The matter of Riefenstahl “the Nazi director” is worth raising so it can be dismissed. No question that, in the hallucinatory documentary Triumph of the Will, the cinema’s first great woman filmmaker painted Adolf Hitler as a Wagnerian deity come to earth. But that was in 1934-35. In her next documentary, a two-part summary of the 1936 Berlin Olympics, Riefenstahl gave the same heroic treatment to Jesse Owens, the black American track star. Mythologizing was her method, from her early alpine films to her later photographs of Nuba tribesmen; Hitler was only an incidental beneficiary of the Riefenstahl vision. Politics and politiques aside, Olympia is an amazing technical and artistic achievement. The film’s innovations directly influenced all televised sports coverage. Its narrative ingenuity unearthed the human stories behind every back-page headline.
Next On the Waterfront