A well-researched, judicious view of the life of the woman whose arresting images of the Third Reich pursued her until her death in 2003, at the age of 101.
Riefenstahl cooperated somewhat with Trimborn (Film, Theater, Art History/Univ. of Cologne), though as he shows repeatedly, she guarded her story with Cerberean ferocity. For nearly 60 years, she denied and lied about her past, and Trimborn does his best to separate truth from fiction and self-deception. For her early life, he is forced to rely on her memoirs (Leni Riefenstah, 1993), a volume he calls “worthless as a historical document.” Trimborn tells us about Riefenstahl’s harsh father, her youthful determination to be a dancer (a knee injury ended her promising career), her explosive arrival in the 1920s German cinema as a sexy star of the “mountain film” genre. Trimborn shows Riefenstahl’s fierce ambition to become a director in a male-dominated art form. In the early 1930s, Adolf Hitler became her hero, her patron. (Trimborn does not think anything sexual occurred between them, though opportunities were ample.) For the Nazis she produced The Triumph of the Will, the world’s most notorious propaganda film, which premiered on the Führer’s birthday in 1938 and conferred upon her a celebrity she would never again enjoy. Trimborn examines all of Riefensthal’s films (with closest looks at her early ones) and views her principally as a “careerist.” She was interested in making films, and Hitler was a devoted supporter, funding her efforts even as Allied bombs rained on German cities. The author carefully chronicles Riefenstahl’s long post-war life: her numerous failed film projects, her many trips to Africa (her stunning photographs of the Nuba people made her financially secure once again), her late-life underwater film (Underwater Impressions, 2002).
Casts a bright light on the dark past of a superb artist who cozied up to killers, got what she wanted and spent the ensuing decades as the queen of denial.