Tag Archives: WWII

Their Finest: Lissa Evans Celebrates Ealing Studios’ Propaganda Filmmaker

Ordinary people are capable of the extraordinary. British author Lissa Evans believed that with her heart and soul and set out to prove it by creating her own piece of greatness. The road to achievement is often paved with books; and Lissa, an avid reader, navigated her own course.

Evan’s book, The Finest Hour and a Half, from which this month’s movie is adapted, puts the reader in London as the winds of war are howling from Germany. All cinemas are closed in 1939 as Londoners brace themselves for an onslaught of attacks from across the Channel. Continue reading Their Finest: Lissa Evans Celebrates Ealing Studios’ Propaganda Filmmaker

Leni Riefenstahl: Extraordinary Talent Tainted by Heinous Objectives

Leni Riefenstahl. Never heard of her. A crash course was necessary indeed. Fortunately, I work at MoviesonChatham, a research and writing group for film groups, critics and fans. This eclectic group provides ample opportunities for learning curves. The eye-opening quest to learn about this obscure woman left me feeling concerned about the fact that I, a college educated woman who is never without a book, had never, not once, heard of Leni Riefenstahl.

Then again, where would I have crossed paths with Riefenstahl, or her legacy? Continue reading Leni Riefenstahl: Extraordinary Talent Tainted by Heinous Objectives

Propaganda: Activating Flawed Ideologies

Regarded by cinema historians as ‘the best propaganda film of all time,’ and a film that continues to inspire violent debate, Triumph of the Will linked Riefenstahl forevermore in the public record with fascism and Hitler.
—Felicia Feaster, Turner Classic Movies

Neither is there anything to be gained by ignoring her skill as a filmmaker, her place in film history, or her influence. Rather, we hope that this retrospective . . . will contribute to a discussion of the unsettling power of cinema and the relationship between documentary and propaganda, as well as the complex but crucial interplay of aesthetics and ideology.
—Leni Riefenstahl • UCLA Retrospective, UCLA Film and Television Archive

Throughout this year as we examine the theme of propaganda, it is useful to introduce a few simple concepts along the way that can help us to see why a film may fit into this theme, and if it does, to decide whether or not its communication succeeds in its intended influence given its design. Defining propaganda can help us with the first task, so that is where we will begin. Continue reading Propaganda: Activating Flawed Ideologies

Leni Riefenstahl: Major Contributor to Film History–Can We Forgive Her?

Let’s say, just for fun, that the history of film is one big party. Each guest brings a gift to the guest of honor—film in this instance—and helps it to grow in technology and influence. Among the earlier “guests” who had arrived in the 1920’s was Sergei Eisenstein, who contributed Montage. If you remember from our articles on Eisenstein, montage is a film editing technique in which a series of images are edited into a sequence that employs the Kuleshov effect. Continue reading Leni Riefenstahl: Major Contributor to Film History–Can We Forgive Her?

Leni Riefenstahl: A Life Well-Lived–Or Not?

The trouble with this tale, like so many others from Riefenstahl, is that it’s almost certainly rubbish.
—Farran Smith Nehme, The Guardian

Leni Riefenstahl has been the subject of, or associated with, a great amount of literary effort over the 101 years of her life—remembered today as an accomplished but controversial contributor to the history and advancement of film as a cultural form. The above quote likely reflects the author’s frustration in sifting through the literature.

Disparagingly called the “Nazi pin-up girl,”1 Helene Bertha Amalie Riefenstahl, “Leni,” is best known for her role as director of documentary films portraying the power of the Nazi movement (“Leni Riefenstahl”, 1973; “Leni Riefenstahl”, 2017). Continue reading Leni Riefenstahl: A Life Well-Lived–Or Not?

Ashes and Diamonds: Wajda and Socialist Realism

The official socialist realist system—with its predictable conflicts, its negative types and positive heroes, and its progressive and optimistic resolutions, encouraged the production of grossly distorted representations of actual life and actual history.—Eagle (1982)

The essence of a political film is in speaking about what is unspoken; in exposing what is concealed; in unveiling the realities behind the events.—Wajda quoted in Yakir (1984)

It is interesting to observe that through our first-ever “Fall Film Competition,” the group has quite serendipitously assembled a collection of films that can arguably be considered “Films of Social Defiance.” Even though not all can be classified under an official rubric of revolution, all four are enlightening with respect to a time of radical change in a cultural or national sense. Ashes and Diamonds is celebrated for its appeal to an oppressed people who hear a voice that resonates with them in its representations and symbolism that defies socialist realism mandates. Continue reading Ashes and Diamonds: Wajda and Socialist Realism