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Leni Riefenstahl: A Life Hardcover – January 23, 2007

4.0 out of 5 stars 10 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Nothing tests Keats's adage that beauty is truth more severely than the work of the Third Reich's leading filmmaker, whose notorious documentaries Triumph of the Will and Olympia cloaked the hideousness of Nazi Germany in grand, gorgeous, emotionally overpowering imagery. In this soberly critical biography, film historian Trimborn analyzes the brilliant techniques with which Riefenstahl "replace[d] politics with aesthetics" and made Hitler "an almost erotic object" to the adoring German masses. (Her mystically monumental style, he notes, lived on to influence Hollywood blockbusters like Star Wars and The Lion King, as well as Mick Jagger's stage shows.) He also dissects the lesser falsehoods Riefenstahl propagated to downplay her close relationship with Hitler and complicity with the Nazis. He reprints examples of her fawning praise of the fuehrer and reconstructs her erasure of a Jewish collaborator from the credits of one of her films, her use of Gypsies interned in a forced labor camp as extras (many of whom were later sent to Auschwitz) and her witnessing of a massacre of Jews in Poland, which she protested but which didn't dilute her enthusiasm for Hitler. Trimborn's brisk, lucid account gives the director her artistic due while sternly correcting her evasive mythology, and makes for an illuminating look at a fascinating, troubling figure. Photos. (Jan.)
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From Booklist

*Starred Review* Leni Riefenstahl was an artist of tremendous powers, but her most entrancing creation was herself. Film professor Trimborn spent years researching the beautiful, ferociously ambitious German filmmaker's long and complicated life, uncovering documents and gathering testimony that refute Riefenstahl's sanitized version of her experiences as a Nazi insider. Judiciously cognizant of contradictions and ambiguity, Trimborn insightfully parses Riefenstahl's passions for sports, dance, and film and her gift for finding men to back her creative endeavors. A 1932 fan letter gained Riefenstahl entry into Hitler's inner circle. Trimborn masterfully analyzes her masterpieces, Triumph des Willens (Triumph of the Will), and Olympia, placing her "fascination with the beautiful and strong" in opposition to the ugly facts about her Nazi collaborations. But no matter how many "denazification" hearings she underwent, she was always officially exonerated, free to reinvent herself as a photographer in the Sudan and underwater, after taking up scuba diving in her 70s. Embraced by Mick Jagger, David Bowie, and Madonna, Riefenstahl ultimately premiered her final film on her 100th birthday. Trimborn's scrupulous analyses of Riefenstahl's aesthetic triumphs, artistic opportunism, sustained vitality, and monstrous moral failings are utterly compelling. Donna Seaman
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Faber & Faber (January 23, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0374184933
  • ISBN-13: 978-0374184933
  • Product Dimensions: 6.2 x 1.4 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,138,696 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By M. Ritchie on February 16, 2007
Format: Hardcover
This is the first book I've read about the notorious director, but I will need to read another one to truly get a full sense of her life and work. This author seems to assume that we have already read a fuller account of her life and instead spends the bulk of his pages refuting her own statements about herself, mostly from what seems to have been the blanket of lies and evasions that her published memoirs were. Despite a chapter list that implies chronological order, he often jumps back and forth a bit confusingly. He does very little fruitful discussion of her work, and if I hadn't already seen Triumph of the Will and some of Olympiad, I would have no sense of why these films remain important and controversial works. I wasn't looking for a book whose primary goal was either to damn her or rehabilitate her, though of course with a subject as controversial as Riefenstahl any author will eventually have a point of view on her. But to get to that point, the book should present a clear view of her life, career, and works, and though Trimborn's book does have its interesting sections, it's not a satisfying biography for readers who don't already know quite a bit about her.
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Format: Hardcover
The infamous filmmaker of the Third Reich, Leni Riefenstahl, continues to fascinate even after her death at age 101 in 2003, as this biography by German film historian Jürgen Trimborn is one of two coming out this spring documenting her controversial life and career. Trimborn has the advantage of having conducted several interviews with Riefenstahl over the latter part of her career and consequently provides an intriguing perspective on a woman who was preoccupied with sustaining her image as a purely artistic and objective observer of the world around her, including Hitler's encroaching regime. Trimborn dismantles many of her the myths that Riefenstahl took pains to develop over her lifetime, most surprisingly how she allegedly pursued Hitler aggressively after meeting him in May 1932.

A supreme opportunist, Riefenstahl carved her role as the Third Reich's propagandist with the specific intent of encouraging the unabated spread of Fascism to bolster her career. Her legendary vitality was clear from the outset, beginning as an interpretive dancer and then an actress in a series of mountaineering films popular in the Weimar at the time. She turned her attentions behind the camera, which culminated into her two masterful documentaries - `"Triumph of the Will" about the 1934 Nuremberg rallies and "Olympia" about the 1936 Berlin Olympics. While the ethical nature of Riefenstahl's participation in the Nazi cause does not diminish her great talent, Trimborn conversely shows the reverse to be true as well, as he concludes without hesitation what a world-class liar she was.

Her latent anti-Semitism and awareness of the ongoing genocide are well documented here as an intrinsic part of her self-delusion regarding the atrocities committed for the sake of maintaining Aryan supremacy.
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Format: Hardcover
I'm in complete agreement with reviewer M. Richie on this one. Trimborn's book is well-researched and his conclusions are supported but this is not the place for the novice to start. The writer appears to assume the reader already knows Riefenstahl's basic life story, her claims and the allegations against her. He sets about addressing the claims and allegations one at a time, consequently this biography is not in chronological order. If, like me, you know only the bare bones of Riefenstahl's story, this can get confusing. It doesn't lend itself to narrative drive, either.

If I'd read another biography of Riefenstahl first, I'd probably find this book a good next step but as a first step it left alot of gaps. Still, Trimborn demolishes Riefenstahl's claims that she was "apolitical" and provides details about the making of her landmark films. This is a worthy addition to the field, just not a place to start.
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Format: Hardcover
The title suggests this is about the life of Leni Riefenstahl, but in the greater part of the text, Trimborn describes her relationship with Hitler and Reich and her subsequent denials.

He shows how her protestations that she was innocent because she was an apolitical artist cannot stand up to the eye witness accounts, official testimony, and photographic records that link her to Hitler's inner circles. Whether or not she was a mistress of Hitler, Trimborn clearly documents her close association with him. She obviously had high up patronage to receive seemingly unlimited production funds and the life and death power over others.

In her abusive patriarchic family, Leni is given no support for the talent she undoubtedly has. She desperately strives for approval from a frightfully violent father. Her unhappy romantic life can be predicted as can her search for a strong male figure. Her beauty, exposure as an actress and a chance "fan" letter give her access to Hitler at the time she is beginning to make her own films. From her family background she is psychologically programmed to overcome and achieve and Hitler sees that she can deliver what he needs.

Germany's defeat creates for Leni one of the sharpest career drops ever, after which she managed a second career that spanned over 50 years. It was not as glamorous and well funded as her first career and the honors she received were always tainted by protest.

How do we assess achievement in the dubious art of propaganda? Is the artist responsible for evil that the creation may inspire? Can artists be absolved for denying belief in, commitment to, or lack of understanding of the content they create? Should those who have had limited access to success (i.e. women, minorities) be given greater laditude in assessing their path to success?

This book has plenty of food for thought.
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