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Who, me?

Philip Purser, 3 December 1992

The Sieve of Time: Memoirs 
by Leni Riefenstahl.
Quartet, 669 pp., £30, September 1992, 0 7043 7021 2
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... 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 ...

At the Movies

Michael Wood: ‘The Conformist’, 20 March 2008

The Conformist 
directed by Bernardo Bertolucci.
August 1970
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... serve as a war memorial in its spare time. Fascism in this world is all about size and space, a Leni Riefenstahl movie in another country, its people dwarfed by architecture. There was much talk of the movie’s high style when it first appeared, and it still seems very stylish. Except that now it seems to be all about style: decor, dresses, the ...

At the Pool

Inigo Thomas, 21 June 2018

... reviewed in the LRB by John Bayley (23 July 1992), was handsome; on its front cover is a photo by Leni Riefenstahl of a diver holding a swallow pose, her head about to plunge through the surface of the water. The pictures inside include one by Lartigue of a swimmer sitting on the sand at Houlgate beach: she’s propping herself up with her hands and ...

Donald Duck gets a cuffing

J. Hoberman: Disney, Benjamin, Adorno, 24 July 2003

Hollywood Flatlands: Animation, Critical Theory and the Avant-Garde 
by Esther Leslie.
Verso, 344 pp., £20, August 2002, 1 85984 612 2
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... Adorno and Horkheimer would call the culture industry. This wasn’t Disney’s only sin. When Leni Riefenstahl visited Hollywood in late 1938, Disney was among the few movie industry dignitaries to receive her, treating his guest to a three-hour tour of his studio. Disney and Riefenstahl had recently met at the ...

Dancer and the Dance

Susan Sontag, 5 February 1987

... Tokyo Olympiad) always reveal the athlete’s strain and stress. (Indeed, the extent to which Leni Riefenstahl, in her famous film on the 1936 Olympic Games, chose not to show the athletes in this light is one of the indices that her film is really about politics – the aestheticising of politics in totally ordered mass spectacle and in ...

Drowning out the Newsreel

Katie Trumpener: Nazi Cinema, 12 March 2009

Nazis and the Cinema 
by Susan Tegel.
Continuum, 324 pp., £30, April 2008, 978 1 84725 211 1
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Cinema and the Swastika: The International Expansion of Third Reich Cinema 
edited by Roel Vande Winkel and David Welch.
Palgrave, 342 pp., £62, February 2007, 978 1 4039 9491 2
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Prague in Danger: The Years of German Occupation 1939-45 
by Peter Demetz.
Farrar, Straus, 274 pp., $25, April 2009, 978 0 374 28126 7
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... Harlan ‘researched’ Jud Süß in the Lublin ghetto; and, although she denied it for decades, Leni Riefenstahl used Roma and Sinti concentration camp inmates as ‘extras’ in an exotic feature evoking the wild freedoms of Gypsy life. Third Reich documentaries used footage of the mentally retarded to urge their sterilisation and euthanasia. And in ...

Sprawson makes a splash

John Bayley, 23 July 1992

Haunts of the Black Masseur: The Swimmer as Hero 
by Charles Sprawson.
Cape, 307 pp., £15.99, June 1992, 0 224 02730 1
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... perfected by the diminutive American Desjardins, and immortalised in the Olympic film sequence of Leni Riefenstahl. I am delighted to find that Esther Williams, the swimming star of Forties and Fifties films, always scornfully refused to wear a bikini: those huge elaborate film displays with grottos, waterfalls and diving platforms featured costumes far ...

Business as Usual

J. Hoberman: Hitler in Hollywood, 19 December 2013

Hollywood and Hitler, 1933-39 
by Thomas Doherty.
Columbia, 429 pp., £24, April 2013, 978 0 231 16392 7
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The Collaboration: Hollywood’s Pact with Hitler 
by Ben Urwand.
Harvard, 327 pp., £19.95, August 2013, 978 0 674 72474 7
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... announced Confessions of a Nazi Spy, based on a sensational espionage case, in the same month that Leni Riefenstahl visited Hollywood – it was also the month Kristallnacht took place. Gyssling protested to Breen; Breen dutifully passed on his letter to Jack Warner with a rote warning that the film’s certain censorship by foreign governments would harm ...

A couple of peep-holes in the pillowcase and off we go a-lynching

Ian Hamilton: The Ku Klux Klan, 30 September 1999

Inside the Klavern: The Secret History of the Ku Klux Klan of the Twenties 
by David Horowitz.
Southern Illinois, 191 pp., £39.95, July 1999, 0 8093 2247 1
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... rampaging across open plains were immensely cinematic and all that, but Griffith wasn’t like Leni Riefenstahl, a recurrent conundrum in our adolescent Life v. Art debates. He hadn’t merely been sucked in by the visuals, which seemed to be the tale with Leni. Griffith had a genuine feeling for what those uniforms ...

You Have A Mother Don’t You?

Andrew O’Hagan: Cowboy Simplicities, 11 September 2003

Searching for John Ford: A Life 
by Joseph McBride.
Faber, 838 pp., £25, May 2003, 0 571 20075 3
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... that he unerringly places his camera and edits his footage. But the same could be said for Leni Riefenstahl. The glorification of Ford’s simplicity as an artist should not conceal the fact that his message is trite, callous and evasive. Thomson doesn’t like Ford’s ‘message’; he is not persuaded that his movies tell a story against ...

Drowned in Eau de Vie

Modris Eksteins: New, Fast and Modern, 21 February 2008

Modernism: The Lure of Heresy from Baudelaire to Beckett and Beyond 
by Peter Gay.
Heinemann, 610 pp., £20, November 2007, 978 0 434 01044 8
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... modern era with cultural adventurism. Onto the marching cadres at a Nuremberg rally as filmed by Leni Riefenstahl one can readily superimpose a Mondrian pictorial grid or a Bauhaus architectural design. The ties between Marinetti’s Futurism and Mussolini’s Fascism have never been questioned. Yet whether it is Goebbels’s appreciation of van ...

Desperately Seeking Susan

Terry Castle: Remembering Susan Sontag, 17 March 2005

... there: on one’s own college campus, lecturing on Barthes or Canetti or Benjamin or Tsvetaeva or Leni Riefenstahl. (And who were they? One pretended to know, then scuttled around to find out.) She was our very own Great Man. If there was ever going to be a Smart Woman Team then Sontag would have to be both Captain and Most Valuable Player. She was the ...

Squealing to Survive

John Lahr: Clancy was here, 19 July 2018

Black Sunset: Hollywood Sex, Lies, Glamour, Betrayal and Raging Egos 
by Clancy Sigal.
Icon, 352 pp., £12.99, May 2018, 978 1 78578 439 2
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The London Lover: My Weekend that Lasted Thirty Years 
by Clancy Sigal.
Bloomsbury, 274 pp., £20, May 2018, 978 1 4088 8580 2
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... Ideals. The writer Bud Schulberg helped liberate the death camps and captured the Nazi filmmaker Leni Riefenstahl. Next to J. Edgar Hoover, [Harry] Cohn has the finest surveillance system in the USA. The director Edward Dmytrk probably got it right when he refused to give names and honourably served his prison time and then – surprise! – became ...

Half-Finished People

Thomas Meaney: Germany Imagines Hellas, 11 October 2012

The Tyranny of Greece over Germany 
by E.M. Butler.
Cambridge, 351 pp., £23.99, March 2012, 978 1 107 69764 5
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... was of Doric buildings and Spartan bodies, whose forms he expected Germans would soon approximate. Leni Riefenstahl, when she discovered that the first runner in the torch relay at the 1936 Berlin Olympics was the olive-skinned Konstantinos Kondylis, replaced him with a more suitable Nordic specimen in Olympia. (In an attempt to lend the Games ancient ...

A Swap for Zanzibar

Neal Ascherson: The Unusual History of Heligoland, 16 August 2017

Heligoland: Britain, Germany, and the Struggle for the North Sea 
by Jan Rüger.
Oxford, 370 pp., £25, January 2017, 978 0 19 967246 2
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... F.W. Murnau shot Nosferatu there – the place became a favourite film location – and young Leni Riefenstahl arrived to act in Arnold Fanck’s Holy Mountain. In 1928, Hitler came on a pilgrimage to see this potential bastion against England, accompanied by Goebbels and his doomed niece Geli Raubal. Meanwhile, money poured into the island, and rich ...

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