Site created 12/15/97.
review added: 4/9/01
Triumph of the
Edition - 1934 (2001) - The Film Preserve (Synapse Films)
review by Brad Pilcher of
The Digital Bits
Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras):
Specs and Features
120 mins, NR, full frame (1.33:1), B&W, single-sided, RSDL
dual-layered (layer switch at 1:05:14, in chapter 14), Amaray keep
case packaging, film-themed menu screens, audio commentary by Dr.
Anthony Santoro, Professor of History, Leni Riefenstahl's short
documentary Days of Freedom,
scene access (18 chapters), languages: German (Mono) subtitles:
that I was talented." - Leni Riefenstahl
Triumph of the Will is just
one of those movies. You know the ones... the kind where the quality
is so superb and memorable, and yet they're still dwarfed by the
power of the story behind them. In this case, the immense talent of
Leni Riefenstahl is put on display in a film that utilized a huge
crew and tremendously elaborate camera set-ups. Even cameramen on
rollerskates were used, which only illuminates the inventiveness and
experimentation of Riefenstahl. In the end, she edited sixty-one
hours of footage into two, and put out what is easily the finest
documentary/propaganda hybrid film of all time.
The problem for Riefenstahl is that this film was made for and
about the Nazis, specifically their 1934 Nazi Party Convention in
Nuremberg. That she made several other films for Hitler, who
personally selected her after viewing her 1931 release,
The Blue Light, certainly
hasn't helped her cause. So despite her enormous talent for
filmmaking, "Hitler's Favorite Actress" has never been
able to shake her Nazi-connections and was effectively blacklisted
following World War II.
To be sure, the degree and nature of sympathy Riefenstahl had for
the Nazi party is a question of some debate. She has made numerous
efforts to distance herself from the Nazi ideology, if only out of
professional necessity, but has remained unrepentant for the films
she made. The whole controversy is as interesting as any of her
films, but it's had one indelible effect. Documentary filmmaking has
forever been changed by Triumph of the
Will. Riefenstahl's fusion of propaganda with documentary
techniques has skewed the assumption of objectivity afforded the
Getting back to the film itself, the documentary opens with Hitler
flying into Nuremberg for a week of events. These are made up mostly
of marches and speeches by various officials, which makes sense
given that this was designed to both introduce the new Nazi
leadership to the people of Germany and also to pump those people up
with displays of national unity. It probably did both very well for
the ten years it ran in Germany, but to say it gets repetitive would
be an understatement. Two hours of saluting crowds, marching
uniformed Nazis and Hitler's ranting can grate on the nerves, and I
can resolutely say that I find the subject material boring as well
However, the structure and style of this film is as mesmerizing as
Hitler's speeches were to the Germans of his time. Riefenstahl's
cinematography is stellar, to say the least. From religious
iconography, such as Hitler's cross-shaped plane shadowing the
ground and the halo of light around him, to the early shot of a
night rally through a sheer Nazi flag, the movie is still visually
amazing some 67 years later. It set new standards for documentary
cinema when it was first released. As a film student, or someone who
appreciates film in general, you simply can't escape the talent
involved in the creation of Triumph of
the Will. The saddest part of all of this, is that
Riefenstahl's gift has never been fully appreciated due to the sheer
depravity of her subject material.
So let us all thank Synapse for bringing this film to DVD. Almost
70 years after its original release, and with the knowledge that
history has not been kind to this print, we have a stunningly
high-quality piece of video here. Of course, there are still source
defects - some grain and even water damage here and there. But you
can't expect a black-and-white film of this age to be pristine.
Culled from a master negative held by the Robert A. Harris' Film
Preserve, Triumph of the Will
just looks great on DVD and, given the film's artistic and
historical value alone, this is a blessing. The image is relatively
crisp, with solid blacks (as solid as they get considering the age
and period of the print) and surprising depth. I've seen many "classic"
films and, on DVD, they've all looked wonderful. But here I can go
beyond the customary, "it looks better than it ever has."
It looks damn good.
It also sounds good too, considering that this is a mono track from
an era when recording technology introduced plenty of quibbles, pops
and snaps to the audio. The speeches are powerful in their force -
surprisingly so. The musical score, an element of her films for
which Riefenstahl is famous, comes through nicely as well. Even
background noises like the cheering crowds are pretty distinct, all
things considered. Overlook the audio defects that remain, as
they're simply unavoidable after this much time, and focus on the
relative clarity here. It's simply impressive.
Even the extras here leave you feeling satisfied. Right up front,
it's important to note that much more could have been done here
considering the history of this film. How cool would it have been to
get the documentary on Riefenstahl The
Wonderful, Horrible Life of Leni Riefenstahl with this?
That said, I'm not going to bash Synapse for not seeking out more
supplemental material (especially since Kino has the rights to that
documentary). What they have included is top-notch. First of all,
you get Riefenstahl's short film Days of
Freedom, which runs about 17 minutes. It can be said that
this is nowhere near as good as Triumph
of the Will. Still, it serves as a further exploration of
Riefenstahl's style, and is referenced in the commentary track. It
turns out that this film, which documents the German armed forces,
was only made because they wouldn't stop whining about getting short
shrift in Triumph.
The other major bonus item is, in fact, the commentary track, which
really shines and makes this DVD worthwhile. Featuring a professor
of history, Anthony Santoro, it starts out as a sort of
play-by-play, with no allusions as to the real opinions of our Ph.D.
Then, as we reach a portion where various Nazi officials are shown
in snippets, Santoro starts ripping in with how much he thinks these
guys are garbage. We learn about the pornography of one guy, the
person who should've been executed (according to Santoro) but offed
himself before they could try him, etc. The shift sort of throws you
at first, but then you just smile at the genius of this commentary.
It's full of information, and Santoro's even, nonchalant delivery
makes the opinionated zingers all the better. Watching this film
without the commentary can be tough, but I sat happily through the
whole two hours of Santoro.
Given the subject nature of this film, I feel like I have to put my
own opinions (zinger-less though they may be) in here before I
close. Hitler was a major league bunghole... but he sure knew how to
pick his filmmakers. Riefenstahl displayed tremendous ability here -
ability that forever redefined the documentary form and set a new
standard for filmed propaganda. If you look past the vile nature of
this material, you'll find a rock-solid and important DVD. It's
absolutely worth a look.