"This is, perhaps, the most fascinating documentary I have ever seen. Leni Riefenstahl is a complex, controversial, and enigmatic individual. The film very effectively raises (and ultimately does not answer) the question as to what extent artistic genius does or does not transcend political and national boundaries. Director Ray Muller, in many ways, is not up to the task of interviewing this incredibly powerful and self-absorbed woman. But, one must ask, who could be? Muller carefully documents the story of her life, from her early days as a dancer and silver screen star, through the time of her involvement with the National Socialist Party, to her current life as an underwater photographer. And the truth about anything is never quite clear. Innovative and profound techniques abound from start to finish, contrasted with the persistent intellectual task of trying to determine just who this woman really was. The film is long, and ultimately exhausting. As it should be. You will see things you have never seen before, and which you'll never forget (such as Hitler's amazing speech, and Riefenstahl's unparalleled underwater color photographs, to name just two!). But, you're ultimately left with a question. Was she, or wasn't she? And, if she was or she wasn't, what is her responsibility? Muller won't answer that for you. My only advice is: don't ask her! She'll just show you contempt and say, "I did nothing wrong!""
John M Flora | Brookland, AR United States | 03/19/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"What can you say about a woman who pretty much invented modern motion picture sports photography, made the most powerful propaganda film in history, climbed mountains in her bare feet, reinvented herself a couple of times, lied about her age in order to get SCUBA certified at 70, and lived to a feisty age of 101. I've known about Leni Riefenstahl's films for all of my adult life, but this was all new stuff to my wife when we got married a few years ago. When I showed her this DVD, she was absolutely entranced. Rather than get caught up in the "was she or wasn't she" debate over Riefenstahl's association with Hitler and the Nazi Party, my wife - a strong woman in her own right - saw Riefenstahl as a shining example of the liberated woman. Riefenstahl followed her creative passion wherever it led. For her, there were no gender barriers. Had she emigrated to Hollywood with Marlene Dietrich, she may well have gotten lost in the constellation of American film stars. On the narrower stage of German film, she was a colossal talent as an actress and as a director. Yes, she lent her talent and creativity to one of the most hideously evil regimes in history. How she really felt about it in her heart of hearts, we'll never know. It's clear she regretted making Triumph of the Will because it made her an outcast in the post-war film world. The difficulty here is to separate the art from the politics. Before the war, Triumph of the Will won international acclaim, even from the French. Olympia, tinged as it is with its background of Nazi symbols, gave us sports camera techniques that haven't been improved upon since the film was made. Whenever you see footage of Jesse Owens' gold medal performances, you have Riefenstahl to thank for it. Leni Riefenstahl, for all her bad judgment and Nazi connections, was one of the most powerful creative forces in the history of cinema. This documentary bears repeated viewing because of the complexity of its subject and the impact of her work.
"Nazi" film legend Riefenstahl reveals her true personality!
John M Flora | 06/05/1996
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Mueller's 1993 quasi-documentary of German film legend Leni Riefenstahl sheds new light on her controversial work and life. Having entered the film world as a young, determined actress, Riefenstahl caught the eye of Hitler after _Das Blau Licht_, a film she wrote and directed, won awards all across the European continent. It is at this point that film scholars and afficionados begin to differ, some claiming her work presents the highest of film aesthetics, while others charge her with crimes against humanity for creating Nazi propaganda. Mueller has done his homework well, presenting a balanced view of both arguments in the form of authetic film footage and documents, and interviews with the director's contemporaries. Yet Mueller succeeds in uncovering the "real" Riefenstahl through one-on-one interviews with the filmmaker, some of which end with Riefenstahl cursing at the top of her lungs in German, denying in her own special way claims that she was Hitler's mistress or that she supported the Jewish Holocaust. Any other filmmaker might have quit at this point, but Mueller charges forward into Riefenstahl's later film and photographic work, detailing her adventures with the primitive Nuba tribes of Africa in the 1960s and her dynamic underwater photography. Short of three hours, Mueller's film, _The Wonderful, Horrible Life of Leni Riefenstahl_, serves not only as a permanent record of one of the world's greatest film artists, but provides entertaining access to the lively person responsible for the visual and aesthetic air of superiority surrounding the most powerful fascist dictator of all time. END"
GET READY WORLD - HERE SHE COMES AGAIN!
kasper3 | Herndon, Va USA | 06/15/2002
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Leni Riefenstahl, arguably the greatest film-maker yet to fully embrace the potential of medium, suffers through moronic interviews and offers us a glimpse into the mind and development of an artistic genius. One need only view "Triumph of the Will" and "Olympia" in totality to recognize that this lady set the standard for what film can be, but rarely ever is, yet she only thought herself to be a mere craftsman. Hitchcock, Kubrick and Welles should be such craftsmen and perhaps were, but this woman was the first genius of film. To see her sit at age 91 in front of a primitive editing machine and show us how she worked is worth the price of this DVD alone. It is as if we could watch Picasso show us how he painted or Mozart show us how he composed. Forget the revisionist history about her "Nazi sympathizing"; the world fawned over her films when they initially premiered in 1935 and 1936.The French and English gave both films their highest honor and the American critics tripped over themselves in lavishing rare and incredible praise, using such adjectives as "brilliant" and "genius". It was only after Hitler's descent into evil that we accused Reisenstahl of collaboration. We conviently forgot that in the years she made those films, we, too, were applauding the great German economic recovery. What a life! A dancer in her teens, a film star in her twenties, the greatest film-maker of that or any time, a pariah to ease the guilt of the world which praised her, a chronicler of Nubian granduer in Africa and a brilliant underwater photographer in her nineties - Leni Reifenstahl lived a life that fiction couldn't create. The short-comings of the interviewer aside, this is a rare oppurtunity to observe and listen to one of the two most influential women of the 20th century, the other being Lou-Andreas Salome. (Salome was the poet Rilke's lover, she jilted the philosopher Nietzche, took pyschoanalysis under Freud and became the first female pyschoanalyst.)There is a movie being made about Leni. It will no doubt depict her a being misguided and possibly depict her as a nazi sympathizer. However, how will the movie tackle the issue of all the awards the world gave her films? Will the French, the English and the Americans who called her a genius back then also be called nazi sympathizers? And will they also be accused of not knowing better?This is a mesmirizing film about a true genius who came along at the wrong time in the wrong place. It is as simple as that."
A biographical tour de force.
John M Flora | 01/03/1999
(5 out of 5 stars)
"The film is a tour de force because it presents Leni Riefenstahl from many perspectives: actress, director, sociologist, rugged individualist, with a complete profile of each facet of her personality. It might help to have read her autobiography before seeing the film, because many questions that other reviewers appear to have had are answered. With regard to her alleged complicity in the Nazi propagand machine, it seems to this writer that she was simply a product of her times and environment. She did not question, she participated, but only as an artist can participate, never questioning the validity or morality of her deeds, only their relevancy to the story of the moment which she was dedicated to telling as professionally and as dramatically as possible. With regard to her apparent indifference to the deeper issues, I feel that in this respect she (as a German) was no different from the millions of Americans today who placidly witness some of the more routine elements of national missile diplomacy on their TVs or in their newspapers and then, uncritically, change the channel or turn the page, never reflecting on the ruthless brutality or moral bankruptcy of such policies or the inevitable retaliatory consequences which will visit our own nation at a much later date."