Reviews - What do customers think about Riefenstahl: Note Book (Taschen Blank Books)?
Great book - do not listen to reviews still stuck at the stage of "Leni the Nazi" Sep 17, 2006
I was very disappointed to read so many bad, professional reviews of this book, all clearly coming from a biased standpoint. Leni Riefenstahl's memoir is honest, brave, engaging, and even inspiring - it is time to put aside the "Leni the Nazi" glasses and look at her for what she was - an exceptionally talented artist and a passionate, courageous woman who lived at a time when bad decision could end up being fatal. I actually watched through all of her work, and although two of them clearly glorify Hitler (she was shooting a propaganda film after all), I did not find any proof of her being a racists, but many to the contrary. So many of her critics never even actually bothered to watch her films, let alone put it into context (they usually fail to mention that at the time Riefenstahl was commissioned by Hitler, Hitler had not yet invaded Poland and was seemingly nothing but an ambitious political leader who gave people food and hope and promised to help Germany to get on its feet again). As a Jewish Hungarian immigrant, I certainly could have all the reasons to hate Leni Riefenstahl; but I prefer to look at her work in the context of her time and in the light of her artistry, and as such, she certainly deserves much more than these biased reviews try to make you believe.
Riefenstahl was a genius Apr 24, 2006
Riefenstahl was indeed a genius, a genius with the camera and film editing. One will never know whether or not she'd eventually have been a great director, as she was pretty well blackballed by post-war political influences, and had few resources during the war (the "Tiefland" movie, filmed during wartime, was strapped for money and never finished ... as far as I know.) "Das Blau Licht" was an interesting early try at film directing for her, and while that is certainly not a great movie, it does an exceptional job of creating mood via the camera and chiaroscuro effect. The camera angles and camera lens applications she chose were definitely leading-edge. She would also let the camera dwell on the human face and body, so that one could really appreciate the uniqueness of individuals and see how interesting they were (the people used as extras in the "Blau Licht" at its location near Trento, Italy, are particularly memorable). Leni's genius was in showing us the angle, the viewpoint, the shading, and letting us see what she saw. It was at times awesome.
No doubt film makers in the US paid attention to her work. What is really astounding is that she was a woman and pioneer in a man's trade, who created photographic techniques and treatments like none seen before. In the US, we had no female equivalent to even compare to her, and this makes an interesting statement about Third Reich society, which is far different from what we are lead to believe -- women had opportunities to engage in traditionally male professions, even test piloting (the US certainly had no one comparable to Hanna Reisch, either).
Movie viewers may have seen the 1936 sports documentary, "Olympia," that she filmed, composed and edited. It is regarded as THE best such documentary ever produced. Keeping that in mind, think of the Winter Olympic coverage we just witnessed ... "will Michelle Kwan make the team? Why did she miss practice? Will she skate?, etc." It all a bunch of tasteless, dramatic hokum, IMHO. We have jumped the tracks and gone over a cliff of degeneracy compared with the high standard set by Riefenstahl. I recommend viewing her film once again, for the sake of enjoyment and appreciation.
I read her book, "Memiors," in late 1993. It was the best autobiography of a woman that I've ever read ... by far. I wrote her a letter through her publisher, St. Martin's ,and the following July, received a very warm reply and an autographed picture. I quote an interesting extract from her letter:
Quote: "Dear Mr. (Anon), your letter from December 13, I have received only few days ago ... but even in the time you were in Murnau (poster's note: I was in Germany for a couple of months and had hoped to meet her personally, her home was in Pocking), I was diving in Africa, Kenya and in the Seychelles, and not in Germany. Even now I fly to Papua, New Guinea for diving ..."
To clarify, she didn't receive my letter until months after my having sent it, because of her travels for the purpose of underwater photography. And, let's see, she was born in 1902, so she was about ninety-two years-old at the time (We are discussing an incredible person here). We corresponded for several years after that, the last time around her 100th birthday.
In the post war years it was quite common for the US media and particularly Hollywood, to extract excerpts from her films and give her no payment, no recognition. At the same time they were carrying on this artistic theft, they would never miss an opportunity to criticize Riefenstahl for the usual specious reasons. Although she was much too gracious to think in this manner, she, in the end, had the last laugh. She outlived all of her "Hollywood Harry" detractors and carried on to accomplish great and innovative things in photography (See her photo book, "Die Nuba," it is awesome.)
She died at age 101. And would have lived much longer, had she not been severely injured in a helicopter accident a few years earlier.
A toast to Leni!
The art of film-making at its best Mar 8, 2006
Incredible, the insight she gives into the making of films before and during WWII. The trials and tribulations actors and film-makers endured is described in such detail that one can imagine being there.
The book is art, absolute art, all the way through, no matter what Riefenstahl describes. I especially loved the beginning of the book, the description of her childhood. It is so totally German. The customs, the sentiments, the feelings she describes returned me to the stories my mother and grandmother told me, and to many of my own childhood memories.
After reading her book, I believe that she has been deliberately maligned and that she was always only an artist, not ever a collaborator of Hitler.
I especially recommend the book to anyone who loves the art of film-making.
The business of art Dec 9, 2005
The hardcover edition I read in 1992 is a remarkable work, an intimate firsthand account of a celebrated Third Reich ciné artist and her subsequent history. Did she know the `master race' myth (hawked in her films) would be used to justify criminal war, racial laws, and genocide? Did she knowingly profit from a criminal relationship?
Riefenstahl maintains the demeanor of a totally devoted `artist' innocent of opportunism or worldly ambition. This contrasts with an all too actuarial viewpoint on events after the war (where she becomes the victim and keeps score). Her posture is also hard to reconcile with the business of art (which like other trade requires one think of how to get paid).
Sanctimony, omissions, and counter-accusations provide a clue to myopic flaws in one who would have us believe she was completely unaware of the activity of the criminal regime that was her greatest benefactor.
Don't read this if you seek confessionals from an author of propaganda that helped the world go to war and kill millions. If, on the other hand, you want to read how such a person lived with herself in a candid and well-written account, this is highly recommended.
A Window Into a Grand Twentieth Century Epic Life Oct 4, 2005
It took me over a month but I finally finished this astonishing book. I'm exhausted and staggered by the sheer scope of this woman's life--it is in fact a story larger than life. By way of illustration, I recently read the famed and lengthy Carlos Baker biography of Ernest Hemingway. Let me tell you in no uncertain terms: Papa was a sissy in comparison to Leni Riefenstahl (hereafter, LR). This woman displays more grit, tenacity, artistic vision, dedication, resilience and audacity than a pack of wolves cross bred with Ayn Rand and some other extreme artist of maniacal bent, say, Van Gogh. She exemplifies the good and bad potentials for life in the extreme. Hers is a story of perseverance and survival, with agony and ecstasy throughout. The movie "The Wonderful, Horrible Life of LR" could not be more aptly titled. Whew, I'm tongue tied....this book took me there and back and I need a week off to recuperate. It's well-written, but you won't read this for the writing. This is about a life lived to the hilt, decades of painful adventure, the stuff of legend.
Should you contemplate reading this book, I think you need to make a decision in advance: Are you going to squander your time primarily evaluating whether she had knowledge of the genocide of the Jewish people by Hitler and hisminions?? If sitting as a juror as to facts almost 60 years old is a particular hobby of yours, go at it. The fact is, LR was pulled in front of multiple courts, tribunals, and boards throughout the years and has essentially been acquitted time and again by people who would have relished convicting her had there been sufficient evidence. LR denies having knowledge of the genocidal treatment of the Jewish people. Her denials are very similar to those made by the balance of the German people who survived the War and who lived in the same cities and who had similar contacts with various Nazis, albeit perhaps at the lower social levels. I personally believe her, as she demonstrates herself throughout the book to be naive and self-absorbed. Like a lot of artists, she was preoccupied with her own artistic agenda, and "politics," political philosophy, and military ambitions were of no interest to her. Similarly, she gets betrayed and ripped off so many times by so many different people throughout this book of her life that it is clear she has no real ability to evaluate people from a character standpoint. She also seems credible from the stand point that she describes a Hitler who is, suprisingly, not immediately hateable. Instead, I was kind of taken aback by what a gentleman he appeared to be to LR, and how he honored various agreements that he made with her despite every temptation not to do so. LR's failure to categorically condemn Hitler seems to accrue to her credibility that she didn't know his full vicious potentials. (By so denouncing him she could have staved off some further criticism.) She doesn't, however, display that kind of deference to Goebbels and many other of the Nazi bureaucrat/thugs. She describes them exactly as you would envision them as being. Ugly and scary. In any event, my real point is that this book is so full of a broad variety of intrigue that you will miss out should you exclusively focus on this question of her knowledge of or involvement in the atrocities. Bottom line: I don't think we will ever know for sure one way or the other.
The true value of this book is the unique view it offers into so many other varied areas: the history of Germany before, during, after WWII ; the various people who inhabited Germany during this time; insights into other great artists, actors, film-makers during the 30's, 40, 50's, 60's; insight into flying ace, Hans Udet; the story of a person who endured multiple serious health ailments through the years but went on to live to 100; a woman who experienced the heights of international success and artistic glory; a woman who experienced the depths of prejudice and hatred for her earlier affiliations; tremendous insights into early film-making; great mountaineering and skiing anecdotes; insights into the Sudan, the characters and tribal peoples there; insights into the mind and agenda of a great photographer (inspired, I pulled out my Leica and started shooting again half way through the book)....on and on it goes. I enjoyed her anecdotes of meeting Mick Jagger and Bianca, the people at National Geographic, Andy Warhol, Walt Disney. The sheer number of interesting events and people which are described is so vast I would have to tabulate it to give an accurate estimation: she was almost strangled as a child by a child serial killer; she was in Central America in the early 70's when a huge hurricane went through and killed 8,000 people. She describes vivid and bizarre "psychic visions" at the moment of meeting the two loves of her life, both of whom went on to betray her trust and hopes. And, of course, her precisely described conversations with Hitler are extremely interesting and of extreme historical import (she gives almost verbatim descriptions of perhaps 20 or so private conversations with Hitler; she kept journals and had to testify numerous times about the same, thus her accuracy). She describes a bizarre meeting with Mussolini which was fraught with tacit significance as she found herself unwittingly a messenger between him and Hitler. I also was interested in her friendships with Albert Speers, Jean Cocteau. Her favorite people over the course of 90 years?? The Nuba of Sudan, natural, naked, innocent, generous and playful...and extremely photogenic. That is actually how I became familiar with LR: I have her Nuba books (reprints) and they are some of the best examples of photography that I've ever seen- -believe it or not, National Geographic has never published photos of tribal peoples as good as these photos. I then discovered her underwater photo books and was equally astonished. Only later did I learn this photographer had earlier been a film-maker, with a couple of flicks called "Triumph of the Will" and "Olympia" to her credit, ominous milestones in the history of film-making. I'm looking forward to one day seeing her earlier masterpiece "The Blue Light" which received international acclaim.
This woman is, in my opinion, one of the great artists and adventurers of the 20th Century. This book is her story. It is comfortably written and well translated, albeit filled with a few more details than I needed (eg, production details from some of films, and details regarding her countless defamation suits). As the father of a young daughter, I plan on having her read this book (and Ayn Rand's "Fountainhead") at as young an age a practicable. LR displays what I see as enlightened feminism: no bitterness or complaining about unfair circumstances, just full-on pursuit of her dreams, going over or through anyone or anything who tries to thwart her visions, like a locomotive, powered by pure merit and talent and will power. Trying and failing, and then trying again and succeeding.
LR is hardly perfect, and her life is bittersweet. But she is still here and her many enemies are mostly dead. And her films and photographs will live forever. But her ultimate work of art is her life story itself. She has inspired me with her courage and her sense of adventure. Hemingway clearly would have wanted to buy her drinks, and Shackleton likewise would salute.