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The Wonderful, Horrible Life of Leni Riefenstahl (1993)

Cast: Leni Riefenstahl, Leni Riefenstahl, Ray Muller, more...
Director: Ray Muller, Ray Muller
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Rating: Not Rated
Studio: Kino
Genre: Documentary, Foreign, Biographies, Military, UK
Running Time: 188 min.
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In the 1930s, Leni Riefenstahl was arguably the most important and accomplished female filmmaker of her generation; however, since her primary sponsor was Adolf Hitler, and her best-known work was a hagiographic documentary on the 1934 Nazi Party congress entitled Triumph of the Will, a long and unending debate has raged whether Riefenstahl was a fascist propagandist or a talented artist whose crime was merely doing a job too well. Macht der Bilder: Leni Riefenstahl is an exhaustive two-part look at Riefenstahl's life and work, exploring her early careers as a dancer and actress, reconstructing the making of Triumph of the Will and Olympia (an elaborate and visually striking record of the 1936 Berlin Olympic Games), and her later success as a still photographer, cultural anthropologist, and underwater filmmaker. While the film was made with Riefenstahl's participation, director Ray Muller does not shrink from exploring both sides of the issues of her work with the Nazi regime (she claims to have never been a member of the party and to have been unaware of the genocide of Jews and other "undesirables," while Muller presents evidence that strongly suggests the contrary) even as it celebrates her accomplishments and fierce determination (as a girl she could climb mountains in her bare feet, and in her nineties she was still an avid scuba diver). Macht der Bilder: Leni Riefenstahl was released in the United States under the title The Wonderful, Horrible Life of Leni Riefenstahl. ~ Mark Deming, All Movie Guide

GreenCine Member Reviews

Worth watching by kamapuaa October 8, 2004 - 12:47 PM PDT
3 out of 3 members found this review helpful
Amazing documentary - Leni Reifenstahl was a cute young thing who through natural intelligence and overwhelming commitment made it first as a movie starlet, then as a documentary filmmaker with one of the strongest personal visions any filmmaker has ever had. Jarringly enough, these documentaries came to be seen as the ultimate artistic representation of Nazi ideals - something she has spent the rest of her life defending, but not apologizing for.

Just the basics of her life bring up many of the big questions in art and morality - how responsible is the artist for the results of their art? Does art influence or merely reflect society? How much does the documentary filmmaker shape their subject? How much responsibility is given to those who work within an system, when the system is evil but pervasive?

These questions are enhanced by the figure of Leni Riefenstahl, who at 90 remained a compelling interview subject. She is unapologetic, occasionally casting herself as a victim, willing to address the issues, and even make the shockingly un-PC statement. She's also caught in lies, exaggerations, and inconsistincies, and is both willing and able to bully or stonewall the filmmakers when it serves her purposes.

All in all this is a three hour plus documentary that would be fascinating at twice the length. Additionally, the movie makes a strong case that at least "Olympia" should be back in print.

Who was Leni Riefenstahl? by Misshaped April 6, 2004 - 7:59 PM PDT
3 out of 4 members found this review helpful
Did she make propaganda films? Can you be a filmaker, artist, etc. and divorce yourself from politics when you create art, commissioned by leaders of a nation? Are you (as an artist) responsible for what is done with your art after you have created it? Leni Riefenstahl states she was never a Nazi. She says she created documentaries ("Triumph of the Will" and "Olympia"), and not propaganda films. She denies there is fascist imagery in her films. Watching this movie will have you questioning all aspects of personal and artistic culpability.

GreenCine Member Rating

(Average 7.56)
110 Votes
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