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Default Triumph of the Will




Reviewer: Jeremy
Review Date: July 13, 2001

Released by: Synapse Films
Release date: April 17, 2001
MSRP: $34.98
Region 0, NTSC
Windowboxed 1.37:1




The Story

inline Image September, 1934 - A month earlier, following the death of German president Otto von Hindenburg, a man named Adolf Hitler became head of the German state through succession, bringing his National Socialist German Worker's Party (or, as we better know it, the Nazi Party) into power with him. As Hitler began to consolidate power and become the supreme leader of the German state, his party met for it's 11th annual rally in the city of Nuremberg. Triumph of the Will begins with Hitler's arrival by plane and his trip through city streets crowded with his cheering, loyal supporters.

inline Image Following a night rally outside Hitler's hotel, we are then introduced to a camp outside the city full of Hitler Youth recruits who are just rising from bed. They shave, eat breakfast, wash up, play games and generally appear cheerful as inside the city, Hitler's first activity is to receive an honorary harvest from German farmers dressed in their traditional clothes. After that, Hitler and Dr. Robert Ley inspect some of the men of the German Labor Front (DAF), a labor organization headed by Ley that was set up as the Reich's answer to unions.

inline Image Moving on, we are introduced to the party's Congress Hall in Nuremberg, where Rudolf Hess, the Deputy Führer, makes a brief speech extolling Hitler and the National Socialist movement, and makes overtures to foreign dignitaries visiting the event and senior commanders in the German military, who have only just now come under the control of Hitler. Hess' speech is followed by remarks from Robert Ley, propaganda minister Dr. Josef Goebbels, justice minister Dr. Hans Frank, press chief Dr. Otto Dietrich, and other Reich officials such as Adolf Wagner, Fritz Reinhardt, Dr. Walter Darre, Alfred Rosenberg, Dr. Fritz Todt and Julius Streicher.

inline Image Next, Hitler inspects a 52,000 man force of the Reich Labor Service (RAD), a paramilitary labor organization whose job it is to work on German building projects such as the Autobahn highway. Various members of the group introduce themselves, telling what region of Germany they come from. They sing their official anthem and then memorialize the fallen German veterans of World War I. Hitler follows this with a speech congratulating the men, and declaring that in he new German state, physical labor is no longer looked upon as unrespectable, and that soon all youth will have to pass through their ranks.

inline Image Yet another night rally is held, this time with a speech by Victor Lutze, the head of the Storm Troopers (SA) to his men. This is followed by a massive daytime rally with thousands of members of the Hitler Youth participating, and with another speech by Hitler. Afterwards, Hitler and army chief General Walter von Blomberg watch German infantry and cavalry performing training maneuvers. This is followed by one final night rally, featuring thousands of people parading with Nazi flags by torchlight. The next day, a memorial service is held for the deceased President von Hindenburg.

Victor Lutze gives a speech to reassure members of the SS and SA that all is well within their ranks, a reassurance that they badly needed since Hitler had purged (murdered) their former commander, Ernst Rohm, and other members several months earlier because they were considered too leftist. Hitler then gives another speech to personally reassure them that their groups won't be destroyed or purged again. The film climaxes with a massive parade through the streets of Nuremberg, with various members of German paramilitary organizations and Hitler's own personal SS bodyguard regiment making appearances. Finally, Hitler concludes the event with a passionate speech at the Congress Hall.

Triumph of the Will is a work of fiction; I can safely make that statement, even though the film depicts real people taking part in a real historical event. Although originally sold as a documentary on the Nazi rally, the film is actually a very cleverly constructed propaganda piece made at the behest of Hitler and his associates, portraying them and the National Socialist movement in the most flattering possible light. To achieve the effects seen onscreen, hundreds of hours of footage were shot, special sets were constructed at the rally to accommodate the filming, and quite a few parts were re-shot for maximum effect. The director, Leni Riefenstahl, spent months editing it together. Today, it's blatantly obvious that Triumph of the Will is not a documentary, and since many of the tricks used in it's construction will now be obvious to modern viewer, it no longer has any real power as a propaganda piece (the media and government now having developed much more sophisticated methods to lie to us anyway), but to audiences in Germany in the 30's and 40's, it must have been a positively overwhelming experience.

The film has implications, though, that go beyond simply how Hitler used propaganda to build the Nazi regime. It is a perfect example of how images and words can be twisted around to distort reality. Although many Americans don't realize it today, there is probably more propaganda surrounding our lives than at any other point in history. Politicians, both liberal and conservative, launch inaccurate, scare-mongering attacks on each other designed to prey on people's worst instincts. Media organizations, claiming to be impartial, often operate with secret agendas. Partisan groups bend reality to suit their own agendas, manipulating statistics and facts. A film like Triumph of the Will should remind us that we are always seeing reality through somebody's else's filter, and we should always keep that in mind and be aware of when someone is attempting to be manipulate us. As World War II shows us, when that doesn't happen, the result can be disastrous. Triumph of the Will is a very important work, and it should always be watched and remembered.

Image Quality

inline Image Triumph of the Will is presented windowboxed (black bars on all sides of the frame) in it's original 1.37:1 aspect ratio. The windowboxing won't be noticeable on most TVs, except for the opening credits and one scene inside the Congress Hall. As for the image quality itself, it's a mixed bag, but considering all that this film has gone through, it's a wonder that acceptable prints have survived at all. The black and white image is nicely detailed and contrast is very good, only faltering during the night sequences where the image looks overly dark and murky (no doubt due to the technical limitations of 1934). There are quite a few scratches and splices on the print used, as well as a lot of noticeable speckling and grain. Still, these are to be expected from such an old film, and those used to watching movies like this shouldn't be fazed by the problems too much.

Sound

The soundtrack is presented in it's original German in creaky Dolby 2.0 Mono (hey, what were you expecting anyway, a re-mix in 6.1 DTS?). The fidelity is poor, and there's frequent background hiss and distortion, but given that this is such an old soundtrack, much of filmed in places where there wouldn't be optional conditions for sound recording anyway, it's probably the best we can really hope for. The audio problems never really disrupt the experience of watching the film, although they are quite noticeable. Removable English subtitles are provided.

Supplemental Material

inline Image Synapse has recorded a fascinating commentary track with Dr. Anthony R. Santoro, a professor of history at Newport News University in Virginia. Santoro gives a lot of background info on the Nazi Party and its workings, taking time to talk about all of the major officials we see in the film, what their role in the party was, and what happened to them after the war (most of them were either hanged or sent to jail). He also unmasks many of Leni Riefenstahl's tricks and how she used the camera to make make Hitler seem larger than life and give substance to his ideas of how he wanted to be presented. A very informative track, and it will definitely make you want to learn more about the subject.

The only other on-disc supplement is the 1935 short Day of Freedom (Tag Der Freiheit), a 17-minute look at the German military in action (the army brass felt shafted by their very small part in Triumph of the Will, so they raised a stink until they were given their own film). The short was also directed by Leni Riefenstahl, and consists of a montage of military images - infantry on maneuvers, cavalry and tanks, men practicing their skills on anti-aircraft cannons - all presented without any narrative structure. The short is in black and white and is also windowboxed.

Final Thoughts

Triumph of the Will is a very important piece of work, and although this is not a DVD you'll use to test your state-of-the-art home theater system, Synapse has still done a very nice job of preserving it for the future. Dr. Santoro's commentary track is an excellent addition to provides a good introduction to the Third Reich for those who don't know much about history. Anyone who has even a remote interest in the subject matter should check out this disc.

Rating

Documentary - B+
Image Quality - B-
Sound - C
Supplements - B

Technical Info.
  • Running Time - 1 hour 50 minutes
  • B&W
  • Not Rated
  • 1 Disc
  • 18 Chapter Stops
  • German 2.0 Mono
  • English subtitles
Supplements
  • Audio commentary by historian Dr. Anthony R. Santoro
  • Short film Day of Freedom
  • Liner notes

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