Leni Riefenstahl: Victory of Faith (1933)

Posted on : 30/11/-0001
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Considered lost for nearly 70 years, Victory of Faith is again available to viewing audiences. A key work in the evolution of National Socialist propaganda, it provides an ambitious record of the 1933 Nazi Party Rally at Nuremberg. The film ran afoul of authorities, however, after the “Night of the Long Knives” in 1934 during which Brownshirt leader Ernst Röhm, a central figure in the 1933 rally, was executed. Across Germany, all references to Röhm were obliterated from the public record, and all prints of Victory of Faith were tracked down and destroyed. Until now, the film seemed little more than an intriguing postscript to Third Reich history. Though far from a masterwork, the film is a revelation on many counts, offering a fascinating first draft of the ideas and techniques Leni Riefenstahl would pull off so powerfully in Triumph of the Will. In their contrasts, the two films shed much light on the early evolution of National Socialist propaganda, it’s evocation of heroism and collective will, it’s portrayal of the ‘national people’s community,’ and its depiction of Adolf Hitler most of all. Where Triumph of the Will showed Hitler as a supreme symbol and absolute master of the movement, the Hitler of Victory of Faith is still first among equals, a man with an unruly forelock, a presence not yet wholly in command. Moreover, Victory of Faith provides a revealing look at the Nazi movement in the first-blush of its 1933 triumphs. Here, the movement still bears the marks of its street-fighter origins; it’s rituals are often raw, lacking the orchestrated precision and theatrical grandeur we associate with later stagecraft. In these and other ways, Victory of Faith fills a gap in our understanding of the Third Reich, capturing the Hitler State at a pivotal stage in its early development.

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