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The Wonderful, Horrible Life of Leni Riefenstahl

4.5 out of 5 stars 60 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

A spellbinding account of the women best known as Hitler's moviemaker and recently hailed by The New Times as "one of the greatest women filmmakers ever." In this remarkable documentary, Leni Riefenstahl addresses her past for the first time on camera. While she never actually joined the Nazi Party, as the creator of the single most effective propaganda film ever made, Triumph Of The Will, Riefenstahl has spent much of her life trying to live down her association with the Third Reich. Her personal relationship with Hitler is still in question. Feisty and charismatic at 91, Riefenstahl revisits the landmarks of her turbulent life - from her beginnings as a daredevil actress in German mountain films to her direction of such stunning narratives as The Blue Light (1932) and Tiefland (1940s, released in 1954), to her infamous, brilliant documentaries Triumph Of The Will (1935) and Olympia(1938), to her anthropological photographs of the now extinct Nuba tribes in Africa. The film brings the story of Riefenstahl right up to her current passion - scuba diving and shooting films of exotic aquatic life. Altogether, a riveting story that leaves the viewer in total awe of its controversial subject.

Special Features


Product Details

  • Actors: Leni Riefenstahl, Marlene Dietrich, Walter Frentz, Joseph Goebbels, Rudolf Hess
  • Directors: Ray Müller
  • Writers: Ray Müller
  • Producers: Dimitri de Clercq, Hans Peter Kochenrath, Hans-Jürgen Panitz, Jacques de Clercq, Waldemar Januzczak
  • Format: Multiple Formats, Black & White, Color, NTSC, Subtitled
  • Language: German (Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono), English (Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono)
  • Subtitles: English
  • Region: All Regions
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated:
    Not Rated
  • Studio: Kino Video
  • DVD Release Date: March 23, 1999
  • Run Time: 180 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (60 customer reviews)
  • ASIN: B00000INUB
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #50,202 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)
  • Learn more about "The Wonderful, Horrible Life of Leni Riefenstahl" on IMDb

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Jon G. Jackson on June 16, 2001
Format: DVD
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!"
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Format: VHS Tape
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
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Format: DVD
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.
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Format: DVD
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.
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