Leni Riefenstahl’s Nuremberg Trilogy (1933-1935) + Stuart Schulberg’s Nuremberg: Its Lessons for Today (1948)

February 5, 2016 | By

After some weird sever issues and WordPress suddenly breaking due to a bad plugin (posts could not be edited in Visual mode), things are up & running, and I’ve posted a quartet of reviews – one more than initially planned – that are tied to the city of Nuremberg and its placement during the Third Reich, and soon after its demise.

TriumphOfTheWillSynapse_BRFirst up is Synapse’s excellent new 2K transfer of Leni Riefenstahl’s ultimate propaganda film, Triumph of the Will / Triumph des Willens (1935), billed by the Nazis as a ‘document’ of the 1934 Nazi party rallies, but really a bloated branding exercise aimed at the German populace to ensure they knew who was boss.

As I state in the review – somewhere within its 3400 words (ahem) – Riefenstahl shall remain a controversial figure in film history. A former dancer, actress, and later director, her affiliation with the Nazi party ensured a fast rise as their leading documentarian, culminating propaganda-wise with Triumph, but creatively with the stirring two-part Olympia (1935). Both films are obvious examples of her brilliance as a director, editor, and conceptualist, but as seen in Ray Müller’s documentary The Wonderful, Horrible Life of Leni Riefenstahl / Die Macht der Bilder: Leni Riefenstahl (1993), the grumbly filmmaker refused to admit she was aware of bad things going on within the regime.

That she was immune to any knowledge of mass killings, or the source of the extras used in her final feature seems absurd, and yet her legacy as a filmmaker continues to influence, especially in the realm of montage. While Triumph may be the scariest and most perfectly rendered advert for a murderous totalitarian regime seeking international respect, Olympia (which I’ll review much later) shows the director attempting to distance herself from governmental propaganda and focus on her main fetish: the body beautiful, in stillness and in motion.

VictoryOfTheFaith1933Synapse’s new Blu also includes a short follow-up doc by Riefenstahl, Day of Freedom / Tag der Freiheit (1935), which focuses exclusively on the infantry, and I’ve added a review of Victory of the Faith / Der Sieg der Glaubens (1933), often regarded as a precursor to Triumph. Much shorter and cruder in execution, Faith was believed lost until a copy was found in storage 60 years after its release, and is available for viewing at Archive.org.

NurembergItsLessonsForToday_posterTo add some sobriety to Riefenstahl’s pro-Nazi trilogy, I’ve included a review of Stuart Schulberg’s Nuremberg: Its Lessons for Today / Nürnberg und seine Lehre (1948), another film thought lost but restored decades later by the director’s family.

The film was reportedly part of the U.S. Government’s denazification plan and was screened to German audiences between 1948-1949, but never in the U.S., possibly due to its graphic content which includes concentration camp footage that remained unseen to American audiences, until Stanley Kramer and Abby Mann’s Judgment at Nuremberg (1961) used footage to ram home the culpability of Nazi officials and present a dramatic version of the trials that sought to bring murderers to justice, and put on commercial record the regime’s mass extermination program.

After 5 hours of WWII history, I need slight break from Totalitarian Cinema, so I’m venturing to something wholly different – Bobby Roth’s Heartbreakers (1984), a film no one’s probably heard of, but one that used to play on TV quite a bit.

Starring Peter Coyote and two CanCon stalwarts, Nick Mancuso (Death Ship) and Carole Laure (Sweet Movie), the drama / love triangle also features a score by Tangerine Dream. The film was originally released theatrically by Orion, and my copy’s on Betamax, courtesy of long-dead Vestron Video. Expect a review in the coming days.

The videotape should play fine. Hope it does, given this small film is available nowhere, like the CanCon classic Maria Chapdelaine (1983) which also starred Mancuso and Laure, and like many of my country’s films, no one cares to release domestically.

For all the lauding given to Norman Jewison, Atom Egoyan, Deepa Mehta, Paul Gross, and David Cronenberg, there’s a lot of Canadian cinema that languishes as old TV broadcast masters than proper HD transfers. I’ll do my share of scolding in an upcoming post tied to a review of The Mask (1961), Canada’s first horror and 3D film released by KINO, with some interesting multimedia extras.



Mark R. Hasan, Editor

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