- The Sieve of Time: Memoirs by Leni Riefenstahl
Quartet, 669 pp, £30.00, September 1992, ISBN 0 7043 7021 2
Does anyone remember Little Me – a fictional autobiography published by Patrick Dennis 30 years ago in mockery of the self-adulatory memoirs which gushed, as they still gush, from actor-dramatists and other multi-talented luvvies? Little Me would not only conduct the symphony he had composed for the inaugural concert in the splendid new concert hall, he was also the architect who had designed the splendid new concert hall. On free afternoons he was a brain surgeon as well, or have I pinched that from later jokes? By page six of The Sieve of Time Leni Riefenstahl is a competitive swimmer and gymnast, aged 12. On page ten she is designing passenger aircraft for when peace should come (the year is 1918), and drawing up detailed timetables for services to link important German cities. ‘I estimated the cost of plane manufacture, airfield construction and fuel in order to calculate the possible price of tickets. I found this work fascinating and noted there was in me some organisational talent struggling to emerge.’
Vol. 15 No. 3 · 11 February 1993
Patrick Dennis’s 1961 book Little Me differs somewhat from Philip Purser’s recollection, as given in his review of Leni Riefenstahl’s autobiography (LRB, 3 December 1992). Little Me chronicles a career that undulates with the fortunes of the American film industry, spanning silents, talkies, the studio-star system, and the descent of television: six decades which leave the legendary actress Belle Poitrine, at ‘Frankly Forty’, a show-business icon. The ‘multi-talented luvvy’ recalled by Purser – who could ‘conduct the symphony he had composed for the inaugural concert in the splendid new concert hall’ he himself had designed, and write admiringly about it all afterwards – is, I think, more likely to be the latterday Renaissance Man in S.J. Perelman’s Vinegar Puss (1975). ‘I Have Nothing to Declare but My Genius’ attests Patrick Foley de Grandeur. (Perelman’s invention was inspired by awed reports of Kipling’s untutored pan-lingualism and screenwriter Sidney Sheldon’s lucrative unstoppable productivity.) Able to toss off fat novels in mere days, improvise Gershwin-quality piano suites, sculpt to shame Rodin, out-pointillist every Post-Impressionist, and fill his own teeth, he is solicited to script all CBS’s varied programmes, and comes to grief – and confinement – only after he boils all Shakespeare’s ‘euphuistical bombast and sesquipedalian twaddle’ down into ‘tales comprehensible to the veriest moron’. Nota bene, Leni!
Warren Keith Wright