A sad Faustian story that features the artistic triumphs of a woman who figuratively climbed a roof at Auschwitz to get a...

LENI

THE LIFE AND WORK OF LENI RIEFENSTAHL

A former movie producer and, subsequently, chronicler of Hollywood legends (Marlene Dietrich, 1992) and legendary fiascos (Final Cut, 1985) revisits what a documentary filmmaker once called “the wonderful, horrible life” of cinema’s most controversial figure.

This second recent biography of Riefenstahl focuses a bit more on her cinematic style than its predecessor, Jürgen Trimborn’s Leni Riefenstahl (Jan. 2007). Trimborn had the advantages (and frustrations) of interviews with Riefenstahl (who died in 2003 at 101), but Bach has an insider’s view of how films are produced. Still, the two books cover much the same ground and issue many of the same judgments. Bach begins with a snapshot of the Berlin film world of 1925, then returns to the birth and childhood of Helene Amalia Bertha Riefenstahl, born 1902. (Cross-eyed as an infant, Leni would in a metaphorical sense never lose that disability.) Young Leni desperately wanted a career in the arts. She tried dance, sustained an injury, segued smoothly into the nascent film industry, where she acted in some popular alpine films, then moved behind the camera. Her great assets were her stunning beauty, her ferocious work ethic and her ability to curry favor. In 1930s Germany, she found the most powerful patron of all, Adolf Hitler. Bach carefully reconstructs their relationship (he does not believe the two were ever sexually involved) and shows her varied relations with other Nazi notables (Goebbels, Speer, Bormann). Bach looks with a filmmaker’s eye at Riefenstahl’s great popular successes (Triumph of the Will, Olympia), as well as her lesser known and aborted films (Tiefland, Black Cargo). He skips quickly over her later years—her books of African photographs, her underwater film (he calls Underwater Impressions “soporific”). On his subject’s considerable moral failings, Bach is unrelenting. She knew she was in the presence of evil; she found it attractive—and lucrative.

A sad Faustian story that features the artistic triumphs of a woman who figuratively climbed a roof at Auschwitz to get a closer look at the clouds.

Pub Date: March 19, 2007

ISBN: 0-375-40400-7

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2007

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If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

THE 48 LAWS OF POWER

The authors have created a sort of anti-Book of Virtues in this encyclopedic compendium of the ways and means of power.

Everyone wants power and everyone is in a constant duplicitous game to gain more power at the expense of others, according to Greene, a screenwriter and former editor at Esquire (Elffers, a book packager, designed the volume, with its attractive marginalia). We live today as courtiers once did in royal courts: we must appear civil while attempting to crush all those around us. This power game can be played well or poorly, and in these 48 laws culled from the history and wisdom of the world’s greatest power players are the rules that must be followed to win. These laws boil down to being as ruthless, selfish, manipulative, and deceitful as possible. Each law, however, gets its own chapter: “Conceal Your Intentions,” “Always Say Less Than Necessary,” “Pose as a Friend, Work as a Spy,” and so on. Each chapter is conveniently broken down into sections on what happened to those who transgressed or observed the particular law, the key elements in this law, and ways to defensively reverse this law when it’s used against you. Quotations in the margins amplify the lesson being taught. While compelling in the way an auto accident might be, the book is simply nonsense. Rules often contradict each other. We are told, for instance, to “be conspicuous at all cost,” then told to “behave like others.” More seriously, Greene never really defines “power,” and he merely asserts, rather than offers evidence for, the Hobbesian world of all against all in which he insists we live. The world may be like this at times, but often it isn’t. To ask why this is so would be a far more useful project.

If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-670-88146-5

Page Count: 430

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...

NIGHT

Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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