Currently reading : Leni Riefenstahl’s Olympia
“Olympia” is a 1938 film by the German director Leni Riefenstahl, who is best known for producing propaganda during the Third Reich. After Adolf Hitler invited Riefenstahl to the infamous 1936 Berlin Olympic Games, she used footage from the events in addition to shots of ruins in Athens to piece together what is now a famous film. Riefestahl’s film utilized many innovative techniques for its time, like tracking and slow motion. The opening sequence to the film, which juxtaposes the great ruins of Greece and the idealized bodies of Greek sculptures with the perfectly toned (and starkly white…) bodies of athletes easily evokes the art of the Third Reich and its twisted re-interpretations of Greek ideals and “masculine” altheticism.
Of course, one cannot and should not divorce the film from the dark period that produced it. Today, the tropes of propaganda as used in this film seem almost laughable. Its patriotic track and and bizarre shots of, say, the human discus thrower, a brutally obvious connection to the Greek scultpure, seem more hilarious than enlivening. Yet, as one blogger featuring this film astutely points out, we can only understand today’s propaganda by studying that of the past and properly placing it in its historical context. I don’t intend for anyone to enjoy this film as simply “a piece of art,” completely devoid of context, but I do think that it can be studied as the result of a particular period and set of (completely misguided) values for the tropes it employs. After all, 1936 likely won’t be the last highly-advertised and bigoted Olympics….