SECTION FOUR

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COLUMN NINETY-EIGHT, OCTOBER 1, 2003
(Copyright 2003 The Blacklisted Journalist)

ON THE PASSING OF LENI RIEFENSTAHL

[Reg Hart is a well-known film archivist who regularly lectures at his showings from his collection of film classics at his Cineforum at 463 Bathurst in Toronto.]

I once saw years ago at a film society screening TIEFLAND, the film Leni Riefenstahl made after TRIUMPH OF THE WILL and OLYMPIA.

In TIEFLAND she played a dancer who is rescued by an aristocrat from a brute who is forcing her to be a whore.

She is grateful but then she finds out the man who rescued her is a bigger monster than the man she was rescued from.

There is a moment in the film where she exhibits that pure terror that causes the bladder to break and the bowels to burst.

We can't fake that. We have to have experienced it.

In her art she had answered those with eyes to see and ears to hear. For those who are willfully blind and deaf (as was the audience at this film society screening who hissed and booed when the film was done) no answer except silence is required. For that audience she was silent and she remained silent until her death.

In that film she also spoke for the German people who were rescued from the horror into which they were plunged by the Treaty of Versailles by a man they took to be a Messiah who turned out to be an Anti-Christ.

Writers are fond of telling us Hitler snubbed Black American athlete Jesse Owens at the Berlin Olympics. Actually, Hitler had been told by the Olympic Committee not to greet any of the athletes after he did so the first day.

There is a sanctimoniousness in the writing about Hitler, the German people and the effect of the Nazis that turns a blind eye to the fact that we, ourselves, are not without shame.

Owens returned a hero to an America that did not want him.

He was never welcomed to the White House. He was never hailed. It was not until the Civil Rights Movement of the Sixties began that America was forced to have a change of heart about a people deeply bruised.

We cry about the persecution of the Jews but mention that Hitler took his plans for the extermination of the Jews from the plans of The United States and Canada to exterminate the peoples native to this continent, and---well, people refuse to believe that. "That's different," we are told.

No, it is not different.

Until Riefenstahl made TRIUMPH OF THE WILL serious people thought Hitler a joke.

After she made it they realized the joke was on them.

TRIUMPH OF THE WILL is a Nazi propaganda masterpiece filmed by Riefenstahl at Adolf Hitler's 1934 Nuremberg rally. I have been publicly screening this film since 1972. I have gone through many copies of it.

I have met many men and women whose lives were altered forever by those times.

One woman came to see the film eighteen Sundays in a row. I could someone coming to see it


Why did this woman
come to see the film
eighteen Sundays in a row?


two or three, even four or five. But I wondered why she was coming so often. "Perhaps she is a Nazi," I said to myself.

Finally I asked her.

"I am in it," she told me.

I found out that the first time she came it was because she had been a child in Nuremberg when all this took place.

In one moment of the film she saw her family (father, mother, brothers, sisters) leaning out of a window in a building as a camera panned across it.

They were waving Nazi flags.

They were Jews.

Except for her they all had ended up dying in the German extermination camps.

She had no pictures of them. She was coming for the few seconds she could see what had been ripped from her.

It never occurred to me to offer to have the scene made into a photograph until the next day. I never even asked which scene it was. I was going to offer to do that when I next saw her but she never came back.

"So long as men want God on earth there will always be a Hitler," another woman who had passed through those times said.

If Hitler was only an anomaly then this would not matter.

He was not.

If what ended with the Nazis truly ended Nazism, there would be no reason to show this film.

It did not.

One very important writer/thinker who was for years a regular at these presentations (until age made it impossible for her to get out) is Jane Jacobs.

Mrs. Jacobs is best known for her first book, THE DEATH AND LIFE OF THE GREAT AMERICAN CITIES. The ideas in that book were not welcome in their day but now we see she was right.

"The most interesting thing about your presentations is what you have to say," she told me this year.

This summer Mrs. Jacobs spoke up publicly against what is happening in this town (and, by extension, what is happening around this planet). "This whole project seems to be based on cronyism, greed and denial," she said of the latest scheme to fill pockets from the public treasury.

That got the knell man going.

This woman whose ideas burn like a light was subjected to jeers, catcalls and the kind of boorishness the mediocre always resort to when shown they hold an empty hand.

As Don Wanagas observed in THE NATIONAL POST (June 13, 2004), "This woman defined progress in this city when it used to count for something."

"You are reducing Toronto to a miserable shadow of what it used to be," warned Mrs. Jacobs.

As the abuse rained down on her Mrs. Jacobs said to the deputy mayor, "I don't know why you keep warning these people and never do what you say you're going to do...I didn't boo the port authority when it was speaking...I didn't boo you when you were speaking. But I get booed and that seems to be OK with you. It's not OK with me."

"Times up," said the deputy mayor.

Not, "You are right as every speaker deserves more respect than you are getting here," but just those words the murderers always use; "You have had your say; time's up."

When a reporter asked one of the hecklers why he didn't add his name to the list of deputants the knell man sounded the bell. "I don't have to. This is a done deal. These people better start getting that through their heads." (NATIONAL POST, June 13, 2003).

What Leni Riefenstahl does in TRIUMPH OF THE WILL is document how skillful politicians get away with murder.

Adolf Hitler knew that power based on guns would not endure. He knew that to brave the centuries he had to invade and conquer the soul.

In 1937 the German church disavowed Christianity as a weak religion. "Adolf Hitler is the true Holy Ghost. Adolf Hitler is God on earth," the German Church declared.

"Seeing this film, with Reg Hartt's commentary, is like getting an inoculation against mass media manipulation." Mrs. Jacobs wrote.

As I read the same tired phrases once again in all the press regarding this astounding human being I see a world in more need now of that inoculation than it ever was.

Everyone who lives dies. Not everyone who dies has lived.

Leni Riefenstahl was a person who lived until the last breath left her body.  ##

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