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Topics in Film - Film in the Third Reich: The Power of Images and Illusions

September 23 (Monday) 9 pm
September 24 (Tuesday) 9 pm

Triumph of the Will (Triumph des Willens)

Directed by Leni Riefenstahl
Germany 1936, 16mm, b/w, 120 min.
German with English subtitles

Approved by Hitler as the official film record of the sixth Nazi-party Congress, held in 1934 at Nuremberg, this infamous film provides a case study of cinema as a means of propaganda that, nonetheless, preserves its integrity as an art form. Defending her role in making this film, the director stated that she “faithfully photographed what existed in reality.” Yet Riefenstahl’s camera reinforces the psychological contours of an autocratic society.

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September 24 (Tuesday) 7 pm

The Blue Light (Das blaue Licht)

Directed by Leni Riefenstahl
Germany 1932, 16mm, b/w, 80 min.
With Leni Riefenstahl, Guiseppe Becce

After appearing in several films of the “mountain” genre produced during the Weimar era by then popular director Arnold Fanck, Riefenstahl directed her first feature in a similar romantic and pictorialist manner. Shot on location in the Alps, the film emphasizes a Germanic mystical union with nature, a vision which so impressed Hitler that he offered Riefenstahl the opportunity to make films for the Nazi party.

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September 30 (Monday) 9 pm
October 1 (Tuesday) 7 pm

Olympia, Part I

Directed by Leni Riefenstahl
Germany 1938, 35mm, b/w, 118 min.

Commissioned by Hitler, Leni Riefenstahl’s film of the 1936 Berlin Olympics remains nearly as controversial as her earlier Triumph of the Will. Some characterize the film as a tainted paean to Nazism and Aryan perfection, citing the beaming Fuhrer’s many on-camera appearances. Others see Riefenstahl as subverting Hitler’s racist credo by means of her splendid footage of black American runner Jesse Owens, and they defend her obsessive aesthetic commitment to beauty as bearing no relation to Nazi views on race, creed, and religion. Despite these opposing opinions, there is little argument that the most mesmerizing footage ever made of athletes in action abounds in Olympia.

October 1 (Tuesday) 9 pm

Olympia, Part II

Directed by Leni Riefenstahl
Germany 1938, 35mm, b/w, 107 min.

Part 2 of Olympia continues the focus on the international competition at the summer Olympic games of 1936, held in Berlin. It contains the celebrated diving sequence, in which Riefenstahl’s editing and slow-motion cinematography transform the men’s competition into an ode to flight.

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October 7 (Monday) 9 pm

The Wonderful Horrible Life of Leni Riefenstahl (Die Macht der Bilder)

Directed by Ray Müller
Germany/US 1993, 35mm, b/w and color, 181 min.
With Leni Riefenstahl
German and English with English subtitles

This award-winning documentary is a biographical account of the woman best known as Hitler’s official filmmaker and more recently as the controversial photographer of the Nuba tribe of East Africa. Confronted with Ray Müller’s questions about her career, Riefenstahl delivers an emotional defense of her relationship with Hitler and other Nazi leaders, splitting hairs over minute details. Analyzing many sequences from her films in a manner that is both passionate and sophisticated, she attempts to vindicate her infamous past.

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October 14 (Monday) 9 pm
October 15 (Tuesday) 9 pm

The Architecture of Doom

Directed by Peter Cohen
Sweden 1989, 35mm, b/w and color, 119 min.

Peter Cohen’s critically acclaimed documentary explores the inner workings of the Third Reich and illuminates Nazi aesthetics in the visual arts, architecture, and popular culture. Cohen argues that the difficulty in defining Nazism in traditional political terms is due to an overlooked but tremendously powerful motivation beyond the scope of politics: the force of an extreme aesthetics of beauty. Building on this Nazi cult of the beautiful, The Architecture of Doom explores the eccentric cultural ambitions of Hitler’s Third Reich.

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October 28 (Monday) 9 pm

The Emperor of California (Der Kaiser von Kalifornien)

Directed by Luis Trenker
Germany 1936, 35mm, b/w, 97 min.
With Marcella Albani, Elise Aulinger 
German with English subtitles

The Emperor of California was originally to have been a Hollywood project for Sergei Eisenstein. Instead, the film was given to German actor-director Luis Trenker, who scripted a political allegory about a European revolutionary who flees to America in 1834, where he becomes the leader of an immigrant community and later gains power as a U.S. senator and army general before he is finally brought down. Winner of the Best Film award at Venice in 1936, the film was banned by both the Americans and Russians after World War II as a result of Trenker’s work for the Third Reich.

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