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Riefenstahl and the Mountain

Riefenstahl and the Mountain

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Published by Medway08

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Published by: Medway08 on Jan 30, 2008
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by Infinite Thoughthttp://kinofist.blogspot.com/2007/01/riefenstahl-and-mountain.htmlWhere did Riefenstahl get her ideas from? What precise cinematic affects capture thespirit of the Third Reich, and how and why did Riefenstahl come to express thesethemes and techniques so well? The pre-Nazi
(mountain film), such asFanck’s
The Holy Mountain
(1926), give us some alarming hints. It is impossible not tosee the embryonic horrors of Nazism prefigured in the unseemly coalescence of highlyadvanced cinematic technique with thunderously banal emotional content that makesup the
. We see Riefenstahl herself slipping with ease between acting anddirecting – from dippy dancing mountain-girl to steely-nerved all-powerful director of the two highly-stylised propaganda films that best document Nazi ambition andcinematic manipulation,
Triumph of the Will
(1935) and
(1938).Much of the dynamism of Riefenstahl’s documentaries, as well as that of the earliermountain films, depends upon the profound manipulation of contrasts, both visual andsonic: light and shadow, earth and sky, man and heavens, the solitary face and themass rally, human beauty and inanimate nature, music and blackness. But these pairsare not simply presented as opposites. There is a third element that perhaps bestcharacterises the fascist aesthetic, and that is
. What takes place at the
limits of these stark contrasts, as if to cloak any potential rational absolutism, is therelentless presence of mist, cloud, fog, steam, shimmering light, dust, haze, thefluttering of flags – anything to prevent the emergence of reflexivity or criticalresolution. Cinematic totalitarianism, or rather the cinematic attempt to aestheticizetotalitarianism, thus precisely depends upon occult confusion and the attempt tomake impossible any clarity of thought. We see this everywhere: from the miasma outof which Hitler’s plane descends in
Triumph of the Will
to the mist that floats acrossthe Olympic rings at the beginning of 
; from the steam rising from the cookingin the army barracks to the trails left by the torchlights by skiers in the mountainfilms and Hitler supporters in
Triumph of the Will
.In contrast to the Soviet cinematic output of the 20s, with its relentless attention toprocess, production and the tracking of movement of people and machines from onepoint to another, Riefenstahl’s films present scenarios that simply are. The crowdswaiting to greet Hitler are simply there, just as the mountain is simply
. Whatthis third element does – this opaque, cloudy dizziness of unreason that smears theedges of presentation in a dream-like manner – is prevent any attempt to track bothorigins or consequences. There is no point at which the characters of the
or the figures in
Triumph of the Will
can reach a point of decision because that pointof subjective self-assertion has already been filled in by the combination of post-romantic mantras (brotherhood, loyalty, strength, the fatherland) and metaphysical
haze – the light-headedness of one who climbs a mountain in a snowstorm to escapethe urban quotidian drudgery of the ‘valley-pigs’ (a term used in the mountain filmsto differentiate the ‘nobility’ of the climbers from the homogeneity of the city-dwellers).This commitment to presenting extremes in a smothered way, to promote loftysentiments – love, destiny, infatuation – to absolutes as stirring as they are vague, isRiefenstahl’s and the
aim. By doing so they summon up a universe that isat once meaningful, intensive and occasionally beautiful – a kind of religion withouttranscendence, whose Earthly yet mysterious skies and clouds drift through one’sheart with a sublime significance. Taking a cue from Kant’s 1790 definition of thedistinction between the beautiful and the sublime, one finds the following point:The beautiful in nature is a question of the form of object, and this consists inlimitation, whereas the sublime is to be found in an object even devoid of form, sofar as it immediately involves, or else by its presence provokes a representation of limitlessness, yet with a superadded thought of its totality (§23).The capture of the beautiful in nature (whether it be the rushing rivers and snowypeaks of the
or the bodies of the divers in
) is a representation of pure form, and astonishes before one has a chance to distance oneself from suchreactive immediacy. The sublimity of the mountain, on the other hand, symbolises

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