“That Leni Riefenstahl was rather a monster is not really in dispute. And if it ever was, two new biographies provide enough information to nail her.” Thus starts a review of two new Riefenstahl biographies by Ian Buruma. As a true bonus, The New York Review of Books has also made available Susan Sontag’s famous 1975 review of Riefenstahl’s ‘The Last of the Nuba’; a fascinating read, despite, given some new revelations, some minor inaccuracies concerning some of the fact - back in 1975, Riefenstahl was still alive and quite actively working on distorting the facts.
Having just read one of the books reviewed by Ian Buruma (Leni Riefenstahl: A Life), I don’t think there is much left to be said about Leni Riefenstahl, her legacy and especially her movies. I do think, however, that there is a lot to be gained from thinking about why people are still so fascinated by her propaganda movies and imagery. As maybe one extreme take Brian Ferry saying “The way in which the Nazis stage-managed and presented themselves…! I’m talking about Leni Riefenstahl films and Albert Speer’s buildings and the mass rallies and the flags - simply fantastic. Really lovely”. Or maybe another one, given its most recent anniversary, it is quite important to note that one of the many movies George Lucas borrowed from is “Triumph of the Will”, for the final scene of “Star Wars”. Or, as the author of Leni Riefenstahl: A Life points out, many of the photos in Annie Leibowitz’s “Olympic Portraits” could be taken straight out of Leni Riefenstahl’s “Olympia”. Shouldn’t we be a bit concerned about this?