DISCLAIMER: This film needs one, obviously because of its subject matter. This is a film that glorifies Hitler and the Nazis as gods among men, as greatness personified, and that will of course raise a few eyebrows to put it mildly. But to ignore its significance and power as a truly influential film is to refuse to be objective, because this is a grandly made film in every way. I have no personal qualms about being objective towards this admittedly dastardly piece of propaganda, but that doesn’t make me a skinhead, and neither should it you. So, here’s your disclaimer before entering this one; if you refuse to be objective when it comes to Nazi glorification, stay the hell away from Triumph of the Will.
This isn’t an entertainment movie by any means. First off, it’s a documentary, but more importantly, Triumph of the Will is the most well-known piece of film propaganda of all time. It was commissioned by the Nazis and directed by Leni Riefenstahl, who would forever be linked with Nazi favoritism as a result of this and Olympia. The film documents the 1934 Nazi Congress, including addressment speeches by many Nazi leaders, including Hitler himself. You have probably seen many excerpts from this film without realizing it; that’s how powerful and influential this documentary was, and to an extent still is.
The documentary takes on the form, very much intentionally, of a cinematic opus. This was to be the film of all films, the glorious presentation of the world’s most emblematic leader doing what he does best: speak. Speak, and let the crowds of followers awash him with praise and adulation. In the opening sequence, Hitler descends from the plane all smiles, the very picture of a charming, affable leader greeting his people. Of course, the largest piece of emotional swaying this propaganda film uses is the uplifting and glorifying music, which is ever-present and all-encompassing in its exultation of the material. Sounds of crowds going nuts and cheering for the Fuhrer are spliced over almost all of the music, silent only when Hitler himself is speaking, and even then sounds of the crowd sneak in to raise the man higher on his pedestal. The whole film screams glory from every frame, and it is all to the film’s credit that it comes across as well as it does today.
I feel almost unnerved saying this, but I believe had the Academy Award for Best Documentary existed in 1934, this might’ve actually won it. It is only due to the anti-propaganda that sprouted in the wake of Hitler’s defeat that prevents us from being won over by this excellently done piece. Like it or not, this is a great documentary, and one that rightfully earns its spot on the must see list. No one ever said the films on the list had to be positive or morally just, and Triumph of the Will is a good example of the greatness of individual films exceeding popular morality.
Arbitrary Rating: 8/10