THE WONDERFUL, HORRIBLE LIFE OF LENI RIEFENSTAHL
(Ray Mueller, Germany, 1993) 180 minutes
Director: Ray Muller
Producers: Jacques & Dimitri de Clerq
Photography: Walter A Franke,
Michel Baudour, Jurgen Martin,
Ulrich Janchen, Horst Kettner
Editors: Beate Koster, Stefan Mothers,
Music: Ulrich Bassenge, Wolfgang Neumann
Historical Advisors: Kevin Brownlow,
Dr David Culbert, Dr Martin Loiperdinger
Dr Arnold Fanck
Reviews and notes
Leni Riefenstahl, whom Pauline Kael once called "one of the dozen or so creative geniuses who have ever worked in the film medium", directed two undeniably brilliant movies, both of them tainted by the circumstances of their making: Triumph of the Will (1935), which records the 1934 Nazi Party Congress at Nuremberg, was commissioned by Hitler himself; Olympia (1938), a two-part documentary about the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, was officially commissioned by the International Olympic Committee but was largely - and lavishly - funded by the Third Reich's treasury.
The filmmaker has always insisted that her movies were never meant to advance the political program of National Socialism - that she looked at the world with the pure, disinterested eye of an artist, and cared only about the noble task of giving vivid cinematic form to contemporary events.
She's now ninety-one years old, and in full command of her faculties. And, in The Wonderful, Horrible Life she holds up impressively under the on-camera interrogation of the film's director, Ray Muller: she sticks to her story. If you believe her she's one kind of monster; if you don't she's another. The juxtaposition of her grotesque apologia with clips from her grandiose, strikingly composed films makes for a bizarre and sobering spectacle.
- Terence Rafferty, New Yorker, 28/3/94
Leni Riefenstahl died on September 8, 2003 at the age of 101.
Weblink: Roger Ebert review
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