UBC Faculty Research and Publications

Leni Riefenstahl’s Motion/Pictures Pollard, Matthew


Graduate student conference held December 4-5, 2009 at the University of British Columbia. Plenary address introduced by Jeremy Redlich. Abstract: "Leni Riefenstahl, the infamous National Socialist propagandist and/or maligned beauty freak, simply won’t go away, for even after her death in 2003, her legacy as a provocative and contested image maker lives on not only in her work but in the definitive biographies of Jürgen Trimborn and Steven Bach (2007). The foundation of Riefenstahl’s filmwork (and her achievement as an editor) is her ability to exploit the dynamic tension between stillness and explosive energy — a juxtaposition which Riefenstahl would have emphasized and understood intuitively through her initial training and first career as a performer of ‘Ausdruckstanz’. Riefenstahl brought to her feature films and propagandistic filmmaking the rhythmic editing and constant changes of tempo which became her trademark. However, when we take into account film’s origins in the photograph, it becomes clear how setting up and composing the perfect shot is almost a determining aspect of her work. Without attempting to downplay Riefenstahl’s innovations as a filmmaker, this contribution will investigate how Riefenstahl’s post-dance artistic practice began and ended with the photographic image. Riefenstahl’s scopophilic gaze on the human body, be it in the deindividualized form of masses as ornament, an embodiment of the fascist aesthetic, or the fetishization of [Aryan] strength and beauty (to cite some critical engagements with her body-building), has been long since documented and is to be integrated into this discussion. However, Riefenstahl’s hungry gaze is not that of a filmmaker visualizing pictures in motion (to take the term “motion picture” literally), but that of a photographer freezing and staging that one perfect image in eternal stillness. By tracing Riefenstahl’s journey from image to film to photo, this paper makes the statement that Riefenstahl’s artistic talent seduced and was seduced by Die Macht der Bilder."

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