“It is our will that this state shall endure for a thousand years.”
I figured that I’ve been knocking out a lot of simple titles lately, films that I know I’ll enjoy, so I decided it was time to check out one of the more difficult titles to sit through. This came in the form of two hours of Nazi propaganda: Triumph of the Will. The question I’m facing here is how does one review a piece of propaganda, even one as well-crafted as this? Most analyses for this film have acknowledged that the Nazi party certainly wasn’t a bunch of swell people and then moved on to praise the film as a cinematic work, so here I’ll do the same. Let it be known that the Nazis were not cool, and on a personal level, I have some real qualms about the shenanigans they got themselves into. However, Triumph of the Will is one of the most influential and stunning pieces of film to come from the early 20th century, and many of its original cinematic techniques are still implemented today because of its greatness.
There is this energy pulsing through Triumph of the Will in a way that films had yet to really capture before this time. Perhaps it was the way Leni Riefenstahl chose to organize the scenes. You get some patriotic shots of Germany with booming music at the beginning. Then you see the crowd, a massive wave of German patriots that stand powerfully in rows like a human work of art. You see the swastikas, the flags, the stern looks on these peoples’ faces as they support their country. Riefenstahl is able to capture what brought Hitler to power in the first place: people felt like they were a part of something. The Weimar Republic was a mess. Everyone were starving. Then this moustached guy comes along and tells the lowliest worker they can be an integral part of the greatest country on Earth. This is where the speakers come in. Riefenstahl shows excerpts from high ranking Nazi officials: Goebbels, Hess, Himmler, and other well known leaders talking about purpose while glorifying the workers and the party. Then you finally see the man himself: Adolf Hitler makes his way onto the stage. His presence dominates the screen as his commanding voice wins over the audience. The film builds into a structural crescendo which really would have resonated with German audiences. Every speaker is dramatic, demanding your attention, and every scene just seems more significant than the last. It’s textbook propaganda, and it was undoubtedly effective.
While I have high praise for Triumph of the Will, I don’t want you to get the idea that I enjoyed it or that you should consider watching it for yourself. Not only are the Nazis some really uncool people, but the movie isn’t the easiest to sit through. If you were a German patriot in 1935, particularly one who hadn’t been able to attend such massive rallies and get a first-hand look at the “glory” of the party, I’m sure this film would have been very inspiring. For a 2016 audience in America, however, it feels boring and repetitive. Those more interested in the history and structure of the Nazi party will continue to find interesting tidbits, but I would never want to watch this thing again. There are timeless lessons to be learned from the Nazi party, and it’s a period that should certainly continue to be studied, but much of this film is for a different place and time. Propaganda is geared for a specific audience, and it’s not the easiest watch if you don’t belong to that demographic. The cinematic techniques are groundbreaking, but it’s nothing you haven’t seen by now. This is a movie that should but studied but not enjoyed.
So what are these cinematic techniques? Aerial photography is a big one. Liefenstahl is able to create a glorified, picturesque but powerful Germany through aerial shots. She allows the audience to look down on wonderful landscapes and admire the Nazi party as if it’s some unattainable, perfect dream land. It’s certainly a cool technique that has been copied many times for the glamorous images it produces. I mentioned music already, and this is another key element that gives Triumph of the Will its energy. Everything about this film is loud and glorious. Liefenstahl creates an image of the Nazi party that puts them in a godlike status, and this is accomplished through the choice of powerful music. It portrays the Nazi regime in such a bold way in which Liefenstahl is able to suggest that this is something that would be an honor to be a part of it.
If you’ve got two hours to spare, don’t watch this movie. Go outside or eat a salad or something. You have to acknowledge Triumph of the Will for its innovative approach to propaganda and the widespread success it achieved in Nazi Germany, but if you are a huge fan of this movie, you’re probably not someone I want to associate myself with. It’s an interesting watch, but not something I hope to see again.
Films Left to Watch: 935