Triumph Of The Will / Olympia

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Listen, don't mention the war. Chris Morley mentioned it once, but I think he got away with it.


Much has been written on the role of the 1936 Olympics & its place in the public perception of Nazi Germany, & indeed Leni Riefenstahl's documentary Olympia, released two years after the event, can be seen as a sporting representation of its ideals.



Viewed as a double bill with 1935's Triumph Of The Will, also a Riefenstahl production, what emerges is a propaganda blitzkreig in full flow, helped along by a bombastic Hitler-approved soundtrack....



Unsurprisingly the Fuhrer's favourite, Wagner features heavily, alongside additional music by Herbert Windt - a frequent collaborator with Leni who would later also score Olympia alongside Walter Gronostay. Keen film students will likely know a little more of her, but what of him? He had joined the NSDAP (National Socialist German Workers Party) in 1931, & within a year a grant from the Weimar government enabled his opera Andromache to go ahead. A producer from UFA was in the audience, leading to a commission to write the score for Red Morning, a 1933 tale of a First World War U-boat crew. But as the essay I Compose The Party Rally reveals,
"At first glance, his compositions stand in the foreground of Triumph of the Will; however, they account for no more than a fifth of the total music in the film. In fact, the great majority of music consists of marches and (battle) songs, which may have been too “obvious” as to demand the attention of musicologists."
The director herself had a strong view of the position of music within her works.
“Is the image strong? The sound may stay in the background. Is it the sound that is strong? Then the image must be secondary.”
Her early ballet ambitions probably also helped her appreciation of the role of sound once she moved into film-making. And in making Olympia she was able to document the first outings for several elements of the modern day Olympics, including the torch relay as devised by Dr Carl Diem, a top sporting administrator of the Third Reich.


In its own history of the relay, BBC News put it in context.
"The organiser of the 1936 Olympics, Carl Diem, wanted an event linking the modern Olympics to the ancient. The idea chimed perfectly with the Nazi belief that classical Greece was an Aryan forerunner of the modern German Reich. And the event blended perfectly the perversion of history with publicity for contemporary German power."
Masterminded by Minister for Propaganda Joseph Goebbels. The Guardian's film section can offer more perspective,
"Olympia is such a striking piece of Nazi pageantry that it is easy to forget Adolf Hitler had not wanted to host the Olympics. Berlin was awarded the 1936 Games in the days of the Weimar Republic. Two years later, in 1933, Hitler came to power. Olympian ideals of peaceful competition and internationalism repulsed the Nazis – as did the prospect of Jewish, Slav or black athletes competing against whites."

And there's a chilling side to the images of sporting prowess!
"Though these sporting images might in themselves have been neutral, their compilation in Riefenstahl's Olympia subtly underlined a tenet of all authoritarian regimes: that individuals must be turned into machines that act as required, but do not think. At no point do the sportsmen and women in Olympia speak."
Riefenstahl would claim that the Reich had no influence on the finished film. Which is blatantly untrue!

How is to be viewed from a sporting viewpoint? The Sport Journal can answer that.
"On the surface, the film appears to be a very well made sports film, depicting outstanding athletic accomplishments by many individuals and teams from throughout the world."
But even then a political undercurrent is obvious. And a key component of that is inherent in the music.
"“Olympia” was considered a documentary, but in fact it incorporated two components generally unknown in documentaries typifying that time: editing and sound. Riefenstahl’s skillful editing allowed the most exciting moments to be featured and produced smooth transition between the sports events.

In a most sophisticated manner, Riefenstahl also incorporated sound within the film, in the form of background music and narration. She worked tirelessly to synchronize music by distinguished film composer Herbert Windt with the moving images in the film.

In those days, to attach any sort of sound to a moving picture was always difficult and often impossible, but Riefenstahl accomplished it with a flawless precision that impressed audiences and critics in Germany and abroad."
Even her fascination with the bodies of the athletes was interpreted by some critics as an endorsement of fascism. But as a Telegraph obituary made clear,
"In truth her interest was born not of racist ends but of the delight she, as a former dancer, took in the human form."
And she had plenty of licence.
"Hitler gave Riefenstahl everything she needed for her production: finances, materials, manpower. Working with a massive production team, her budget of 1.5 million reichsmarks (rms) was later augmented by a further 300,000 rms. Backed by such resources, she could film with an omnipresent camera and then choose and edit from literally kilometres of film footage, all meticulously shot and edited to present fascism in the most positive light.

The opening shots of the film immediately make this clear: a painstakingly contrived prologue harks back to the glories of ancient Greece and corresponds entirely to Hitler’s own efforts to ascribe to National Socialism a long historical tradition based on a mythical past."

She was intended to feature in Indiana Jones And The Last Crusade, played by Suzanne Roquette in an appearance at a Nazi rally, though the scene was deleted. She would of course capture these rallies as part of Triumph Of The Will, judiciously using military music to enhance their supposed power. Helped along by party anthem the Horst Wessel Song...


The flag on high! The ranks tightly closed!
The SA marches with quiet, steady step.
Comrades shot by the Red Front and reactionaries
March in spirit within our ranks.
Comrades shot by the Red Front and reactionaries
March in spirit within our ranks.

Clear the streets for the brown battalions,
Clear the streets for the storm division!
Millions are looking upon the swastikafull of hope,
The day of freedom and of bread dawns!
Millions are looking upon the swastika full of hope,
The day of freedom and of bread dawns!

For the last time, the call to arms is sounded!
For the fight, we all stand prepared!
Already Hitler's banners fly over all streets.
The time of bondage will last but a little while now!
Already Hitler's banners fly over all streets.
The time of bondage will last but a little while now.

The flag on high! The ranks tightly closed!
The SA march with quiet, steady step.
Comrades shot by the Red Front and reactionaries,
March in spirit within our ranks.
Comrades shot by the Red Front and reactionaries,
March in spirit within our ranks.
A little eerie, no?

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