Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Soft core denial aka rewriting history

There is an interesting review of two new books on Leni Riefenstahl in yesterday New York Times by MICHIKO KAKUTANI. Both books take issue with the tendency to rewrite the story of Leni Riefenstahl as one of a poor innocent film maker/artist who was devoted to the pursuit of beauty but was innocently caught up on the Nazi regime.

In fact, as both books stress, she was no innocent.

As Susan Sontag observed in a seminal article in 1975 in New York Review of Books “the purification of Leni Riefenstahl’s reputation of its Nazi dross has been gathering momentum for some time.” Her defenders including many in the "the avant-garde film establishment, " including the Telluride Festival which gave her a major award.

In fact, Riefenstalh adored Hitler and helped shape his regime with her films, most prominently among them Triumph of the Will and Olympia.

According to Kukatani, the two new biographies of Riefenstahl — one by Jürgen Trimborn, a professor of film, theater and art history at the University of Cologne; the other by Steven Bach, the author of biographies of Marlene Dietrich and Moss Hart — "serve as much needed correctives to all the spin, evasions and distortions of the record purveyed by Riefenstahl."

Riefenstahl consistently ignored or denied reports of antisemitism. During a 1938-39 trip to the United States, she claimed that she could not be expected to know about events, even if the rest of the world did. “There are four walls about me” when she was at work, she said, and “it is not possible for me to know what is true” or what is a story.

One of the books [Kukatani does not indicate which] reports that when Paris fell in 1940, Riefenstahl wrote Hitler an ecstatic telegram: “With indescribable joy, deeply moved and filled with burning gratitude, we share with you, my Führer, your and Germany’s greatest victory, the entry of German troops into Paris. You exceed anything human imagination has the power to conceive, achieving deeds without parallel in the history of mankind.”

It's time to see her for what she was: an ardent supporter of Hitler who feigned ignorance of the horrors he committed.

She's dead [she lived to 101 giving truth to the saying "Only the good die young"]. It's up to those who would romantaicize her and rewrite her story to look history in the eye.

This is a form of denial -- not outright denial -- but the soft core variety which, while not denying history, cleanses it or rewrites it. Often soft core denial takes the form of calling Israelis Nazis, Ramallah a "Warsaw ghetto," or Papon a "scapegoat." In this case it is a matter of rewriting a person's past. Riefenstahl might not have killed anyone but she enabled a regime that did so and then she hid behind the mantle of the artiste.

Maybe the Telluride film festival should withdraw the citation it gave her for “exemplary contributions to the art of the film” or, at the least, amend it to read "and for exemplary contributions to her Fuhrer and the Nazi regime."

1 comment:

Trace Harris said...

If they can do it with D.W. Griffith, they can do it with Leni Riefenstahl. Fair is fair.