FASCINATING FASCISMby Susan Sontag, in the New York Review of Books, Feb. 6, 1975
NOTE: This article by Susan Sontag, which deals with The Last of Nuba, the book of 126 photographs taken by Leni Riefenstahl and published recently, makes a compelling case for the inseparable relationship between art and politics, or more accurately, aesthetics and ideology. This article is represented here in a heavily edited form, skipping her counter arguments on the biographic information given in the book and deleting her review on an unrelated book.
...The jacket copy of The Last of the Nuba summarizes faithfully the main line of the self-vindication which Riefenstahl fabricated in 1950s and which is most fully spelled out in the interview she gave to the prestigious French magazine, Cahiers du Cinema in September, 1965. There she denied that any of her work was propaganda, insisting it was cinema verite. "Not a single scene is staged, " Riefenstahl says of Triumph of the Will. "Everything is genuine. And there is no tendentious commentary for the simple reasonthat there is no commentary at all. It is history - pure history.
Although Triumph of the Will has no narrative voice it does open with a written text that heralds the rally as the redemptive culmination of German history. But this opening commentary is the least original of the ways in which the film is tendentious. Triumph of the Will represents an already achieved and radical transformation of reality: history become theater. In her book published in 1935, Riefenstahl had told the truth. The Nuremberg Rally "was planned not only as a spectator mass meeting - but as a spectacular propaganda film....The ceremonnies and precise plans of the parades, marches, processions, the architecture of the halls and and stadium were designed for the convenience of the cameras." How the Party convention was staged was determined by the decision to produce Triumph of the Will.
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