Saturday, January 14, 2012

116. Olympia

Olympia 1. Teil- Fest der Volker (Festival of Nations)
Olympia 2. Teil- Fest der Schonheit (Festival of Beauty)
Directed by Leni Riefenstahl

So, I was all prepared to rant about how boring this movie is.  I am a not in any way, shape, or form a sporty person. I have never watched the Olympics before or any sporting event for that matter.  It is kind of weird that the first Olympics I watched were the 1936 summer Olympics, but I have done stranger things for the sake of the 1001 journey (following around a high school film teacher in order to question him about Me and My Gal comes to mind).

Anyway, I was prepared to rant until I saw the jumping competition.  That was absolutely insane.  The guys jumped like 1.77 meters!  That wasn't even human!  And the runners!  Flash has nothing on Jesse Owens.  I was pretty entranced.  Oh, and the javelin throwing!  How is that even possible???

Much as I hate Riefenstahl, I do have to admit the film making was pretty incredible.  I even forgot sometimes what a hateful person she was, until a shot of Hitler cheering on the German athletes would punctuate the events.  I am having Griffith flashbacks.  Still, well made and pretty entertaining.

RATING: ***--

Interesting Facts:

Funded by the Third Reich.

Riefenstahl could not find a US distributor because so many American anti-Nazi organizations protested it.  Go USA!

The second part of the film celebrated the male body a lot.  Like really a lot.  Like back-off-Riefenstahl-you-are-creeping-me-out a lot.



  1. Warning, this one goes on a bit, and slightly wanders off subject!

    I also find sports and sports movies of little or no interest, and yes, I also found this held my interest all the way through.

    Please bear with me while with the next statement before putting me on the stop list!
    I find Leni Riefenstahl incredibly interesting -and have seen a few of her other films - her early 'mountain films'.. 'Blue light', 'Holy Mountain' - plus a superb documentary called 'The wonderful, horrible life of Leni Riefenstahl' which explores, in good detail - her assertions that she was never political, just doing a job.
    The fact that as a female she was able to get respect for her work in the 20's & 30's was impressive.. but to retain it during the Third Reich, when a woman's place was purely as a baby machine, took some doing.
    I strongly advise anyone to have a look at the documentary. It shows a lot about her early work as an actress and then director, and severely raises all sorts of difficult questions about her involvement with the Nazi party.

    I'm never totally sure about her. As an artist, as a director, I think she is superb. As a person? The very best I can ever get to is incredibly naive - and as I want to grant her her intelligence.. well, that excuse slips more than somewhat. Even as an artist, she has that Fascistic 'body beautiful' ethos that you found so creepy. Her post war work as a photographer with tribal peoples in Africa has the same feel about it - and I don't like it either.

    Her early work has that 'romantic back to nature' fell that the Nazi's took to.. and the strength of the strong individual to survive and overcome the ignorant masses can look more than a little scary.
    But wait.... In 'The Blue Light', she is the outsider.. the passionate lover of the mountains who is despised, feared, ostracised by the villagers for being different, and hated by the male mountain guides for being a woman who climbs the mountains in her own way - and alone. Remake this film today, and you would have a strong feminist theme.
    It is these contradictions I find so interesting..

    Sorry, I have gone on again. Please let me leave you with one interesting snippet. Try this as a question to any sport or history buff.
    Q.Which national leader totally snubbed Jessie Owens after his victories?
    A. Adolph Hitler? Well, no. Hitler shook hands and congratulated him on winning. On his return to the USA, when the team was welcomed back, FDR would not meet him. Owens had to use the back door of the team hotel as he was not allowed to be seen entering a posh hotel as a black guy. He was excluded from all ceremonies. All those newsreel clips you see in history programmes of him beating the German supermen? They are from LR's film, shown in Germany, not from American sources.
    Yes, that FDR, the leader of the democratic free world struggle against Nazism.

    1. Thanks so much Ray. You really gave me something to think about it since I haven't really thought about her since I watched the film. She would definitely be an interesting person to explore. I just checked and apparently a project is in the works to make a movie about her life.

  2. I would love to see a bio-pic, so I immediately Googled it, and to my dissapointment all I could find was an article about Stephen Sonderbergh dropping the idea. (Sept 2013). Other mentions went back as far as 2002 where it was planned to star Jodie Foster, but the plan hit rocks when Foster & Riefenstahl couldn't agree on who had final say on content - I guess the slant the movie was going to take on LR's complicity in the regime.

    1. Ahhh apparently I was reading a really old article. How did I not realize that? Well, I guess we will just have to make the biopic ourselves.

  3. Interesting comments here from Ray. My own personal impression of LR is that she paid lip service to her sponsors in order to able to make the movies she wanted to do. There are many elements to the Olympics movie that are not Nazi party policy, but throw in some pictures of Adolf and funding and support is secure. Just see how she recognized Owens when American media did not.

  4. Thank you TS.. I'd forgotten about this topic, and good to revisit it.
    I remain deeply conflicted on my opinion about her .. specifically on her complicity in, and belief in, the regime.

  5. Yes, I didn't find this nearly as racist as I had been led to believe. The only point I can think of was the way the "black" athletes were always labelled as such (in the same way a left-hander might be referred to in a tennis match) and one instance where two of them were up against "the best of the white race". But even then this didn't seem to be supposed to prove any points. Arguably this more reflects the time than the social policies of Nazi Germany? And I'm not sure that the patriotic/nationalistic overtones were really so different to the coverage of, say, Beijing 2008 or even any other modern-day Olympiad.

    After watching Part One I was going to observe that it was mostly just an extended sports highlights package and suggest that it would be interesting to debate what qualifies it for entry into the list. Is it in large part because it has become an unintentional documentary to what a nation on the brink of war and holocaust looks like? But Part Two moves away from the track & field events to those more given to artistic camera work and editing.

    Unlike other contributors here, I am a enthusiastic sports fan so can also appreciate it on that level. And as such there were lots of interesting insights into how things used to be. I liked, for example, how the pistol targets for the modern pentathlon were all human shaped, not circles.

    1. Yeah definitely not very into sports, which limits my enjoyment of several entries on the List. I think you're right about the reason for its inclusion.