by Andrew Mooney
Triumph of the Will (1935) – Leni Riefenstahl (Dir.), Adolf Hitler
So, funny story. After Melancholia, I devised my system of complete randomness to select the next movie on the docket. My roommate and I spent over an hour combing Netflix for available films from famous directors, Oscar Winners of years past and, of course, from various countries in Eastern Europe that may or may not still exist. Dozens of films dropped into the pot, running the gamut of genre, style and nation of origin. Finally, when the grand moment came to choose, Alex stuck his hand in and removed this wonderful piece of Nazi history. We both laughed. We both cried. It was human drama.
If you were not aware, Triumph of the Will is the restored version of a propaganda film/documentary/Nazi-boner-fest taken from footage of the 1934 Nuremberg rallies. It is edited…barely. There is little-to-no commentary. Just footage. Footage of Nazis. And flags. And soldiers. And more soldiers. And more soldiers. And Hitler. And Goebbels. And the rest of that goofy gang of genocidal maniacs. The only reason I even included this bad boy on the list was simply for historical perspective, the same reasoning for Birth of a Nation’s inclusion. By no means is the subject matter laudable. Don’t get me wrong, Nazi’s…I hate these guys. However, it was on the list and so we had to watch. Rules is rules.
It’s difficult to sum up the movie…in that it’s incredibly easy. It’s just Nazis. Marching. Smiling. Waving. Zeig Heiling (all the fucking time). Talking. Yelling. Hitting things. Racing cars. Giving piggyback rides…while shirtless…with young boys.
Okay, I’ve heard some jokes in my time, but nobody had ever actually explained to me that Nazi Germany was so damn gay. The homoeroticism of the German military at that time was so overbearing, I half-expected them to break into song and dance. There is a fifteen minute segment of soldiers getting ready for the rally. They cut and styled each other’s hair (extremely fashionably, I might add), they washed each other, they wrestled, they climbed on each other, they wrestled more. The whole thing was reeking with tension. This prelude was only one wiener schnitzel away from spontaneous Third Reich blow jobs. Alas, none occurred.
What did I take away from this racially pure, 2-hour monstrosity? Well, mainly…Hitler never had anyone tell him he had a cowlick on the back of his head. This is confusing to me. It was incredibly silly. Couldn’t he tell something was amiss back there? His Third Reich petroleum pomade wasn’t holding up its end of the bargain? That one, rogue piece of hair flicked and flailed its way through speech after speech, flagrantly ignoring the rules of proper styling. When I posed the question to my roommate, “Why didn’t anyone tell him it was there?” his response was: “Because he’s fucking Hitler.” Lawyered.
Along with that, whenever people saluted the Fuhrer, he returned with an extremely limp-wristed wave. I found this disconcerting in its femininity. But, then again, he is Hitler…so everything should be disconcerting.
In all seriousness, there were some morsels of intrigue. Firstly, none of the language used was harsh. In general, he never mongered fear; he never specified enemies and threats. Hitler only spoke of making the Fatherland (or Motherland, I wasn’t entirely clear with the German genders) healthy and strong again. Of course, this may have been skewed by the decidedly minimalist subtitles. There were several lengths of time where a heavy-set member of the Reichstag was babbling on and the bottom revealed none of the mysteries he held. Also, I counted only one reference to ‘racial purity’. Shocking, I know.
In this day and age, any time people have a strong opinion about anything, in any direction, they are frequently labeled as being a ‘Nazi’. Much like when I finally read the book 1984, this movie helped me realize how absurd and bullshit-laden their gross hyperboles actually were. Nazism isn’t simply an extreme point of view. It’s an extreme way of life. Nuremberg doesn’t show a band of chaotic, infuriated hate-mongers. It shows a machine, well-oiled and efficient. Ready for way. They had a single goal. America? When was the last time we were united by anything? A protest sprouts every twenty minutes, be it about the War in Afghanistan, Obamacare, Wall Street, the FDA or a protest to peoples’ right to protest. We’re immobilized by our ability to disagree with the government, the state and ourselves. Of course, the road to totalitarianism is slippery when wet…but with the Internet at our side, free speech has a long way to go before its death.
Also, we’re lazy. Points of view are fine if you do anything about it. These guys did. If you see Nuremberg, they built what can only be described as a Nazi Circus Maximus just for this rally. When was the last time something like that was done in the States? I’ll answer. It was for the Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City. For sports. Now, I’m not saying there aren’t any Nazis in America…there are. What I’m saying is that no totalitarian position could take hold and turn us into a genocidal nation. We don’t care enough. This kind of movement takes almost everyone. The only way to get a unified response from our people as a whole would be to turn off the Internet. Even then, there’d be an old couple in Boca Raton saying, “Marty, I was hoping to get one of those Internets. Now they’re all gone!”
Interesting factoid: Triumph of the Will was directed by a lady. I was extremely surprised. I’ve found no end to my frustration that there aren’t more prominent female filmmakers in the 20th century. According to The Economist (by way of Wikipedia) Leni Riefenstahl was the most prominent. I don’t know how I feel about that. Sad? After the war, she was understandably blacklisted and never worked again. Yes, she was a close member of the Nazi party…but she was also an incredibly talented artist. Either way, the film is an amazing achievement even if it is unwatchable by anybody other than members of the National Socialist Party.
Final thought: it is extremely disconcerting to witness people being excited to see Hitler. I was emotionally bewildered.
Again, this is a film I would never watch again. Ever. Ever. I don’t even recommend it to you. It’s painful. And Nazi. However, if you’re interested in seeing a piece of propaganda, check it out.