes with different (likely stock) soundtrack material and intertitles, making it resemble a silent movie trailer.

Leni Riefenstahl’s films as director include The Blue Light / Das blaue Licht (1932), Victory of the Faith / Der Sieg der Glaubens (1933), Triumph of the Will / Triumph des Willens (1935), Day of Freedom / Tag der Freiheit (1935), Olympia Parts One and Two (1938), Tiefland (1954), and Underwater Impressions / Impressionen unter Wasser (2002).

She was also profiled in Ray Ray Müller’s brilliant The Wonderful, Horrible Life of Leni Riefenstahl / Die Macht der Bilder: Leni Riefenstahl (1993) which also includes images from her stills and filming of the African Nuba tribe (later documented in book form) and her work as perhaps the world’s only octogenarian underwater cinematographer.

 

 

© 2015 Mark R. Hasan

 


 

External References:
Editor’s BlogIMDB  —  Composer Filmography
 
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Category: Blu-ray / DVD Film Review

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