Leni Riefenstahl Biography
For Alfred Riefenstahl, the owner of a secure and successful heating and ventilation firm based in Berlin, and his wife Bertha Scherlach, August 22, 1902 was the date of the proud birth of their first child that they named Helene Bertha Amalie (aka Leni) Riefenstahl. Little did either of the young parents realize that their new child would ultimately prove to be one of the most controversial and influential females in an artistic field that, at the time, was still very much in its youthful development.
Alfred was said to have wanted his first child to be a son so that he could carry on the firm that had provided a secure amount of wealth to the Riefenstahl family. However, as the young girl Leni grew into young adulthood, she felt her passions grow in the artistic direction that had been a staple of her mothers life. At the age of 4, Leni began to write poetry and paint. Along with this, Leni felt that from a very early age she was an athletic child, due to the behest of her father. At age twelve, she recalled joining a local gymnastics and swim club called "Nixe". It was her mother that noticed that Leni had quite the artistic bent. She perceived that Leni had the ability to paint with a natural understanding of composition and balance, which were two of the profound qualities in the later films of Leni Riefenstahl.
Then, like one of those signpost moments that define Riefenstahls life and career, she visited the theatre for a presentation of the ballet "Snow White". From that moment on, and without question, she knew that she was to become a dancer. Along with the theatre, her hobbies as a child were to read Fairy Tales out of childrens magazines. One could see the profound effect of her hobbies in her later works, such as Das Blaue Licht. Still, Lenis father wished that she would take up the business or another suitable profession. Luckily for Leni, just three years after her birth the family got a baby boy they named Heinz, who later went on to die on the battlefields in World War II. Alfred did very little in the way to support his daughters natural talent, leaving the mother to nurture the childs interest in the arts. Instead, his intentions were to provide Leni with an education that would lead her into a profession that he considered respectable, and not the arts. Frau Riefenstahl, without the knowing of her husband and going against his expressed wishes, took Leni to the ballet more and more as her passions grew for dancing. By 1910, the now 16-year-old Leni became insatiably fond of the art of the dance she decided to try her hand by enrolling into a small dance program in Berlin called the Grimm-Reiter School. As her training continued, the family found it most difficult to keep this passion a secret from Alfred, who when he found out became outraged at the idea of Leni becoming a dancer. Leni recalled that he even went so far as to consider divorcing because of the secret his family kept from him. He believed so little of Leni and her talents that he opted for her to enter into Berlins most prestigious ballet school. His logic was that by entering her into the highly prestigious school, she would come to the realization that she had a lack of talent and would therefore be required to be forced out and to ultimately bend to the will of her father. However, upon entering into the Russian Ballet School in Berlin it became quite apparent that Alfreds plans had crumbled when Lenis teacher, Hertha, who instructed at the Jutta Klammt School, had taken note of Lenis unique character and style of dance.
Dancehalls throughout Europe, at this time before the war, were being filled with a variety of new dance styles that reflected the growing esteem for movements such as modernism and futurism. One could see the wide ranges of styles from the precision and tradition of the Bolschoi to the newfound and highly experimental "naturalism" style of dance. Riefenstahl found that through the later style of dance that she was more inclined to artistically express herself. It was a different style then had been seen before and Leni often felt like the outsider. "I was always different from the others. I designed my own costumes, choreographed my own performances", she explained. However, she quickly realized that she was not alone in her ambition to create and follow a new school of dance. Others, such as Isadora Duncan, Mary Wigman, or Rudolf von Laban, had the same reaction and created a dance that followed the bodys natural tendency to move with grace. Wigman took it upon herself to open a new school that rejected the ideals of the "artificial" style of dance and soon Riefenstahl was under her tutelage.
Although her career as a dancer took her all throughout the stages of Europe, she soon saw her dreams blighted when she repeatedly found herself susceptible to feet injuries. Leni recalls at least three times she suffered injuries that sidetracked her dance career. It took her toll enough to warrant a knee surgery that would surely slow her career, yet it had to be done if she had wished to continue her dancing. However, while waiting in the U-Bahn station on a June day in town heading towards a family doctor, she paused enough to gaze upon a poster. What she saw in the station that day ultimately proved to be the major turning point in the life of Leni Riefenstahl. On that poster was the image of a frozen mountaintop with a male figure making his way up to the peak. The title of the poster rang out "Der Berg des Schichsals: Ein Film von Dr. Arnold Fanck". In a daze of wonder, she had not only missed her train and subsequent appointment but in that moment, she realized a new future for herself. In a matter of minutes, she had then found herself in the cinema across the square waiting for the picture to begin. For the next week, Leni found herself attending as many of the showings of the film at Mozart Hall as possible.
The images of Der Berg des Schichsals, with its sense of "real people in real danger", intrigued Leni to such a degree that she quickly began to venture out into the Dolomites with her brother to see the locations herself. On one of the trips up to the mountains, she was able to meet Luis Trenker, who was the leading man of the Fanck film that was having a showing at a local hotel. Meanwhile, back in Berlin, Lenis close friend, Günther Rahn, was able to arrange a café meeting with Dr. Fanck, who was in town dealing with UFA on a film. In the meeting, Leni, with her passion for the "Mountain Genre" of film that Fanck was the creative force behind, was able to charm Dr. Fanck into allowing her to submit her portfolio with a pending suggestion of a possible role in his still yet undecided film. That very night, the pain of her knee forced her to go into the hospital for immediate surgery. Just three days later, Dr. Fanck made a surprise visit to recovering Leni and produced for her a script with the special dedication to her: Written for the dancer Leni Riefenstahl. The script was for Fancks next feature film, Der Heilige Berg.
While her professional life was blossoming with newfound paths, her personal life during this period took a drastic turn for the worst as she found out that her fiancé, Otto Froizheim, whod she been dating for some time, had been found to be carrying on an affair. She told him that the wedding was off, however, he kept sending her flowers and letters pleading for a pardon. Then, as pre-production for her first film took place she found herself the attention of both Trenker and Fanck on the set of Der Heilige Berg, which produced an odd tension for the production of the film. Also, while working on the project, Leni got the chance to follow the complete process of narrative films by watching and partaking in the films post-production. She says that, "Fanck taught me how to edit a film, a job that enthralled me"(55). Later, the film would premiere and go onto greater box-office returns, thus making Leni a marketable actress in her own right. However, what lingered for her was the choice that needed to be made: should she return to her successful dance career or proceed into filmmaking? In the end, with to much time lost and pain suffered, she closed her dreams of a dance career and settled on filmmaking.
With the success of her first film, she was able to become more involved in her next roles. Dr. Fanck allowed her to go into the Dolomites to train with a climber, to whom shed quickly grown fond of. The trips were in order to improve on her skills, as they now became increasingly more important in the scripts, which demanded a female lead able to carry out dangerous climbs. For her next film, Die Weisse Hölle vom Piz Palü, Leni was able to work under the direction of Dr. Fanck, who directed the nature scenes and actions shots, and also G.W. Pabst, who directed the more emotional scenes. Leni was also able to secure the talents of one of Germanys most famous stunt pilot Ernst Udet, who would provide the film with a new flare for the dramatic.
The shooting conditions for Die Weisse Hölle vom Piz Palü took a tremendous toll on the actors, in particular Leni. Each day began with the actors and crew hiking up into the steep walls of ice and rock just to get to the location of that days shot. Most days the shoots were in weather that was sub-zero with gusts of wind and snow. The actors also found themselves taking huge risks in order to get the most perfect action shot that Dr. Fanck wanted. As shooting continued, Leni found herself taking more of an interest into the process of how a film was made. She noted that it was "Pabst, and not Fanck, who first realized [she] had a talent for direction"(69). When the brutal shooting stopped, Leni came back to Berlin and waited for her next project to come around. Shed hoped it to be something more then just an action film because she knew that from working with Pabst, and his more emotional scenes in the film, that she could carry herself as a true actress. Yet her next project was something she did not expect. Harry Sokal, the producer of the Fanck films and one-time admirer of Leni, gave her the opportunity to try her hand at editing. As the case was, Dr. Fanck had edited the film but it still ran far to long for distribution into the markets of France, England, and the U.S. He approached Leni with the offer of 300 marks and all expenses if she would go to Paris and re-edited the footage for worldwide release. She declined at first, in order to hold out for more money, but soon caved in just for the chance to go to Paris. When she finished the final edit of the film, she had successfully trimmed the film down to feature length and also discovered that she had quite a talent for the process. After studying Fanck and his process of editing and tricks of the trade, she soon found it quite easy and enjoyable to splice film together, which would later prove to become her biggest role as director of her own films.
The film made its premiere in November of 1929 at Berlins UFA Palace by the Zoo. It was a wild success for Fanck, who had fought the critics for years with his previous films. The film also enjoyed a health success in both France and the U.S, where it grossed large numbers and quickly made Fanck a fortune. Still, Fanck was driven to create more challenging films, as could be seen in his next film Stürme über dem Mont Blanc. Fanck, for this film, wished it to be a talkie that would provide sound on the strip of celluloid. This was clearly a tall order, as sound in film was still quite inadequate for the style and genre of Fancks films. So Fanck relented and shot the film as a silent. Again, the shooting was very difficult and Leni became more annoyed with the films she was involved it. After the shoot, she came back to Berlin and rethought her career.
During this brief period between breaks in shooting with Fanck, she began to let her imagination run free. She had also begun to remember her dreams more clearly then before. She noted that it was from this came the basis of her first ideas for a film. What she saw was an "image of a young girl who lived in the mountains, a creature of nature. [She] saw her climbing, saw her in the moonlight; I watched her being chased and pelted with stones, and finally [she] dreamed of this girl as she fell away from a wall of rock and slowly plunged into the depths"(89). Quickly, a 17-page treatment was written up and handed around to the various creative minds that she knew. Each gave her a vote of support but offered no hope for the project to get off the ground. What she couldnt get across in the script was an image that she had conjured in her head of a world unlike that of Fanck, which was real and dangerous, but a quite and simple world, like a fairy-tale. She summoned the help of one of the best screenwriters in town, Béla Balázs, to help her craft the perfect script to her treatment. Yet, the people with experience, like Fanck, told her that her notions of this fairy-tale world would create a gigantic budget. She knew that they were right in this regard. With a smaller budget in mind, she gathered up the best crew she could get for as little money as possible. Still, she was short on the money to produce the film and she ended up working once more for Fanck on his film Weiße Rausch, in order or to support her own film.
While on the shoot, Balázs journeyed up into the mountains to help Leni out with the script. After the film was over, Leni finally had the money in order and also the script finished. Still, she needed a director and ended up forcing herself in the role because of the lack of funds. The crew she put together was mostly the crew from Fancks films, yet worked for next to nothing. Shed found her locations and sent her crew ahead to a tiny town in the north of Italy. What she had envisioned was a different approach to creating filmmaking in the realm of the fairy tale. Shed wanted a natural setting to a fairy-tale, which had not been done successfully. Yet, in order to have the ideal that she wished for, she needed to use light and film much more differently then what she had seen with Fanck. She wrote to AGFA, a world-leader in film stock, and asked them to produce a film stock that would create a hazy sense of color that tinted the picture more. Although this was a high request, AGFA agreed to produce the film stock. She soon put everything she had on the selling block, clothes, flat, pictures, and family jewels, and took up the reigns as director of her own first feature film.
After the first few cans of film had been sent back to Berlin, shed received a wire from Harry Sokal, who had wished to produce the film based on the outcome of what he saw in the rushes. Leni was beyond excited and was now able to focus more on the creation of art instead of the finances of the film. After the 10-week summer shoot, she had returned to Berlin to begin the editing process. She employed Fanck do the initial editing of the film but turmoil quickly erupted when his edits didnt please Leni. What she saw in the rushes was "more powerful" then what she had even imagined. Yet, she allowed Fanck to go ahead and complete the edits and breakup the most stunning images into fragments. The results were, in her eyes, disastrous, and relationship between Fanck and Riefenstahl became even more strained. From then on, she took the thousands of strips of film and began to re-edit the film with the ideal notion of what she had hoped it to be.
In Berlins UFA Palace on March 24, 1932, Leni saw the grand Premiere of her film, Das Blaue Licht. The press and their reviews of the Film were fabulous to both Leni and her film. She was completely taken by the response to the film. Letters from the world-famous poured in daily expressing their fondness for the film and Lenis talents. Shortly after the success of the premiere and the response of the press, Leni took her film on a tour of Germany. On that tour in 1932, she had begun to develop a stark realization of the deep depression and after-effects that the First World War had on Germany. It was also during this period that the National-socialist party had begun to gain political momentum with their leader, Adolf Hitler.
Riefenstahl first remembered hearing of the political name of Adolf Hitler around the filming of Das Blaue Licht. However, at this time, Hitler was a large political force in German politics. Riefenstahl attests to a naivety about the political world due to her rigorous and involving filmmaking during Hitlers political rise that his name had sadly no recognition for her. Yet, Hitler had noticed Leni and her work in Das Blaue Licht along with the earlier Fanck films and would later call on her and her talents for the Party. In late February of 1932, she attended one of his election speeches at the excited and overcrowded Berlin Sports Palace. Once again, like at the films, she was struck by the power of this moment that she had to make up her own mind and meet the speaker. She quickly wrote a letter to the Nazi paper "Völkischer Beobachter", in which she requested a meeting with Hitler before she had to leave Germany for a Fanck shoot in Greenland. What remains fact is blurred by the various stories and versions that are told of this first meeting between Hitler and Leni. The most valid story is that Hitler had offered to meet with Leni around May 22, just days before she was to board a ship for Greenland. Leni, again making one of her quick opportunistic choices, decided to quickly keep the meeting with Hitler and hopefully make it to the pre-production launch for Greenland. After the meeting with Hitler in Wilhelmshaven, Leni arrived at the dock for the production launch to Greenland late and without a conclusive excuse.
This next film for Fanck was something unusual because it was under the U.S. production of Universal; and it involved the travel to Greenland, which Leni found irresistible. Still, the team remained tight: Fanck, Riefenstahl, and ace flyer Udet, once again provided outstanding aerial shots. It was rare occurrence that anyone, including the Dutch, would be allowed into Greenland because of the health and sociological effects that could possibly take place with the native Eskimos. The shoot for S.O.S Eisberg was entirely unlike the films Leni had done for Fanck previously. She was now one of nine other women on the shoot, not just the only one. They also had the luxury of having ample treatment courtesy of Universal. The landscape, although still quite harsh, was not what Leni had first perceived it to be. Leni found the land magical. For leisure she would often travel alone and experience all she could of Greenland. She valued her free time there, doing what she may, while she "glided through gates of ice, past glittering and towering icebergs, through shimmering grottoes, whose walls were reflected all the way down into the water green, pink, blue, and violet"(112). Still, the shoot was extremely dangerous, probably more-so then any other shoot, due to the setting, which was unpredictable, moveable, and powerful icebergs. Along with that, for this shoot, Fanck wanted to incorporate bears into the plot. Nevertheless, the shoot was going smoothly and once again, Leni found love while on the set. This time with a handsome Swiss man named Walter Prager, who worked as a trainer on the set. The affair developed out of friendship and "lasted for over two years"(133). Once the Greenland location shooting was complete, Leni traveled back to Berlin and again met with Hitler, who was awaiting her return. During this brief pause in the shooting, around November of 1932, Leni was introduced to key figures that would go onto play roles in the Third Reich, such as Dr. Goebbels, who was promoted to "Minister of Public Enlightenment and Propaganda" once Hitler came to power. His role in both Lenis personal life and profession life would be a thorn in her side. In anycase, the film was still incomplete and going overscheduled. Leni was called back to shoot the interior scenes at a Swiss local for SOS Eisburg. These massive sets, which were to depict a large ice-cave, were some of the finest ever built, for Fanck or any other film. Meanwhile, Hitler, who had been struggling to keep his party from folding under bankruptcy, had within mere weeks come directly into power as he took the chair of Chancellor for all of Germany.
Since then, a year had passed since the premiere of Das Blaue Licht, and Lenis world was completely unrecognizable from what it had been. In January, Leni, while still on location, had learned through local newspapers that Hitler had taken power, but not of the various university book burnings or anti-jew sentiments that had spread throughout Germany, due to the lack of newspaper coverage of such events. Financially, Riefenstahl no real money, only liquid money, which Harry Sokal had promised her as her part of the final take for the films international draws. After all, it was a success and she banked her future off the returns. Although, Sokal was a Jew and when Hitler came to power, Sokal fled to France and cut all ties with Germany, including Riefenstahl and her money. She was still content, focused, and worked arduously on what was to be her next project. It was to be an international style spy-thriller that could finally allow Leni the chance to showcase her talents as an actress. The film was a French and German production called Mademoiselle Docteur, with Fanck once again directing. Leni took up with Gerhard Menzel to produce a script and production was set for mid-September at UFA Babelsberg. Yet, her plans took a sinister turn for the unexpected in the last week of August 1933.
During that period, from Lenis return to Berlin in January till August, Dr Goebbels attention to Leni had become persistent and bothersome. Although Leni took care of her personal life (she had to continuously thwart off both personal and professional advancements from Goebbels), her professional career was being overlooked and or manipulated by these powerful figures. This all came to a head when Leni was invited to a luncheon at the Reich Chancellery. There, Leni was informed by Hitler that she was to be involved in the production of a documentary for the 1933 Party Rally at Nuremberg. However, this came as quite a shock to Leni, who herself knew nothing of the film or her involvement with it. She vehemently declined on all grounds, artistic or otherwise. Hitler played it off as a miscommunication with Goebbels, who was to directly inform Riefenstahl of the project. When Leni returned home from the meeting with Hitler, she had found that UFA had cancelled pre-production on Mademoiselle. She was devastated, angered, and depressed, by the fact she had all but lost complete artistic control and the lengths for which those people would go.
She had very little time in which to get to Nuremberg for the Party day shoot. Although she was angry, she took the job thinking Goebbels would have arranged everything for her and the project. When she arrived, nothing was in order. Goebbels did absolutely nothing to assist in the production of her film, as was his job, which soon became his M.O. Immediately she was on the phone with anyone able to help, just as in Das Blaue Licht. She involved Albert Speer, the Party architect, rookie cameraman Walter Frentz, Sepp Algeier, and even her brother Heinz. Again, AGFA supported her quickly with four thousand feet of film stock. She had completed all the pre-production, yet when the Rally began she realized quickly that this was a failed attempt. No passes, permits, or sanctions were given to her, therefor at anytime during the shoot the S.A. or S.S. would force her crew to stop production. When it came time to edit the film, she had no idea on how to arrange the film. There was no plot or rules so she had "to create visual rhythm and variety" with her editing to make a cogent film. Although what she felt she had created was worthless, the premiere of Sieg der Glaubens, on 1 December 1933, proved to be a success in the eyes of Reich leaders.
Riefenstahl felt her life was in ruins and a doctor prescribed her for Rest and Relaxation in the resort of Davos. In the meantime, she felt that in order not to produce more of the style of films that the Nazis had wished she would produced, she offered up Walter Ruttmann, a known communist yet well respected documentary filmmaker, to take control of any future filming for the Nazis. During her stay in Davos she had began to get involved in a film for Terra Films called Tiefland. This opportunity came at seemingly the perfect time because she had wished to begin projects other then for the Party. This film also granted her more of an artistic challenge then the earlier Fanck films because she was given most of the artistic and organizational control for the project. In June, She began to scout locations in Spain with her friend Günther Rahn and also hired top actor Heinrich George for the lead role of the film. Tragically, the production fell under as the crew and lights arrived days after the first day of scheduled shooting. She could no longer keep the respected actor George any longer on the set without filming. Leni was furious at the lack of orginzation and at once her health began to fail under the pressure. While in the hotel she had suffered a circulatory collapse that put her in the hospital for weeks. Terra, with news of the problems, backed out of the film and covered their losses, which meant that the film was completely scrapped. Leni could do nothing but return and set the project on the back-burner. Although she had wished to avoid the political-documentary style of filmmaking that the Party had wanted her to produced; she was soon back into a film deal once again for Hitler. This production was for the filming of the 1934 Reichstag rally that would become Triumph des Willens, which would ultimately her most controversial picture
Upon returning home in August of 1934, after the failure of Tiefland, she had gotten word that she was to be summoned by Hess to visit Hitler. She felt the intentions of this summons were not good for her. She had been told that Ruttmann was unsuitable and that Hitler demanded her as the filmmaker. She quickly reviewed some footage for the prologue that her suggested filmmaker Walter Ruttmann had shot and was entirely unpleased. Ruttmanns film, according to the September 12 German film journal Lichtbildbühne, was a Marxist "montage of various aspects of German history covering the twenty years preceding Hitlers ascent to power"(97). Leni then quickly made her way to the town of Nuremberg to keep the meeting with Hitler. She had tried to have Hitler release her from the filming, but was promised by Hitler complete artistic control for this film and future works, outside of Goebbels, if she would complete this film. She was distraught at the tactics but she reluctantly agreed to the filming, however under her own conditions. She had asked that the production of the film would be put under her company (Leni Riefenstahl Studio Film) and not by the Ministry of Propaganda. She was allowed two weeks of pre-production for the rally was to begin. During the pre-production, she worked tirelessly day and night to find the cameramen, such as Walter Frentz, and her cinematographer Sepp Allgeier, along with others to make 18 total cameramen for the entire shoot. She collected a crew of 172 persons.
The Nuremberg Reichstag Party Rally, which took place in September 4-10, 1934, was to be "the official document, occurred at a momentous time in the history of the Nazi movement"(32). Her approach to the shooting of the film was purely based on experimentally techniques that she felt would give a more aesthetic and dynamic look to an otherwise static film. Leni used various stylistic tricks to produce a film that would be at least interesting to watch. She had around 40,000 yards of film stock at her disposal. She also cloaked her cameramen in S.A. uniforms so they could acquire shots without looking out of place. To achieve shots that would have otherwise been unattainable she used dollies and tracks, which provided active movement for her shots and a huge elevator platform in order to capture the grandeur and magnitude of the event. Most of these ideas came at a spur of the moment, which attested to the fact that Leni had to create the film without the help of a script:
I didnt write a single page of text for either Triumph of the Will or Olympia. The moment I had a clear picture of the film in my head, the film was born. The structure of the whole imposed itself. It was purely intuitive. Starting from that idea, I sent the technical crew out on different tasks, but the true establishment of the form began with the editing (34).
Lenis chief role while at the Rally was as coordinator to the crew and cameramen. In fact, the directorialship of the film could be considered that of the 18 cameramen who where given free control by Leni to shoot what they felt was an important event. Lenis role as editor of the film was her most challenging work with this project. She noted that once underway with the editing that she had begun working 12, 14, and then 16 plus hours per day, while splicing the over 61 hours of film on a small Lytax editing station, which covered every imaginable angle of the event. She told the B.B.C in 1972, the editing process for this film was "the most difficult work of [her] life"(101). While editing, she had a slight run-in with General von Reichenau, who had wanted a preview of the rushes to the Wehrmacht military exercises that he had wished were to be included in the film. Leni had to tell him that the footage was completely useless due to weather conditions on the day of the shoot. Enraged, General von Reichenau spoke to Hitler and convinced him to force Leni to add more to the film or to create a small supplementary addition to Triumph of the Will that showed the Wehrmacht event. Leni bended her demands for complete artistic control with the addition of a slice of the Wehrmacht in the 8th section of the Triumph of the Will. Still, Generals like Blomberg were not pleased and Hitler realized he needed the Germany Army on his side. Hitler relented and asked Leni instead to put the Army leaders in the film as background to the title of the film. Leni was shocked at the demand and declined. Her distressing reactions prompted a response from Hitler that struck fear into her. She sensed that fear and then said she would create another film for the following years Wehrmacht. The resulting 15-minute film, shot entirely in one day with a small crew, was Tag der Freiheit (Day of Freedom).
The only other difficultly Leni found with the editing process was in the sound of the film. The sound was harder to manage because her cameramen used various speeds of film from 18fps to 24fps (frames per second). Dubbing and syncing the film proved to be quite a task for Leni. She attests that absolutely none of the actual film was created in the studio, only sound effects and post-production work. However, this is a debatable topic because other accounts exist by Herr Speer that states even speeches were re-filmed due to technical errors during the filming. In his book Inside the Third Reich, Albert Speer stressed that Leni "thought the reconstructed scenes was better then the original"(100). She only attested to having some of the crowd sounds produced in the studio in order to make the film more presentable. Herbert Windt did the score to the film and it exhibited his flare for the Wagnerian tradition. At one point of the film, during the parade (scene 11), Leni herself conduced the score in order to have the tempo of the images align with the pace of the music.
On March 28, 1935, after over five months of intensive editing, the premiere of Triumph des Willens was at hand. Just hours before the film was to be premiered, Leni and her crew was still finish the prints back in the editing room going over the last details. Absolutely no one had seen the film before the showing, not even the German censorship board. Riefenstahl rushed to change into a white-fur coat and made her way into The Ufa-Palace for the premiere. Although she was quite nervous, those thoughts were quelled when a joyful response was produced in the theater. At the end of the film, Leni took several ovations for her film and it was said that even Hitler presented her with a bouquet of flowers for her work. On May 1, 1935, Goebbels awarded the National Film Prize to Riefenstahl for her film with the following accolade:
This film represents an exceptional achievement in the film production of the past year. It is closely relevant to us because it reflects the present: is describes in unprecedented scenes the gripping events of our political existence. It is a filmed grand vision of our Führer, who is shown here for the first time on the screen in the most impressive manner. The film has successfully overcome the danger of becoming a mere propaganda feature.
The five months of full-time editing had again exhausted Leni until she was literally unrecognizable. She went to Davos to recuperate her health. At the time, even Hitler had noticed how frail and ill she appeared. It was while in Davos, she had come to learn that her romantic relationship with Walter Prager had ended due to his affairs during her busy scheduling.
For her next project, Leni knew that she had wished to return to acting. She knew of a project, Penthesilea, that had been lurking on the backburner for years but felt at that time the she was not willing to commit to such a gigantic film project. Yet, in order to return to the screen she had to get back into shape and did so by doing track and field at the Grunewald athletic stadium. During this period, she came into contact with Professor Carl Diem, secretary general of the organization committee of the Eleventh Olympic Games, which were to take place just less then a year. He had seen her films and was particularly struck with her ability and therefor offered her the chance to make a film documenting the events of the Games. Although she had sworn never to do another documentary after her previous film, she found the idea most inciting because no such attempt at filming the games with any artistic or aesthetic merit had been done. Still she had her doubts about the project because she had no possible conception on how to create the film. She questioned Dr. Fanck on the issue of the project and he saw three possibilities.
It could be a full-length film aiming purely at aesthetic and artistic effects an impression of movements and elements of various sports. However, this approach would have no documentary value, since two hours wouldnt be enough to cover even the most important events. It would be the most useless solution. Another possibility might be six mammoth films. And the third solution, which [he] considered the most suitable would be proper reportage, with no artistic status, to be shown in cinemas within six days of the end of the games; at best this would provide above-average newsreels(170).
Riefenstahl felt just the same as Fanck and had almost backed out of signing; until she began to visualize a film that blended the ancient aesthetic with the modern games. After talking over her ideas with Otto Meyer, the chancellor of the International Olympic Committee, she felt confident that the project could go ahead and she signed. Plus they had offered her complete artistic control away from conforming to any ideology or political message. She approached UFA to produce, but they declined on the grounds that they didnt understand her concept of the film. It was certainly an unusual film for the time. The other major Production company in Berlin, Tobis, with its head Friedrich Mainz, was pleased to produce the film in conjunction with Leni Riefenstahl Productions under the joint name of Olympia Films. They agreed to cover within two films most of the important events of the summer games.
Before the production of the games began, Leni was offered an invitation to Italy to visit Mussolini. When she arrived, Mussolini praised her work on Triumph des Willens and offered her the opportunity to direct a political-docu-drama. She respectfully declined due to her long production with Olympia and left Italy with only a message of solidarity for Hitler from Mussolini. Upon returning, she had given the message to Hitler and then was questioned by various members of the party on the nature of her travel to Italy.
During the weeks of late January and February 1936, she and her crew of cameramen began to run tests on various types of stocks and brands to create the perfect image for each of the landscapes, close-ups, and action sequences. In May, they began to test out how to stylize the filming of the most diverse athletic events. Once again, she worked 16-hour days during the filming and carried on daily meetings with her cameramen trying to influence their cameras to portray the aesthetic of the games. During the pre-production period, Leni found out that Goebbels had allowed another crew to film the games in order to create a quicker "more newsreel style" film. In a meeting with Leni, Goebbels found it laughable that she would attempt to make such a film when he felt the publics attention of the games would only last just weeks after they had ended. Still, she worked hard with her crew coming up with new techniques to film the games: hot-air-balloons, airplanes, motorboats, underwater cameras (a first), soundproof cameras, and various tracks and dollies.
Although much of the pre-production red tape was bothersome, Leni found the most difficulties in trying to find suitable locations to place her cameras. Several terms and agreements on the locations were made and then quickly changed by the IOC. Even as the games were underway, the officials had a hard time allowing Leni access to the athletes. On one occasion during the hammer throw event she had positioned her cameras right around the athletes cage, but when one unknowing official discovered her cameraman the official pushed her camera out of the way. Leni, in a blind rage, pushed aside the Olympic judge and then exchanged a few choice words. Goebbels, once hearing of the event, almost ejected her off the premises for the remainder of the games. Yet composure was quickly restored as apologies were exchanged.
Meanwhile, she had hoped to use the various pits inside the stadium to shoot from, because it offered the best aesthetic value to any given event. She fought tirelessly with the IOC to gain access to the various field pits. For one, it was the only thing that would give her the ability to shoot the athletes with any sort of usable background. From inside the pits the cameras could be positioned low to produce a high-angle shoot, which avoided various distractions like poles, crowds, and allowed the athletes to be juxtaposed with the sky, which was her signature shot. Leni was granted six locations: "one pit each at the high jump, broad jump, and pole vault, one pit five yards away from the hundred-metre starting line, one at the side of the finishing line, and one next to the triple jump plus two towers at the center of the stadium, one tower behind the starting line of the hundred-metre track"(187). She had received a little of what she had wished for and then was quickly driven to Athens to begin the filming as the Olympic Torch was lit and run back to Berlin. While in Athens, she enlisted director Willy Zielke, who was most noted for his work Das Stahltier(1935) but would later enter a mental hospital, was placed in charge of the production and filming of the prologue. When she reviewed the work that Zielke shot in Athens, she felt it needed more of the classical aesthetic and so she shot and added segments of nude figures that were modeled after the classical Greek model.
On August 1, 1936, the 11th Olympic Games in Berlin began with a grand opening ceremony. Events of the day, for which Riefenstahl employed a sum of sixty photographers to capture, included: the entrance of the nations, the arrival of the torch bearer, the lighting of the fire, and Hitlers opening remarks, which was complemented with the release of hundreds of doves. Once again, the shooting was relatively straightforward until Goebbels became involved and put pressure on Leni to change her approach to shooting. Leni had wished to place her sound cameras near the rostrum, where most of the foreign diplomats were located, including Hitler and Goebbels. However, Goebbels felt that her location would prove to block the view so he verbally reprimanded her while in the company of the members of the rostrum. However, Riefenstahl didnt retreat because she had gained the Führers select permission and Goebbels complaints fell on deaf ears.
Once the prologue and opening ceremonies had been completed (nearly 1,900 feet of film stock), Leni spent the remainder of the games personally looking over select major events, such as track and field. Stars of track and field, like the famed Jesse Owens, were well documented in the filming as he took four gold metals and two world records at the games. During this period, she had become romantically involved with Glenn Morris, who was an American and decathlon gold medallist. Yet, the affair soon ended as he left Berlin directly after the games.
Shooting the events presented a challenge in its own right, but the massive amount of stock used needed to be reviewed before even the editing process could begin. The project took Leni eighteen months to select and edit her vision of Olympia; and in that time, Germanys political and social landscape had drastically grown worse. Events like the extension of the Enabling Act, the Rome-Berlin axis establishment, and various political and military ousting had taken place. Yet, Leni once again had literally barricaded herself in Geyers glass walled editing suites and in doing so avoided much of the developments occurring outside. This could attest to the ongoing political naivety she had, as she explained to Film Culture in 1973, the work was her world: "Really, if I start to work I forget food, I forget that I am a woman, I forget my dress, I only see my work. I forget because I am fascinated by my work". Over 300,000 meters of stock had been used to cover the events, yet only 20,000 could be considered for editing and then just 6,151 meters to complete the film. From the beginning the film had been envisioned as two films: The first film was titled Fest der Völker and the second Fest der Schönheit. Just a year after the opening ceremony, Leni had completed the editing of the first film. After a brief holiday, she had quickly wrapped the second and began scoring the work with the Berlin Symphony in January of 1938. The premiere was scheduled to occur in March of that year but had been pushed back by Tobis, who were by now under complete control by Goebbels and his office. The premiere of Olympia took place at the UFA Palast am Zoo on April 20, 1938, on Hitlers birthday.
The critical and public reaction to Olympia was deeply reactionary to the time of its release. Most critics of the day were not able to separate the political element of the times away from the spirit of the films, however some had favorable comments to give. Meanwhile, Leni found herself heavily involved in premiering the film various European cities: Paris, Oslo, Rome, Venice, etc. Along with the travel came the numerous awards for her film including: German National Prize issued by Goebbels, Grand Prize in Paris, Polar Prize in Sweden, and the Mussolini Cup (aka First Prize Venice Biennale.). However, her 1938 trip to America proved to be the most fiery attack, not only on her, but on the state of Germany. She was relentlessly questioned as to if she was Hitlers girlfriend or if she had information on the anti-Semitism taking place in German cities. Her journey took her across the states from New York City to Hollywood and although she had to deal with the assaults of Anti-Nazi protest, she was able to find favor with some celebrities such as Walt Disney. Yet, for the most part, Hollywoods reaction could be summed up with one of their headlines: "There is no place in Hollywood for Leni Riefenstahl".
After returned to Europe, Leni focused her attention on the development of Penthesilea, the film she had wished to create years previous. She started Leni Riefenstahl Films Inc. for the development this particular film. To prepare for the filming, in which Leni would play the role of an Amazon Queen, she required horseback training and also needed to prepare a script. She retreated to the island of Sylt with her mother, trainer, and her horse named Maerchen to begin work on her dream project. She got the famed director Jürgen Fehling to sign on the project as director of the acting scenes. Pre-production on the film had been flawless until everything fell apart when Leni received a call: War had been declared as Germany had swept into Poland.
In order to be of some use to the war effort Leni and her colleges had drafted a proposal to shoot newsreel footage from the combat front. Although Leni was hesitant at the idea she soon got word from the Wehrmacht that the project had been approved. She and her crew traveled directly up to the front lines in the small Polish town of Konskie where they were to meet General von Reichenau. In a brief meeting he told the crew to maintain a close distance to the Wehrmacht due to the movement of the lines. One night while Leni was in a tent and her crew in cars sleeping, bullets began to fly into their camp. The Germany army had captured several Polish solders and in a brief flurry of gunfire the attack was quickly quelled. When the Polish solders were brutally handled and shot by some lower ranking German solders Leni became angry and confronted the solders. The German solder nearly shot her on the spot. Key photos of the event would later haunt Lenis role in the affair and prove to be damaging in her later film career. She reported the incident to General von Reichenau and asked to be released from the frontline work. He regretfully agreed by promising her a court-martial against the solders involved.
When she returned to Berlin in spring of 1940, she read in Film-Kurier that Tobis was once again trying to begin a production of Tiefland, the film they had both abandoned just four years prior. Leni jumped at the opportunity only when she felt that Penthesileaﾕs budget would be unavailable to such a film during wartime Germany. They signed a deal for Leni to direct the film and she began work on the film that would not have its premiere proper until fifteen years later. She had in mind the locations from the original shoot in Spain and then bunkered herself in a snowy cottage in Kitzbühel to begin writing the script. The script wasnt a challenge with the assistance of Harald Rienl, a skier who helped her work out the dialogue of the script. Just six weeks later, the script was complete and she began to look for a cast and crew to bring the story to the screen. Leni knew specifically what she had in mind when she wanted to cast the character of Pedro. She found her actor on the ski-slopes of St. Anton and knew that that face, full of quirky and bashful expressions, was Pedro. However, Franz Eichberger was a non-professional and quite inept at taking direction. Still, Riefenstahl saw something in the screen test to warrant him as the lead. For the role of Martha, the Spanish dancer, it seemed to be the job Riefenstahl was exactly suited for. Yet, she had not wished to take on the dual roles of both director and actor due to the amount of undue stress it took on her but seeing no other option she found this to be the only way she envisioned the film. In order to cope with the stress she began to look for an additional director that would help her shoot the acting scenes for the film. Leni looked into various key directorial names such as Will Forst, Helmut Kaeutner, Viet Harlan, and even Fanck, but all were booked. Luckily, an old friend G.W. Pabst had returned to Berlin and Leni signed him onto the film as second director in charge of select acting scenes.
However, before any shooting could begin in Spain, Hitler had moved the war to the western front of Europe on May 10, 1940, which subsequently blocked Leni from further production. Then Goebbels had propositioned Pabst to create two films under his department, so Pabst left the Tiefland set to further pursue his career. She then got the help of Pabsts assistant and noted stage director, Mathias Wieman, who was hired quickly for the job. The Nazis Blitzkrieg provided victories that spread throughout east and west Europe. Within days they had conquered Holland, Belgium, and then France. Mussolini then declared Italy at war with France, which by then was a mute point. With the war moving westward, Leni and her crew were forced to return to Berlin to avoid conflicts during shooting. She had planned on moving the set to the familiar Dolomites, where she had made many of her earlier films.
Filming took place for three weeks in the Dolomites while her sets for the village where being constructed in Krün. The script had called for a wolf, but Lenis staff had no luck of finding a tamed wolf. By chance she had found one tamed wolf in Berlin but while during the shooting in the mountains the wolf died. Still, that was the least of her problems as the summer was quickly fading from the mountains; and Leni knew that they were not going to be able to finish the shooting that summer. This winter delay presented terrible scheduling difficulties, along with set storage problems and the overall cost of delay. A brutally expensive halt to production was made so they could resume shooting the following spring. During the break, Leni had to replace Minetti, who was to be a rider in the film, with another man able to ride. The man cast for the role, who was a first lieutenant in the mountain infantry, quickly fell for Leni. A romantic quickly blossomed after a rather rocky start, but then First Lieutenant Peter Jacob was called back to the war front. Leni was terribly miserable and became ill with colic, an infection of bladder.
She became so ill on the set that she returned to Berlin to seek medical help. Although she had suffered from this issue in the past, such as during her filming with Fanck, she was now not able to find an easy cure. Still, while Leni was ill, Waldi Traut, her executive producer, had got a studio in Babelsberg so they could resume shooting immediately. Leni struggled to finish even takes and she soon found herself at Josephinum, private clinic in Munich. Her condition grew worse as she stopped eating and lost weight so a friend suggested acupuncture as a cure. Leni was doubtful but tried it. After the first consolation Leni noticed how well the homeopathic therapy had helped take away the severe pain. After continual visits, she suffered no longer and was able to return to the set.
While sick, Leni got word that a soundstage been selected for her sets and Pabst had returned after he had completed his work with Goebbels ministry. Leni began to rehearse her scenes as the Spanish dancer with Harald Kreutzberg. Once on the set, she felt that Pabst direct was lacking as his "approach was a routine more consistent with run-of-the-mill commercial movies"(273). The tension this caused between Leni and Pabst while acting drove her to take him off the film and he went to make another film for Goebbels. Arthur Maria Rabenalt quickly took Pabst position but it wasnt timely due to another stoppage of production. In that winter between shooting, Leni found that her dear friend Colonel General Ernst Udet, the ace pilot of the Fanck films, had committed suicide. She then committed most of her time protecting herself in her house while booming air raids continued to rain down on Berlin and her only sense of hope was the daily mail from her beloved Peter.
Production restarted on Tiefland had Leni had begun to shoot many of the more difficult scenes of the film including: Pedro killing the wolf by strangulation and the wolfs attack on the sheep. The later shot required an explosives blaster so the animals would be alarmed by the presence of the wolf. While setting up the shot, one member of her crew was doing prep work in the blasting range as an explosive went off that killed him within seconds. Production was once again halted for days. During the pause, Peter and Lenis relationship had developed into love. His relentless letters had transfixed Leni on the character of Peter and when he came to visit the set during the break he slipped a gold ring on her finger and asked her hand in marriage. Peter then left once again for the bloody and cold eastern front and Leni returned to Berlin while the film was on recess for nine months.
On March 1, 1943 Lenis house in Berlin suffered a massive air raid attack, which set her entire street in flames. Leni had to retreat from the war on her doorstep and escaped to Kitzbühel with the aid of Speer. For one particular shot, Leni and the crew flew back to Spain in the mist of war. They had to capture the difficult bull-fighting scene that took them to the location of Salamanca. Yet, the production was now years overdue and even more over budget. Producers Traut and Grosskopf visited Martian Boorman, right hand to Hitler, in order to receive more finances for the film. They received the money without question. Hitler had seemed to keep some of his promise to Leni and not allowed Goebbels to interfere with the production. The shot was made and the crew returned to bombed out Berlin. Goebbels suggested that all important firms should move out of Berlin due to the war, so Leni moved her production up to Kitzbühels Seebichl House to resume sound-mixing and editing. The production was almost nearing its long-awaited end.
On March 21, 1944, Leni and Peter were joined in marriage by a magistrate in Kitzbühel. Her parents were present but not her brother Heinz, who was still fighting in the east. On March 30, Leni traveled to visit Hitler, who had given her a note of congratulations on her marriage. Leni explained that most of her meetings with Hitler were just his "monologues" on various subjects of the day and she was lucky to get a word into the conversation. In July, Lenis father had passed away at the age of sixty-five. Just days later, she had discovered that her brother had been killed by a grenade in Russia. He was just 38 years old. The news of both deaths had struck Leni very hard, especially her brother. Leni felt she had the chance to get her brother out of the war if she would have only approached Hitler on the subject earlier.
In October of 1944, the production moved to Prague for the final shots of Tiefland. These interior shots were some of the most costly and challenging in the film due to the sets, but they wrapped the film within days. Peter, meanwhile, had been selected to fight in Italy and had suffered an attack of rheumatism, which made it impossible for him to continue writing Leni. In a panic from not hearing from him she left the production and traveled to Italy in an attempt to find him. After various leads she found Peter stricken with rheumatism and lying in a hospital bed. Once he had received treatment and returned to health he was ordered to Berlin and Leni went back to her editing studio to continue work on Tiefland. By this time in early 1945 Leni and everyone else knew that the war was now closing in on Berlin and would soon end. Leni felt that her film had taken much the same road and coincided with the war in Germany had taken. By the end of the war all Leni could do was to work feverishly mixing the film for its final edit. Sound was the only element left out and because many of the scenes were outdoor locations this made post-dub quite an expensive and tedious task. With the war increasing pressure on Germany, she had to hold off finishing the project once more.
Early in 1945, Leni had the chance to save important documents before the war had ended by shipping them to Bozano. Leni gathered some documents and "prepared three metal boxes containing the original negatives of the two Party rally films, Victory of Faith and Triumph of the Will, as well as the Wehrmacht short Day of Freedomﾓ(302). Leni found out later that the contents of the boxes had made it to Bolzano but they were quickly "lost". The Americans had no lucky finding the negatives and to this day they remain unanswered for.
Riefenstahl received a call from Hans Schneeberger, her former lover who needed her help because his life was in danger. Leni arrived in Mayorhofen and quickly arranged to help Schneeberger and his wife, who herself was in jail for speaking out against Hitler during the last period of the war. She tried to make her way back to her mother by hitchhiking along with a group of men because of no other means of travel. While on the trip, American troops had come into the region and found Leni traveling home. They soon checked Lenis I.D. and papers, for which she was quickly sent to a holding camp just miles away. She escaped from this camp with ease and many other camps due to begin caught repeatedly but finally made it back to her home via bicycle. When she had arrived, American troops had seized the home for a base. There she had been told by an officer that her family had been relocated and that Peter was also alive and with them. She was shocked at both the news and how well the Americans had treated her. She raced to meet her family and the time they spent was sweet but very short as they were under house arrest.
The situation dramatically changed when Leni was separated from Peter and taken to an American camp. There she was encamped with top Nazi officials and then found out about the outrageous crimes against humanity that took place in the concentration camps. Riefenstahl had quickly realized during an interrogation that the American forces had kept detailed records of her relationship to the Party and to Hitler. After a brief medical evaluation she was found fit and cleared to leave the camp on her own recognizance.
After a month of freedom the American troops changed power over to the French who wanted more questions from Leni. They took her into house arrest in Innsbruck and notified her that she needed to leave French territory in 24 hours. Then, at the most critical moment, she suffered another colic attack and was brought to the hospital while the clock continued to tick. In the hospital the French had forced her to give up the only print known to exist of Zielkes film Das Stahltier. Leni quickly took medication and returned to Kitzbühel to pack with only hours left to leave. Peter had arrived and they packed the bare essentials. The ended up having to leave her unfinished Tiefland project. During the escape they were once again stopped and sent to a harsher prison in Innsbruck. Leni suffered in solitary cell for a month and was only allowed to talk with her doctor due to the infection. She was released to house arrest in order to finish Tiefland but the French soon made her leave everything behind to be relocated to another French Zone city. She picked Freiberg because Fanck lived there. She called him and he wished nothing to do with her. The French placed them in Breisach, one of Germanys most bombed out cities. While there, Leni and Peters relationship became strained due to her illness and arrests.
In August of 1946, Leni was transferred to a post in Baden-Baden where she was interrogated. Then after weeks there she was shipped to Königsfeld in the Schwarzewald with her husband and live-in secretary Hanni Isele. Leni felt a sense of freedom here but the poverty was difficult. She learned that the French had taken all her film equipment for the Tiefland editing and shipped them to Paris and also drained all her and her familys bank assets. Meanwhile, the tension between Leni and Peter caused her to leave the relationship just after 3 years of marriage.
In 1947, Leni had arranged a deal with Monsieur Desmarais, an independent producer in France, for her films to be distributed through his company. They made negotiations in private and he offered to split the profits 50\50. He also helped Leni file documents for the French government for her freedom. In early 1948, Leni received documentation that the French government had made her a free woman.
Leni then found out that Luis Trenker had procured a supposed copy of Eva Brauns diary and had begun to publish it. The book caused a sensation due to its graphic details on Hitlers inner-life because Braun was Hitlers companion during the war years. The Braun family had filed suit against the publishing house and Leni soon became co-plaintiff. The case was handled swiftly due to the book being a complete forgery. This court-battle was the beginning of the long Denazifcation process, which found Leni it courts for years to come.
Within a year Leni had won unanimous victories in her denazification trials. In the July 1949 trial, Leni was forced to defend herself in front of a court and again the evidence was overwhelming that she was never associated or involved with the National Socialists. Her court battles continued with personal attacks against her. In November of 1949, Leni sued the Munich magazine Revue due to an image published that made the statement that Leni had used slave labor from concentration camps in her still uncompleted film Tiefland. The prosecutions case soon crumbled under mountains of evidence and personal witness, including several Gypsies that worked with the film.
Life, now in 1949, was relevantly calm and mundane in relation to the rest of her life. She lived in Munich and got job offers for another Olympic film but declined due the fact that she could not make another comparable film like Olympia. Harry Sokal, who had taken her money and the negatives to Das Blaue Licht, returned to Leni in Munich and asked her to help her distribute a skiing film they had done together years ago. She set Sokal up with Union films and they struck a deal but Leni received nothing. Luck came to her door when Friedrich Mainz, head of Tobis, visited her and was shocked at the living quarters. He then wrote her a check for the sum of 10,000 marks, which she used to move into an apartment in Schwabing.
In June of 1950, Leni and her assistant Frau Peters had the opportunity to examine film-stock in Berlin-Schönefeld. All her films had been save in duplicate negative form throughout the war. However, just years later the bunker with the negatives had been entirely cleared out and Leni had no possessions from her prior filmmaking. In October of 1950, Leni traveled to Rome with the intention of beginning a new film: Red Devils. Leni signed a deal with Capital Pictures and she began work on pre-production in Cortina dAmpezzo in the Dolomites. Then another offer came up for Leni while she stayed lavishly in Italy. After meeting with directors such as Vittorio de Sica and Roberto Rossellini she got the chance to reedit a version of Das Blaue Licht due to the help of Dr. Arnold, the inventor of the Arriflex camera. Once the editing was finish in Thieresee with the help of UFA conductor Dr. Giuseppe Becca, the film was distributed to Iris film sand was Riefenstahls first German-Italian co-production. The word spread of the re-edit and various former associates had traveled to see Leni demanding money for the film. Both Sokal and Schneeberg approached Leni but their claims were unwarranted as they both owed her large amounts of cash, all of which Riefenstahl claims is documented. Nevertheless, Das Blaue Licht new re-edit premiered in major cities throughout Germany and Italy to great reviews.
Production was to proceed on Red Devils directly after the mini-tour of her new re-edit, however Revue ran another article with a photo of Riefenstahl at the scene of a bloodbath in Poland at the start of the war. The text manipulated the event to suggest that Leni was involved in some way for the deaths of the Polish solders. A tabloid in France ran a similar article on the photo and Leni was approached by her Red Devil backers, who wished out of the contract due to the bad press associated with her. Along with this bad news came word from France, who was now willing to transfer the Tiefland material to the Austrian embassy on May 9, 1952, had now rescinded that offer. Riefenstahl sought to clear up the issue of Konskie once and for all with another denazification trial that proved once again that the Revue article was false and Leni played no role in the events. She quickly filed suit against Revue with the trail as evidence.
Back in Rome, she had the chance to begin negotiations to pick up her film once again. She met with Herr Tischendorf at Herzog studios and suggested the film was to be a success with male lead Jean Marais and Vittorio de Sica, who met her in Rome and were willing and excited to play roles in the film. She also had a vote of confidence from her new friend Jean Cocteau, the famed and multi-talented artist. She got the deal and in six-weeks the film was to begin shooting.
Meanwhile, Leni received notice that Tiefland, which was under the control of the French government, had been transported to Vienna. Leni was shocked due to the fact that she had heard that prints were to be destroyed. While on a train with Dr. Kamitz, head of the affairs that dealt with the German prosperity issue after the war, they spoke over the touchy issue with Tiefland. Dr. Kamitz had explained to her that the film became involved in the political realm. Leni was joyful to find that their was a chance to save her film:
The confiscation also countermanded the orders of the French occupation forces and film officers, who were directly under the Surete, hand been the ones who also had illegally withdrawn the money from our accounts and taken my private belongings to Paris. This had to be hushed up in order to prevent a scandal in France and so I had been deprived of my freedom First, the French film officers tried to use Tiefland to their own ends. For a year, they edited and reedited my material and it was only when the international legal situation made copyright infringement too ticklish for them that they gave up their plans (392).
Leni had now arranged to met with Dr. Kamitz and settle the Tiefland debacle. Leni arrived in Vienna and presented documents stating that she was the soul owner of the film and not the Nazi Party, like the French once believed. Leni finally got the chance to review the film after eight years without touching it. Along with this production, Leni found that the boxes also included in the delivery had negatives for Olympia and some other mountain films. Leni had been warned that the French tried to develop the film themselves and that project had proven unsuccessful. When she finally was able to review the entire contents of the boxes she found much of the film had been tampered with. One third of the negative prints were missing and the storage process the French used damaged the strips of film. She also found that the main editing reel, to which she had made her first edits on, had vanished. She traveled to Paris and searched the catacombs of film stocks that had been held in captive over the war years, however nothing came of her searches. Meanwhile, back in Berlin, Allianz film had offered select distribution rights to the film. Leni had no other choice now then to save face and edit the film with what stock she had in her possession. She noted that some missing stocks held important scenes that effected the plot abnormally such as "the drought footage that had been shot in Spain"(396).
At long last the film Leni had wished to make from 1932 had presented itself in February of 1954, at its gala premiere in Stuttgarts E.M. Theatre. Cocteau wrote to Leni suggesting that the Film be placed in Cannes Film Festival due to the success it was having on its premiere tour across Germany. He offered her film to the board for entry and it was not accepted into competition but shown outside of the festival. Cocteau even provided the French subtitles for the film and retold to Leni the success of the film abroad.
Coming off of Tieflandﾕs majority success, Leni looked to begin her other big project: The Red Devils. She had the promises of key actors and the permits had been signed, and the finances were almost finished when the film fell through due to another political media debacle. The Communist paper in Vienna called Der Abend published a headline that read: "Leni Riefenstahl and the Taxpayer. The Ministries of Finance and Commerce to Back Extravagant Film Project by the German Director". Leni protested that their claims were a "bare-faced lie"(402) because her investors had all been verified. However, the political wave grew and grew against Leni that it forced her investors to back out on account of the pressure they were receiving in light of the media.
Leni, from this point on, faced insurmountable political protest that shut down any advancement that she had wished to make with films. She started other projects that never really began such as: Ewige Gipfel (1954), Drei Sterne am Mantel der Madonna, Sol y Sombra, and Tanz mit dem Tod (all in 1955). Sadly, her most bankable film never to be made was a treatment she created with Jean Cocteau titled "Friedrich und Voltaire", which had Cocteau playing both historical roles. They both felt that the film would examine and come to symbolize the roles of Germany and France and their love-hate relationship with one and other. However, Cocteau, by the 1960s, had become very ill and in 1963 he died
Leni had struggled with a story that she would be able to create. She had bought Ernst Hemingways new novel The Green Hills of Africa and had become absolutely engrossed in the subject of Africa, like he had with Hitler and the mountains prior. She loved the manner to which Hemingway visually wrote about the moody and dark landscape of Africa. She promised herself that she would see this land, and it had been a mysterious passion of hers to this very day. She began to look into other areas that had the subject of Africa and came upon Hassans Black Freight, which lead to her development of a treatment she titled Schwarze Fracht. She tried to shop the work to various buyers but nothing came about due to their concerns and artistic demands, to which Leni would never give up. She came about a tentative deal with Gloria and had the assistance once again of Waldi Traut, who helped her financially and artistically in the negotiations. In April of 1956, Leni flew to Nairobi in order to begin to find suitable locations her script to take place. She and her assistances looked in northeastern Kenya one day for various locations to shoot the majestic land. Yet before they found anything suitable their Land Rover truck had swerved in the road to avoid animals and the truck hit a stone marker to the bridge that made their truck violently leap into the air and tumble over. The passengers were in serious condition while the truck began to start afire. Leni passed out due to broken ribs, a collapsed lung, and a severe head injury that could have ultimately proved to be fatal while her passengers also had broken bones and blood running everywhere. By luck, a passing British convoy sent to check on the bridge once a month had seen the event and rescued them. They were soon dropped off at a medic and received only minor treatment. They were soon transferred to a hospital back in Nairobi. Leni was almost considered dead, but the English doctors continued to work on her injuries. Leni had come out of her coma and over the course of weeks began to hear her wounds. During her stay in the hospital she finished writing the script. Once healthy, Leni began to find more locations for her film and actors. The lead was to be a woman although Leni felt she miscast herself in Tiefland so she avoided working in front of the camera for this film.
Just as things were coming into place the film hit its tragic end when they began test shooting. The weather conditions and actors (natives) were non-cooperative for the shoots and in the fall of 1956 the Suez war developed, which halted all movement for Lenis crew and equipment. Then the rainy season came, which destroyed much of the ideal landscape Leni had in mind to shoot. She then received word that Traut and his wife had ended up in an auto crash while in the Alps. She was told they were not expected to make it out alive. She rushed from Africa to Innsbruck to visit and found that Waldi was seriously injured but would soon recover from the crash. The events ultimately shook Leni and the backers, so the filming was called off.
Much of the 1960s were spent building up film projects that had no future. In early 1960, she had visited London for a studio that wished to create a new colorized version of Das Blaue Licht, but the ideas conflicted and the idea was halted. However, her passions for Africa remained very strong even though they didnt involve making films. She had new ideas for Africa that saw her stretching herself artistically because she "was seeking in Africa was something far more then the romanticized version presented in Hemingways writing. She was looking for a total escape from the pressures of civilization, with its noisy and building cities, scandal-seeking newspapers, and corruption"(Hinton. p131). In late 1962 she returned to Africa with a new mission to find and document the Nuba, an ancient and largely undocumented tribe. She had become interested in the tribe when she saw one single photo of two natives wrestlers that seem the perfection of male psychical stature. One man was carrying another man atop his shoulders. When she had arrived in Africa with a team of scientist from Nasen she had only a lead that the Nuba were in a region called Kordofan. She went there and by chance saw a man on the hillside that looked the part. She followed them up the mountain and saw the Nuba for the first time huddled into a circle watch a festival of wrestling.
By October of 1962, when Riefenstahl had arrived with the Nuba she had just turned 60 years old. She would go onto remain with the Nuba on this adventure for six months while trying to go friendships with them and learn their culture and language. The children and mothers of the tribe especially took to Leni and helped her build up a strong vocabulary. She traveled and documented with photos rituals that only occur for curtain tribes every 5-6 years. For her first trip she ended up shooting over 200 rolls of film and began to document the more detailed aspects of the cultures she encountered in a journal. The six months spent with the Nuba and other tribes, traveling, eating, praying, etc went very quickly and she had to return back with her team from Nasen.
Riefenstahls passion drove to her begin to document the Nuba out of fear that the western world civilization was beginning to find its way into the Nubas sphere. After she returned to Germany she was contacted by Richard Gardner, an American filmmaker, who had created two prize-winning films while in the bushes of the Sudan. He convinced her to travel to Boston and they would plan to document with 16mm color film the Nuba. When she arrived she was welcomed at Harvard and showed her slides of her first expedition. Gardner had acquired a backer in Odyssey Productions out of New York, which fronted the money and split the profits.
Leni quickly traveled back to the Sudan and captured the Nuba. Meanwhile, she began to enter her still photos from the first trip into scholarly magazines. German newspapers used her photos to keep the world up to date on the various political and social doings in Africa. Quickly word grew in circles and Leni had begun to get proposition for work in magazines such as Modern Photography. In February, they began to use the 16mm cameras and began filming. Leni was fortunate to capture sacred and private rituals such as the Nuba adolescent initiation. While filming another wrestling festival Leni and her cameraman Leica got to close to the action and the wrestlers tumbled onto Leni, which crushing her ribs and sent her to the hospital. While in Tadoro in January, Leni received word that her mother had entered into a hospital due to a blocked artery in her knee. On the 18th, while Leni tried in vain to travel back to her mother, she got a telegram that read: "Mother died last night, await letter. Uli". She quickly flew to Munich but her mother was buried and her only resolve was to turn back to the Nuba for the remainder of the shoot.
Once filming was done with the Nuba her crew returned to Munich to begin the post-production efforts. She was told by Odyssey Productions that if her film was a success that they would offer her a deal that consisted of at least three motion pictures in Cinemascope. Leni awaited the first batch of negatives to arrive from the Geyer lab. When she reviewed the prints wept in tears because the color output was undesirable. The ER green stock and cause a color conflict with the fur trees that surrounded the Nuba. Many of the shots were lost due to the horrid green glare that ruined priceless moments. Odyssey demanded the prints due to the fact that initial advertising had begun. Leni would not give up her stock even though they were ruined. She asked friends to acquire money and they annulled the contract.
Leni had begun to sell her pictures to various German magazines in order to gain an income. She also began to get worried as her health decreased about her future so she thought about selling much of her film rights as a way of storing money for the future. Meanwhile, London had become interested in what reels Leni had and wished to see the footage of the wrestlers. She edited what she had and then sent the print to Geyer so they could balance the color problem. When she received the prints back the picture was fine but someone had reedited the film. She cancelled her trip and subsequent deal with backers in London due to this unforeseen event.
In the fall of 1967, Leni felt that her only happiness was with the Nuba. She began to develop a new expedition and started by looking for a crew. She needed a versatile man who could do multi-tasking: camera and repairs. All inquires for such an artist was sadly laughable, until someone overheard her wishes. A camera store clerk gave her the name of a Horst Kettner who was both an assistant director and mechanic. They contacted each other after his return from holiday in Italy. He had never heard of a Leni Riefenstahl, but her offer to go to Africa was irresistible. She arranged for vehicles and permits to be made, but like the last trip she had received no word on her issues. So Leni and her crew left for Cairo without the proper papers as they had done previously. They arrived at the port and unloaded her Land Rovers to begin her journey. They arrived just with the Nuba just days before Christmas 1968. She found that the Nuba had built her a house due to her repeated visits and helped her unload the truck. When she unpacked the cameras for her first attempt at capturing the Nuba in two years she had found that the Nuba had taken on some western tendencies. The wrestlers were wearing pants and bottles and cans had been used as decorations around belts. The Nuba had become ashamed and embarrassed with their own bodies. She was shocked that in just two years the civilization had become subjected to this so she stopped filming.
In 1972, Leni returned to the Nuba in order to capture the tribe for a planned book for Harper and Row and other publishing houses. Leni had also written the text for the photos that dealt with tribe life, scared ritual, and personalities. The book was a stunning artistic success because it was finally a work completed. She titled it: The Last of the Nuba. However, Leni found that the publishing process was wrought with troubles. The various international publishing houses had text in various languages. The French publisher Denöel had published the title: Les Nubiens. Leni explained that the Nubians "have nothing to do with the Nuba, historically or ethnologically. The Nubians come from the ancient kingdom of Nubia, which was once located in what is now the northern Sudan"(584).
To escape the pressure of the publishing firms she headed to the Indian Ocean with Horst to try out something new: deep sea diving. She took her test, although at her age, succeeded quite well with this challenge.
Leni spent 1974 mainly by traveling. Horst and Leni visited the Red Sea before they prepped departed to the Nuba once again. Leni fell in love with diving and dove for countless hours. It was a magical parallel world where she was completely unknown and unfamiliar. Before she left for the Nuba Francis Ford Coppola offered her a screening at the Telluride Film Festival in Colorado. When she arrived there was a vast amount of attention given to Riefenstahl. Protestors were quite present and celebrities were often asked and gave their own opinion on Riefenstahl and her work. Leni didnt relent in anyway. They screened Das Blaue Licht to a favorable response to open the festival. Then she arrived in New York and found that her book on the Nuba had sold better then expected.
The trip to back to the Sudan had been planned for months. Although the trip had originally been planned for the Nuba they changed it to visit the Kau. Leni had received information that noted that the Nuba had become relatively westernized and the trip would be unworthy for documentation. Although it was somewhat true, Leni found out that young photographer had felt spited due to the success of her first book. He had planned to shoot the Nuba but arrived later then Leni. She flew back to the Sudan in December of 1974 and when she arrived she became ill. In January, she traveled with Horst to Kau, which she felt was a disaster. Tourist had made their way to the Nuba and western life had all but overtaken the Nuba when they were asked to pose for pictures in exchange for money. Leni felt that her journey was useless if she had to capture the Nuba in this environment. However, once they began to look deeper into the Kau they found more suitable subject matter. Leni and Horst spent weeks hiding out in the heat often waiting for just the perfect shot. Once again, Leni stumbled onto luck, as she was able to secure the friendship of several of the Kau. She learned that going nude was reserved for those figures that had what the Kau felt were beautiful bodies. She also learned that one of the most dramatic events to occur, such as the knife fighting, only took place between the select ages 28-30. Prior to that age, the men could only paint their bodies. Wrestling also acted as a training device for the knife duels. With this information, Leni had a much easier time selecting subjects. Leni had the chance to capture a fighting festival, great love festivals, and other culturally important events that proved very special for her new photography book on the Kau.
Leni had experience much more then she had ever thought she would during her travels in the Sudan. The trip was a huge success and she had it all documented. When she returned home to Munich she fell ill but soon felt better after seeing the first production of photos. Stern, a major publication in Germany, offered Leni the chance to sell her pictures to them for publication. Then she got word from the Sunday Times Magazine in England and they too wanted the new and unseen photos. Leni had a massive worldwide success with the production of the Kau photos as houses such as National Geographic had offered her publishing rights.
As the 1970s came to an End, Riefenstahl felt a sense of accomplishment and pride at the work she had completed throughout her career. She became a figure of pride for both art and feminist movements due to her undeniable sense of self-determination, a triumph of her will in many ways. Meanwhile, she continuously is active both in her very private sphere and social life. She still dives the most majestic oceans of the world and her films have been revived throughout the world in festivals. In the 1980s she collected her diaries and information for her memoirs. Alas, the only thing this figurehead of film could do is to become a film. Now, at the age of 97, Leni Riefenstahls life story has been giving to Hollywoods star Jodie Foster for production. It will undoubtedly have a happy ending.
Source Information culled from:
Berg-Pan, Renata. Leni Riefenstahl. Twayne Publishers. Boston. 1980.
Hinton, David B. The Films of Leni Riefenstahl. The Scarecrow Press, Inc. London. 1978.
Infield, Glenn B. Leni Riefenstahl: The Fallen Film Goddess. Thomas Y. Crowell Company. New York. 1976.
Riefenstahl, Leni. A Memoir. St. Martins Press. New York. 1992.