Biography, Documentary, History, War

Triumph of the Will (1934)

Comments Off on Triumph of the Will (1934) 05 April 2016

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Distributed By:  Synapse Films

Blu-ray Release:  December 8, 2015

Director: Leni Riefenstahl

Rating:  Not Rated

Reviewed By James M. Dubs

I’ll watch anything…including Triumph des Willens.

Film is powerful. It’s one of the primary reasons why I wanted to become a filmmaker when I was a boy. Having the ability to influence masses into feeling love, or believing in ghosts, or even going to war has long fascinated me. But while I was fantasizing about how I could make the Friday the 13th movies scarier, or how I might make the Indiana Jones films more legendary, little did I know that roughly 45 years prior to my birth this same discipline was being used for something much more sinister.

Film Rating: ★★★★½

Triumph_1Triumph des Willens has been reviewed, critiqued, analyzed a thousand times over prior to this post. Nothing I say will be any different than any of those opinions. Instead this review is constructed from the perspective of your typical “Dumb American” who knows a) Nazi’s were evil and b) America won WWII.

Let’s be honest. How many of the following names do you recognize? Bonus points if you have an understanding of their political position.

  • Adolf Hitler
  • Joseph Goebbels
  • Heinrich Himmler
  • Hermann Göring
  • Gregor Strasser
  • Otto Strasser
  • Rudolf Hess

Triumph_6Where did I lose you? Immediately after Hitler? Goebbels? Himmler? Before I dismiss most of you, let me first say that I recommend Triumph des Willens to anyone and everyone. It remains an important historical piece of film history and the most potent piece of propaganda ever produced. The techniques employed by Leni Riefenstahl were far and away ahead of the times and using words such as “grand,” “spectacular,” and “epic” would not be understatements to describe the film, despite the dark and historical subtext observed through modern viewings.

Triumph_2With that being said, foreknowledge of WWII history and the people involved will greatly impact whether you’ll realistically sit through the whole thing. The film largely comprises of rallies, speeches, parades, and demonstrations outlining the virtues of Nazism. Everything is very positive and “hoorah-hoorah”. The locals all seem happy and appear almost quaint in their traditional German garb. The Hitler youth are portrayed as happy young men, but incredibly disciplined (i.e. the perfect sons you never had).

Triumph_4Of course, what’s not seen also speaks volumes. Mass formations of military are choreographed, but where are the weapons? Instead they are seen brandishing shovels, hoes, and flags. Perhaps the most egregious omission is a scene in which Hitler gives an impassioned speech about rumors of an SA and SS divide, and he vehemently denies any fracture in the party, comparing their solidarity to the bricks under his feet. Of course, the perceived fracture probably originates from the June 30, 1934 “Night of the long knives” purge in which several SA officials were murdered by the order of Hitler for their perceived opposition to the Fuhrer.

Triumph_5So here’s my analysis of who should watch.

  • Adolf Hitler & Joseph Goebbels – You recognize these names, but no one else? You’ll turn this film off in the first 15 minutes.
  • Heinrich Himmler & Hermann Göring – This may indicate at least a moderate understanding of Nazi history. It’s safe to recommend this film to you.
  • Gregor Strasser, Otto Strasser, Rudolf Hess – If you know multiple names on this list then I’ll be surprised if you haven’t already seen Triumph des Willens. If you haven’t, this is a must watch!

Video & Audio Rating: ★★★½☆

Triumph_10I need to touch upon one point of controversy surrounding Synapse Films’ blu-ray transfer of the film. The technical specs on the disc boast an “All-new on screen identifications and newly translated removable English subtitles for the speeches.” The reason for the controversy stems from the on screen identifications being forced and non-removable. As the picture above represents, these forced subtitles give descriptive information, great for “Dumb Americans,” but possibly annoying for scholars or film purists that want to watch the movie without these additions. Furthermore, from time to time a logo appears at the bottom right of the screen.

Triumph_3This is the logo of The Film Preserve Ltd and they are the folks responsible for the film restoration. Personally, I did not find these forced descriptive screen identifications or logo distracting, but it’s a personal preference that will be different from person to person. There are, however, a few embarrassing misspellings in some of the subtitles, which adds further insult to those hating on this new blu-ray edition.

That aside, the film looks fantastic. Naturally the film is not going to look like Star Wars and retains a fair amount of scratches, nicks, and debris. However, the blu-ray represents the closest representation of the original elements to date and the experience retains the film qualities one may have encountered in a public exhibition back in 1934 or ‘35.

Audio has been mastered in a DTS-HD Master 2.0 mono track. There’s only so much a restoration can accomplish with the source materials, but as with the video, the audio presentation is far and away the best it has been at any time. As I’ve mentioned in other reviews describing restorations of this kind, omitting pops and scratches is virtually impossible on films this old, but to the extent that this audial noise is minimized is truly marvelous.

Extras Rating: ★★½☆☆

Triumph_7Boy how I wish there was a documentary about the making of Triumph des Willens! If any release deserves a bonus documentary film with a film, it’s this one. In lieu of that we get an audio commentary by Dr. Anthony R. Santoro, professor of history and specialist on National Socialist German history. Santoro’s commentary can be interesting but many times he ends up simply describing what we see on screen. “Girl gives Hitler flowers, salutes.” “Motorcade turns a corner.” Thanks Dr. Santoro, I can see that. But if you can get passed some of these obvious observations, Dr. Santoro does manage to sprinkle in some interesting tidbits from time to time to help explain the significance behind some of the key scenes.

The only other extra is Leni Riefenstahl’s short (17:02), 1935 follow up film to Triumph titled Tag Der Freiheit, translated Day of Freedom. This one primarily focuses on Germany’s military might.

Overall Rating: ★★★★☆

Triumph_9Triumph des Willens is not entertainment escapism. In order to fully appreciate the film it helps to have some level of understanding of whom and what you’re watching. Considering most people today don’t know who their state Senator is, I highly doubt they will know Julius Schaub from Paul D Ryan, or Heinrich Himmler from Nancy Pelosi. If you can put that aside, Triumph des Willens still comes highly recommended as it marks one of the most important times in our planet’s history, and further highlights the incredible power of media and films.

Author

- who has written 64 posts on UnRated Film Review Magazine | Movie Reviews, Interviews.

James Dubs is a father and husband who loves his family first and movies a close second. He believes every movie is worth watching once and, as a film fan and critic, believes that even the worst movies offer something in return. His mission is to watch anything and report without pretension. Follow James Dubs on Twitter and send him suggestions on movies you would like reviewed - popular, obscure, independent, etc. He'll watch anything for you.

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