Wonderful, Horrible Life of Leni Riefenstahl (1993)

Wonderful, Horrible Life of Leni Riefenstahl (1993)




Critic Consensus: No consensus yet.

Wonderful, Horrible Life of Leni Riefenstahl Photos

Movie Info

In the 1930s, Leni Riefenstahl was arguably the most important and accomplished female filmmaker of her generation; however, since her primary sponsor was Adolf Hitler, and her best-known work was a hagiographic documentary on the 1934 Nazi Party congress entitled Triumph of the Will, a long and unending debate has raged whether Riefenstahl was a fascist propagandist or a talented artist whose crime was merely doing a job too well. Macht der Bilder: Leni Riefenstahl is an exhaustive two-part look at Riefenstahl's life and work, exploring her early careers as a dancer and actress, reconstructing the making of Triumph of the Will and Olympia (an elaborate and visually striking record of the 1936 Berlin Olympic Games), and her later success as a still photographer, cultural anthropologist, and underwater filmmaker. While the film was made with Riefenstahl's participation, director Ray Muller does not shrink from exploring both sides of the issues of her work with the Nazi regime (she claims to have never been a member of the party and to have been unaware of the genocide of Jews and other "undesirables," while Muller presents evidence that strongly suggests the contrary) even as it celebrates her accomplishments and fierce determination (as a girl she could climb mountains in her bare feet, and in her nineties she was still an avid scuba diver). Macht der Bilder: Leni Riefenstahl was released in the United States under the title The Wonderful, Horrible Life of Leni Riefenstahl.
Art House & International , Documentary
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Critic Reviews for Wonderful, Horrible Life of Leni Riefenstahl

All Critics (22) | Top Critics (4)

This is more often self-portrait than portrait; like Hitler in Riefenstahl's Triumph of the Will, she's presented as a fully formed deity without family background or ideology save a reverence for beauty and strength.

Full Review… | March 14, 2007
Chicago Reader
Top Critic

Sometimes clunky but consistently fascinating.

Full Review… | August 30, 2004
New York Times
Top Critic

Overly long, but fascinating.

Full Review… | December 31, 1999
Washington Post
Top Critic

This movie is fascinating in so many different ways: As the story of an extraordinary life, as the reconstruction of the career of one of the greatest of film artists, as the record of an ideological debate, as a portrait of an amazing old woman.

Full Review… | December 31, 1999
Chicago Sun-Times
Top Critic

A riveting docu about the controversial filmmaker who made some great propaganda art for Hitler

Full Review… | July 25, 2011

Overlong examination of the life of an enigmatic, willful, disengenuous, fascinating, influential and enormously gifted filmmaker.

Full Review… | March 19, 2009
Laramie Movie Scope

Audience Reviews for Wonderful, Horrible Life of Leni Riefenstahl

If you've never seen this do yourself a favor and take a "PBS moment" and explore the power of the camera and it's application in manipulating human emotions. Especailly during an election season. Art meets politics and the discussions of Leni's degrees of involvement are not answered with this film, but she poses and interesting question at one point should an artist or thier work be held accountable for it's poilitcal/ cultural impact? Do they have a responcibility to society? While the answer might depend upon circumstances I think Japanese filmmaker Kenji Mizoguchi who in the same era being forced by the military to make propoganda entertainment films delivered some of the most "bland" films ever made as an act of passive resistence. Not allowing his art to be used by others for ill purposes. The 47 Ronin is one of the most static films ever made.

Bobby Diablo
Bobby Diablo

The juxtaposition of Riefenstahl's undeniable brilliance as an artist with the inescapable fact of her ideological rationalization. My impulse to somehow give her the benefit of the doubt is shot down by the occasional absurdities in her excuses for herself. Not entirely fairly, Leni Riefenstahl has become my mind's poster child for her generation of Germans.

Derek  Wood
Derek Wood

I just saw the greatest and worst documentary ever made. It’s called “Triumph of the Will,” a propaganda film commissioned by Hitler to showcase the 1934 Nazi Party Congress. Directed by a woman named Leni Riefenstahl, the film is unsurpassed for the sheer boldness of its vision and the almost mythological treatment of its subject. That subject, however, just so happens to be the man considered by most of the modern world to be Satan incarnate. Now, I say that with a bit of grain of salt, because I think it’s too easy to label Hitler as pure evil without considering the historical context from which he arose. He certainly committed atrocious, unconscionable acts, but he wasn’t the first to do so. In fact, he cites as [URL=http://www.nemasys.com/ghostwolf/Native/genocide.shtml]inspiration for his Final Solution[/URL] the U.S. and British colonial government’s extermination of Native Americans. That’s right, our own forefathers were the role model for Hitler. Who’s to say that 50 or 100 years from now, we won’t be judged just as harshly? Anyway, back to the movie, there is no doubt that Riefenstahl achieves what she sets out to do: make the Nazis look damn good. From the initial narration we get a hint of the overtly religious tone permeating the film: “16 years after the crucifixion of Germany…” The opening shot is of soaring, majestic clouds, a view from the cockpit of a plane. That plane is carrying der Fuehrer himself, and his arrival in Nuremberg is played like a god descending from Olympus. From there we get references to a divine trinity of sorts: Hitler is the Party, the Party is Germany, Germany is Hitler. There are allusions to resurrection and the belief that faithful followers will achieve (political) immortality. At one point Hitler even addresses the Nazi Youth Corps as “flesh of my flesh, and blood of my blood.” All the references to a Holy Order guiding the Party’s rise to power brings to mind the religious rhetoric of our own simian simpleton, whose minions seem to be taking [URL=http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/military/jan-june02/rumsfeld_2-4.html]a couple of pointers[/URL] from Nazi military strategy. All I can say is, I’m glad bush isn’t as rousing an orator as Hitler was. Then we’d really be in trouble. For more information on the amazing Leni Riefenstahl, check out the extensively researched documentary "The Wonderful Horrible Life of Leni Riefenstahl," with interviews and excerpts from nearly all of her life’s works.

Rae Chang
Rae Chang

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